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The Authoritarian Agenda Behind Attacks on Contraception

As the right's crusade against abortion becomes a war on contraception, its viciously misogynistic agenda becomes ever more clear.

In a recent piece for the American Prospect, Sarah Posner outlined how the fringe of the religious right increasingly dictates the larger conservative agenda, as evidenced by the bold Republican push towards open war on contraception.  Sarah writes about the reason for the attacks on Planned Parenthood:

It is not solely about shutting down Planned Parenthood's federal funding because the organization provides abortion services (indeed federal funding of abortion is already banned by the Hyde Amendment). It's about shutting down Planned Parenthood because it provides contraceptives. That is a target because, as Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota has put it, "an arrogant corrupt Washington elite" has "declared war on marriage, on families, on fertility, and on faith."

Mike Huckabee has started to join the chorus of anti-contraception voices as well, calling Planned Parenthood “Planned Barrenhood”---basically signing off on the idea that any attempt to control fertility is wrong, no matter how you do it.  While the official argument is that this is still just about abortion, the mask slips more and more all the time, and the public is beginning to be clear about how radical the anti-choice agenda really is. And the thing is that when you drop the bloviating about fetal life and attack contraception head on, it’s much harder to distract people from how viciously misogynistic this agenda really is. 

Take, for instance, the reaction of the California Catholic Daily to a new Guttmacher report demonstrating no real difference in contraception use between religious and non-religious women, even Catholics.  Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women use contraception, only one percentage point less than the public at large.  Instead of viewing this as evidence that church teachings are sexist, out of date, and have no relationship to women’s actual needs and lives, California Catholic Daily lashed out at women for being disobedient to the dictates of the celibate men who are supposed to know better than women what they need for their lives:

Basically, the report said, Catholic women have ignored their bishops. “In real-life America, contraceptive use and strong religious beliefs are highly compatible,” the Guttmacher news release quoted Rachel K. Jones, the report’s lead author, as saying....

The Institute seemed to take some glee from the finding that Catholic women are ignoring Church teachings.

No evidence was produced of the “glee” that the notoriously sober-minded researchers at Guttmacher were accused of demonstrating.

But what I find most interesting about this is how the feigned concern for the fetus has been dropped completely, and the entire focus is on controlling women.  Catholic women are criticized solely for disobedience, solely for not blindly following the dictates of leaders who don’t know or care much about the actual circumstances of women’s lives.  Women seem to exist solely to obey without asking questions, and the fact that women don’t actually do this is treated like an embarrassment for the Catholic Church.  The perception that the Guttmacher Institute is laughing at the Catholic Church stems mainly from this humiliated stance; the author seems to be cringing because they’ve been called out for not keeping “their” women on a tighter leash.

I fail to see how this is not misogyny. Casting women in a role of supplicants who should simply reproduce as much as their masters tell them without daring even a peep of protest---and suggesting that women’s failure to comply to hateful, unmanageable rules is a humiliation for their masters---strikes me as misogyny distilled.  The reaction to Guttmacher’s study on other right wing sites didn’t do much to dissuade me from seeing the objection to reproductive rights as simply a display of dominance over women.  In fact, the humiliated stance was so great that some bloggers denied that women who use contraception are really Catholic, saying things like, “Now, Guttmacher determined that anyone who went to services at least once a month was an observant member of their religion (ha!), so we don’t know just how ‘Catholic’ these self-described Catholics are,” even though by putting “Catholics” and “contraception users” into separate cateogories means that only 2 percent of Catholic women are Catholic.

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