Marching toward Gilead
We here at the Chimp Refuge have railed on about the Christian Right's incursions into the discipline of evolutionary biology, and their insidious distortions of science in the name of their fundamentalist faith. Their intrusiveness is not limited to the teaching of evolution in public schools. It also extends to public health and an aim to further curtail access to birth control.
While scanning the New York Times last Friday (May 5) this caught my attention: Use of Contraception Drops, Slowing Decline of Abortion Rate. The article focused on a report released last week by the Guttmacher Institute, a "nonprofit organization focused on sexual and reproductive health research, policy analysis and public education."
From the NYT article by Kate Zernike:
Contraception use has declined strikingly over the last decade, particularly among poor women, making them more likely to get pregnant unintentionally and to have abortions, according to a report released yesterday by the Guttmacher Institute.
The decline appears to have slowed the reduction in the national abortion rate that began in the mid-1980's.
"This is turning back the clock on all the gains women have made in recent decades," Sharon L. Camp, the president of the institute, said.
Granted, Zernike's article isn't the pinnacle of fine reporting, and there's scant emphasis on the discrepancy between the increased rate of unwanted pregnancies among the poor and the decline of such among the more economically privileged. As some wags have noted, the New York Times suffers from a chronic case of affluenza. Still, the data shown in the excerpted bar graph raise questions. Why are fewer poor women using contraceptives? Why is the rate of unintended pregnancies increasing for this demographic?
The researchers blamed reductions in federally and state-financed family planning programs for declining contraceptive use. They called for public and private insurance to cover contraceptives, and for over-the-counter access to the so-called morning-after pill, which can prevent pregnancy if taken within 72 hours after sex.
However, Zernike's mediocre article proved to be the appetizer for the main course: Contra-Contraception by Russell Shorto (NYT Sunday Magazine, May 7, 2006). This proved to be an excellent follow-on to the Guttmacher Institute's report. It's not enough for the religious right to outlaw abortion, and to argue that some forms of contraception are abortifacients. These fundagelicals of Roman Catholic and Protestant stripes see sex without procreation as an evil and a bane of the world. Although a majority of Americans (93% overall and 90% of American Roman Catholics) favors the use of contraception, a vocal minority rails against it, and contradicts evidence-based medicine in its pursuit to restrict access to birth control. Their beliefs have become policy as the Bush administration erodes federal funding for family planning here and abroad. The political machinations which surrounded the approval, or rather lack thereof, for over-the-counter Plan B contraception have been described in detail elsewhere, e.g., Chris Mooney's chapter "Sexed Up Science" in his book, The Republican War on Science.
As a woman, I do not see that Western civilization is threatened by the removal of the procreation factor from the sexual equation. What I see is an agenda to abrogate women's relatively new found freedom from fecundity. Effective and reliable birth control provides us with the ability to enjoy sex with our partners without the worry of pregnancy, a non-trivial health event in a woman's life. Contraception allows women to forge all manner of careers and vocations. Contraception allows those of us who are stay-at-home mothers to better focus on our families and nurture fewer children. Contraception allows poor women to avoid pregnancy and to be better able to pursue opportunities to break the cycle of poverty. Contraception allows women to make the decision not to have children at all. The subtext of the Christian Right's agenda is not just taking away the recreation and replacing it with procreation. The agenda is the subjugation of women.
It's bad enough that the fundagelicals want to criminalize abortion. They also want to criminalize all manner of birth control. One might argue that this is a minority opinion. However, this vociferous minority has insinuated itself into our reproductive health. Look at that bar graph. Read the conclusions of the Guttmacher researchers. Read Shorto's article. Perform a 'Net search to see how Plan B approval was stalled. Although it may be hyperbole to believe we are marching toward some version of Margaret Atwood's grim dysopia, neither should we be complacent.