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Birth Control Blasphemy: Contraceptive Hysteria Grips Congress and the Religio-Patriarchy

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Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post. The United States Congress is in the grip of contraceptive hysteria, and there are no signs of early recovery. Far right members of the House and Senate have decided that there is Nothing. More. Important. than making sure women in this country can not get access to birth control. Given that contraceptive use is effectively universal and that most employer-purchased group health plans already cover contraception, it is a pretty far stretch to assume any support for this outside the Rayburn Building, but that never stops a fanatic. Let's recap some basics here. Ninety-eight percent of sexually-active women in the United States use contraception at some point in their lives (including, yes, 98 percent of Catholic women), and most do so for the majority of their reproductive years. This is so we gals can do such radical things as plan whether, when, and with whom to have a child; how many children to have; decide what educational, social and economic goals we want to attain for ourselves and maximize those opportunities we can give our children; and, just basically decide how to live our lives. You know... that whole freedom thing. To have a total family size of two or three children, the average woman will spend five years pregnant or trying to get pregnant, and nearly three decades trying to avoid pregnancy. (Yes, Cardinal Dolan, we know about abstinence, but thirty years is a long dry spell and we like sex.) Many women also require contraception as a medical intervention to treat problems like poly-cystic fibrosis and dysmenorrhea, among other conditions. Some need to avoid risky pregnancies. And... the vast majority of women using contraception are protecting themselves and their partners from unintended pregnancy. In other words, folks, the gals are using the contraception, but the guys are involved here, too. The whole it takes two to tango thing, you know. I am not getting into the whys and wherefores of women shouldering most of the responsibility for preventing unwanted pregnancies here. But the fact is women are not just protecting themselves, but their partners and frequently their families writ large from the burdens of unintended pregnancy. This is also part of the equation that kinda, you know, gets left out. Including for those Congressmen whose wives and partners clearly have been using some on the side. Most insurance plans already covercontraception because it makes economic sense. Roughly 86 percent of all group health insurance plans purchased by employers for their employees--or almost nine in ten plans--now cover a full range of prescription contraceptives. In states with contraceptive-equity laws, contraceptive coverage has expanded dramatically and insurance plans in these states are more likely to provide a full range of contraceptive methods. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, state contraceptive-equity laws have a positive influence everywhere because nationally-determined insurance plans, in use both in states with and without contraceptive-equity laws, typically provide contraceptive coverage in all states in accordance with the mandates. Still, in 2006, according to NARAL, 36 million U.S. women were without insurance coverage for contraception. Of that number, approximately 23 million were non-Hispanic white, five million were non-Hispanic black and six million were Hispanic. Inadequate access to contraception carries substantial health risks for all these women. The recurrent cost of contraception is the single most important barrier to access cited by women at risk of unintended and unwanted pregnancy. But anti-choicers in Congress and among the religious right have repeatedly shown three things:
  • One, they could not care less about women's health and rights.
  • Two, they have absolutely no idea how women struggle with the costs, risks, and responsibilities of reproduction nor what it means to do so.
  • Three, they don't like to let reality or facts get in the way of ideology.
The real issue is that, as with the created controversy over health reform and abortion, the birth control mandate has provided all of these actors with an opening to do something they have been itching to do since the sixties: Limit women's access to birth control. And they see this whole hoopla as the single most effective way to dramatically curtail the share of women who now have insurance coverage for contraception. In other words, as with insurance coverage of abortion care, they want to take away coverage women now have. It's not about religious freedom. Continue reading....