Catholic birth control views caught in a time warp

“It is now a fact that as a result
of birth control, the survival rate among mothers and children is
higher. There is less suffering for all groups.”

~ Planned Parenthood founder
Margaret Sanger


“In the United States today, the small fraction of women …
who are sexually active and at risk of unintended pregnancy but do
not practice contraception are responsible for almost half of the
unintended pregnancies and nearly half of the abortions.”

~ Guttmacher


Let’s start this Valentine’s Day column with some relevant history:
The United States Supreme Court ruled that birth control bans were
unconstitutional for married couples in 1965 (Griswold v.
Connecticut) and for all couples in 1972 (Eisenstadt v. Baird). It
ruled that women have a right to terminate pregnancies in 1973 (Roe
v. Wade). The Obama Administration recently announced a rule that
requires most employers to cover birth control without co-pays,
including Catholic hospitals and universities.

Cue the right-wing echo chamber, which featured people screaming
about religious freedom and trying to whip the religious right into
a constitutional fervor. They conveniently ignored the fact that
the Obama Administration’s rule is based on a more than a decade of
precedent. Mother Jones reported that in December of 2000, the
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that “companies that
provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide
birth control were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil
Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. That
opinion, which the George W. Bush administration did nothing to
alter or withdraw when it took office the next month, is still in
effect today – and because it relies on Title VII of the Civil
Rights Act, it applies to all employers with 15 or more

No one accused Bush of conducting a war on religion or trampling
the Constitution when he accepted the EEOC ruling. And conservative
author and Bush speechwriter David Frum isn’t buying the
“constitutionality” canard today: “Republicans are not proposing to
allow employers and plans to refuse to cover blood transfusions if
they conscientiously object to them (although there are religious
groups that do). Or vaccinations (although there are individuals
who conscientiously object to those as well). Or medicines derived
from animal experimentation. (Ditto.) No, Marco Rubio’s … bill
provides for one conscientious exemption only: contraception and
sterilization. Which means it will be very hard if not impossible
to persuade the target audience that this debate is not in fact
about contraception. Everybody quite sure that’s a wise debate to

Excellent question, especially in light of reality, which I’m well
aware is a major irritant to most right-wingers: Of women who have
had sex, 99 percent have used some form of contraception, according
to a study by the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute. That number
plummets to 98 percent among Catholic women who have had sex.

We’ve had legal contraception in this country for 47 years. The
vast majority of sexually active women, even the vast majority of
Catholic women, use contraceptives. Contraceptives are the best way
to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and thus, to reduce
the number of abortions.

Yet, despite those facts, here we are in 2012, with all four
Republican presidential candidates – Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich,
Ron Paul, and Mitt Romney – endorsing the “personhood movement,”
which defines life as beginning at the moment of conception, thus
making hormonal forms of contraception like the pill and the IUD,

Whenever I hear these positions, I have to fight the impulse to
look around for a time machine: Surely I must have accidentally
tripped into one. Meanwhile, as a Democrat, I hope Republicans go
to town on this loser of an issue.

When personhood measures have been on the ballot, even in the most
conservative of states (Mississippi, 2011) and during otherwise
conservative election years (Colorado, 2010), they’ve been soundly
defeated. Voters understand the value of contraceptives in
preventing unwanted pregnancies, in improving women’s health, and
in reducing the number of abortions.

Go ahead, GOP, brand yourself as the anti-contraceptives party. It
can only hurt you this November.

Lisa Pampuch is a technical editor. She lives in Morgan Hill with
her husband and two children. Reach her at

[email protected]

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