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Christian Conservatives vs. Sex: The Long War Over Reproductive Freedom

Americans today enjoy access to effective birth control. But it wasn't always this way and religious conservatives are trying to turn back the clock.

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Fundamentalist Protestants and the male-only Catholic hierarchy, who have never been known for their support of women’s rights, have sought ways to reverse that giant step.

Laws banning contraceptives outright are unlikely to win legislative approval in the modern era. But sectarian opponents of birth control don’t have to go that far to curb access. If their “religious freedom” argument carries the day, millions of American men and women may wake up to find out their health care plans no longer pay for birth-control pills, IUDs, sterilization operations and other methods – and that, essentially, their ability to use birth control hinges on their employers’ religious beliefs.

Advocates for contraception say Americans should not be sanguine about this issue.

“The American public – both men and women, straight and LGBT, both young and post-reproductive age – need to be very frightened about the attacks on reproductive health,” Haffner said. “The current attack on whether contraception will be included in health care reform is actually only a small piece of what’s happening across the country to effectively turn back people’s sexual rights.

“Once the government is able to deny the right to privacy,” she continued, “they can legislate against anyone’s sex life. All of our ability to make our own informed decisions about our sex lives becomes in jeopardy.”

Americans United Executive Director Barry W. Lynn agrees.

Lynn’s activism in this area may run in his blood: He remembers a story his mother told him about how as a young woman she was kicked out of a coal mining town in eastern Pennsylvania for distributing birth control information.

“Access to affordable, effective and safe birth control was achieved only by standing up to entrenched sectarian interests who were determined to bend the law to their oppressive dogma,” Lynn said. “We broke their grip, and we simply can’t go back now.”

Rob Boston is the assistant director of communications for Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which publishes Church and State magazine.

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