Now the GOP Is Going After Sexual Health and the Pill -- And the Battle Is Just Beginning
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If it hadn’t actually happened, it would have been too strange to believe: the federal government of the most powerful nation on the earth almost shut down over birth control pills and HIV tests. In fact, even though it did happen, the implausibility of it caused many major news organizations to slip into denial. The New York Times, for instance, inaccurately characterized the fight as being over “abortion funding,” even though the funds in dispute could not be used for abortion, which is a lot like calling your rent check your “drinking money."
But many in the pro-choice community were not surprised that denying men and women access to STD testing, birth control and cancer screenings would be the thing the Republican party took a stand on during budget negotiations. (I predicted the budget shutdown would come over this specific issue back in February.) Frankly, the Republican war on contraception and general sexual health care is just heating up, and liberals best be prepared for more battles over contraception access and funding in the future. This is because anti-contraception sentiment has become mainstream in the Republican party, despite the fact that Republicans such as Richard Nixon and George Bush played a major role in supporting early initiatives to expand contraception access (although they did so for population control reasons, not for pro-feminist reasons).
How did it come to pass that fighting contraception access has become such a major issue for Republicans? Republicans have generally been vociferous on the issue of abortion, but mostly silent on the topic of contraception, a politically savvy move in a country where more than 99 percent of sexually active women have used contraception. Getting Republicans to move to the right on sexual health care besides abortion has been an uphill battle for the hardcore anti-choice movement, but despite efforts such as holding annual rallies to protest legal contraception and screaming their heads off at Republican politicians who support vaccinating young women against HPV, they haven’t really gotten much in return. They got abstinence-only education and a few pharmacists denying women their birth control prescriptions, but mostly, Republicans weren’t doing much to keep women from getting contraception.
But within the space of a year, Republicans went from passively ignoring the anti-contraception demands of the far right to making the issue a number one priority. Suddenly you have Rush Limbaugh, lover of Viagra and serial marriage, agreeing that the only form of birth control he finds acceptable is closing your legs. The conservative blogosphere came out with full-throated support for the argument that healthy sex should only be a luxury for those who can pay for it. And of course, you had the entire Republican party moving on this newfound hatred of contraception, and using it to nearly shut down the federal government. True, the word “abortion” was frequently invoked in justifying these attacks, but the actual funds in question were only for non-abortion care, and at least one organization under attack, the UNFPA, doesn’t provide abortion at all.
Dropping the word “abortion” was mainly about pandering to the non-partisan press, however. On the right, key to making these anti-contraception sentiments mainstream in the Republican party was to argue that contraception subsidies are a form of sexual welfare, allowing poor women to screw on the government dime. Associating Planned Parenthood with already-marginalized people strengthened the narrative.
While Lila Rose utterly failed with her mendacious attempts to claim Planned Parenthood broke the law, she did manage to associate sex workers with Planned Parenthood in the right-wing media. Glenn Beck drove the point home by claiming the only people who depend on Planned Parenthood are “hookers.” ( As Jodi Jacobson noted, Planned Parenthood does serve sex workers, of course, but the majority of their patients are not sex workers.)