Morning-After Pill opponents claim that they are just concerned about the health or welfare of women who take that particular pill, but there's a pattern of the Bush administration and Republicans restricting birth control information and access to all forms of contraception, including condoms. The following article was written by Florida NOW Young Feminist Task Force Chair Kelly Mangan, with input from the Redstockings Women's Liberation Archives and Gainesville Women's Liberation.
There is a movement gathering steam in the United States against birth control. Of the 39 million fertile women who have sex with men, 95% use a form of contraception.1 Obviously, the anti-birth control movement doesn't represent the vast majority of women. So why is it gaining ground so fast? Well, unfortunately the movement does have the support of the White House.
In George W. Bush's first budget to Congress (April 9, 2001), he scrapped the provision that required insurance companies to cover contraceptives for 9 million federal employees (something House democrats later reinstated). Bush insisted that this measure was meant to save money, but if were we really concerned with saving money, perhaps he should have spent less on tax cuts to the rich instead of axing programs that benefit women.
Also on April 9, Bush blocked U.S. grants to family-planning groups that provide contraceptive and abortion services/counseling overseas. While the president has certainly done his part to limit the knowledge and options of women abroad, the focus of Bush's war on women is at home.
Bush is an ardent supporter of abstinence-only education programs, which prohibit discussion of contraception, and keep sexually active teens from knowing how to protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs, and provide blatant misinformation to students.
According to a study released by the Sexuality Information & Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS) on June 22, 2004, federally funded abstinence-only education programs don't prevent teens from having sex.2 An independent study commissioned by the Minnesota Department of Health also determined last January that abstinence-only education had not worked there-sexual activity among junior high students actually doubled in the first year the program was taught!3
And a December 2004 report prepared by the Special Investigations Commission of the U.S. House of Representatives, for Congress member Henry Waxman, found that "over 80% of the abstinence-only curricula contain false, misleading, or distorted information about reproductive health." For example, one curriculum states that "[i]n heterosexual sex, condoms fail to prevent HIV approximately 31% of the time" and another teaches that a pregnancy occurs one out of every seven times that couples use condoms. These erroneous statements are presented as proven scientific facts," the report notes. They also make abortion sound like it'll damage you for life, the report says: "One curriculum states that 5% to 10% of women who have legal abortion will become sterile; that 'premature birth, a major cause of mental retardation, is increased following the abortion of a first pregnancy;' and that "[t]ubal and cervical pregnancies are increased following abortions. In fact, these risks do not rise..." the report stated.
Despite these findings, Bush continues to push abstinence-only education, and to toe the anti-birth control line, as can be seen by his executive appointments.
On March 1, 2002, Bush appointed Tom Coburn and Joe McIlhaney to lead the President's Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. Both Coburn and McIlhaney have spoken out against condom use, and have worked to push abstinence as the only means to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS.4
Bush nominated Justice Janice Rogers Brown for U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Brown upheld the right of Catholic hospitals to refuse employees' health coverage to include birth control.
Dr. David Hager--whom Bush appointed to the FDA's Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs--refuses to prescribe contraception to unmarried women in his gynecological practice. Bush also appointed Dr. Joseph Stanford to the same committee. In his family practice, Dr. Sanford refuses to prescribe birth control at all.5
At the 2002 U.N. Population Conference, Assistant Secretary of State Arthur Dewey- another right-wing Bush appointee- promised that the U.S. would block any U.N. policies that contain the words "reproductive health" or "consistent condom use." Delegates from all over the world said America's position at this conference put women's health at risk, and even the delegate from Iran said that the U.S. Government had been overrun by religious extremists.
Bush also appointed acting FDA Commissioner Lester Crawford and Acting Drug Chief Stephen Galson, who decided not to approve the Morning-After Pill for over-the-counter sales. And just incase Crawford and Galson didn't realize how they were supposed to decide, it was clearly outlined in a Jan. 14 letter to President Bush from 49 conservative state legislators. The letter demanded that President Bush stop the FDA from deciding in favor of Morning-After Pill over-the-counter.
The Morning-After Pill (MAP) is made from the exact same stuff that's in birth control pills (it's just a higher dose), and it works in the exact same way to prevent pregnancy.
When Crawford and Galson voted against easier access to the Morning-After Pill (MAP), they went against the American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine, the FDA's own expert medical advisory committees, and the women who need it. But they didn't go against the White House. Were it not for the rabid, anti-birth control politics of the Bush Administration, women would be able to buy MAP without a prescription today (just like women in 38 other countries).
In the past four years, newspapers all over the country have printed stories about women whose doctors and pharmacists refused to provide them with birth control. Just this past March, The Dallas Morning News reported that a pharmacist there would not fill Julee Lacey's prescription for birth control pills.
"I think my doctor should make these decisions," Lacey said. "If they're going to decide not to do birth-control pills, where are they going to draw the line?"
In Mississippi and Michigan, the anti-birth control movement recently succeeded in passing "refusal clauses", which allow pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control on religious grounds. As of August 2004, 12 states have bills pending in their legislatures that allow healthcare providers to refuse women contraceptive services.6
This growing anti-birth control movement is the culmination of years of lobbying by anti-abortion groups, some of which are honest about their opposition to contraception, and others that conveniently plead the fifth on the issue.
The Pharmacists for Life is a national anti-abortion organization that also encourages pharmacists to deny women access to birth control pills.
The American Life League is another national anti-abortion organization that is also against contraception. The League says that birth control promotes the 'immoral' attitudes that make people want to have sex but not to have children. On its website, the American Life League says, "The practice of contraception is intrinsically evil," and concedes that though it may not be possible to outlaw birth control right now, it is certainly working toward that end.7
While Bush tries to be covert about his opposition to contraception-choosing instead to impede women's access to it via his executive appointments-it's no secret that W. is against abortion. He has done more to undermine women's abortion rights than any other president since Roe vs. Wade was decided, signing into law a ban on certain abortion procedures. To date, federal judges in two states have ruled that Bush's ban on D&X Abortions (so-call 'partial birth' abortions) is unconstitutional. But in February 2004, Attorney General John Ashcroft and the Department of Justice demanded the medical records of more than 900 women across the country that have had D&X abortions. Abortion is the most blatant example of the Bush administration's four-year campaign to criminalize birth control.
What the result of all this? When women can't control how many children we have, we don't have as much money, power, time, or freedom as men. This often forces us into lower-paying jobs, or else keeps us in the home where we work for free. So Bush administration attacks on birth control pose a serious threat to our equality and freedom as women.
Over the past four years, we have seen that progress on women's issues is obstructed at every turn by the Bush administration-he and other Republicans have done everything in their power to take away women's contraceptive, abortion, childcare, and healthcare options. But women, united, have the power to change this.
To get involved in Florida NOW Young Feminist Task Force, or to find out about our next meeting, call (352) 372-2361.SOURCES
1. Alan Guttmacher Institute for sexual and reproductive health research: http://www.agiusa.org/pubs/fb_contr_use.html.
2. Sexuality Information & Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS).
3. Minnosota Star Tribune. "State's abstinence-only sex education doesn't work any better, report says." By Josephine Marcotty. Jan. 4, 2004. http://www.mnaidsproject.org/policy/Abstinencereport.htm .
4. Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Website.
5. National Women's Law Center press release. July, 2001.
6. Advocates for Youth: Press release May 15, 2003
7. American Life League website: http://www.all.org/issues/