Republicans Are Coming For Your Birth Control

In the wake of Dobbs, spurred by a clear threat best articulated in Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion, the U.S. House of Representatives has passed a bill that would guarantee continued access to contraception.

Actually, that sentence is somewhat inaccurate: the Democrats in the House passed the measure; they were able to garner exactly eight Republican votes.

Think about that.

The measure passed 228 to 195, meaning that almost all Republicans refused to protect an unrestricted right to the purchase and use of contraception. Those eight votes represented only slightly more Republican support than two bills that the House passed the prior week, which would have guaranteed access to abortion. Almost all Republicans united in opposition to that measure.

Worse still, the linked article from the Times reports that the contraceptive bill is “almost certain to fail in the evenly divided Senate, where most Republicans are also likely to be opposed.”

Again–think about that. Today’s GOP wants government to be able to control one of the most intimate decisions citizens can make–a decision that is fundamentally private, a decision that is absolutely none of government’s business

“An extreme G.O.P., an extreme Supreme Court, they want to take away your freedom and your control over your own lives,” said Representative Angie Craig, Democrat of Minnesota. “We are in an absurd time.”

She said before the vote that “quite frankly, I’m appalled that we have to vote on this damn bill at all. This is not an extremist issue. This is an extremist G.O.P.”..

Half of the eight Republicans who broke with their party to support the measure are retiring from Congress, including Representatives Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, John Katko of New York, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Fred Upton of Michigan. The remainder — Representatives Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Nancy Mace of South Carolina and María Elvira Salazar of Florida — have sought to appeal to moderates and independent voters to bolster their re-election bids.

In Griswold v. Connecticut–a 1965 case–William O. Douglas’s majority opinion reflected the logic of its conclusion. He wrote “Would we allow the police to search the sacred precincts of marital bedrooms for telltale signs of the use of contraceptives? The very idea is repulsive to the notions of privacy surrounding the marriage relationship.” The majority found a right to privacy–the doctrine of substantive due process that was explicitly undermined in Dobbs–in the language of several of the amendments, which Douglas noted would be difficult or impossible to respect without  the implicit recognition of such an underlying right. In a concurrence, Justice Goldberg found that same right in the Ninth Amendment, and Justices White and Harlan argued that privacy is protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Wherever it resided–in a “penumbra” or the 14th Amendment–they agreed on its presence and importance.

The bottom line–a line virtually all Americans have come to rely upon–is that there is a limit to decisions that government may legitimately make. The very language of that libertarian premise I often quote indicates where that line is to be drawn: We the People have the right to live our lives in accordance with our own moral, ethical and religious beliefs, free of government restrictions, so long as we are not thereby harming the person or property of others, and so long as we are willing to grant an equal right to others.

Government, in other words, has the right–indeed, the obligation–to intervene when our behaviors are harming people who haven’t consented to that harm. Government must leave us alone–in Justice Brandeis felicitous formulation–otherwise. In my far less felicitous framing, the question is: who decides? If my beliefs or behaviors aren’t hurting anyone else, the decision must rest with me.

There can obviously be debates about the nature of harm. (Does a refusal to wear a seatbelt threaten others and justify seatbelt laws? how?) But that isn’t what today’s social issue debates are about. Today’s GOP is a White Nationalist Christian cult, intent upon breaching any right to self-determination that is inconsistent with its twisted theology–a theology not shared–indeed,rebutted– by many genuine Christians.

To the Americans who have relied on their right to direct their own lives for the past fifty years–who have pooh-poohed warnings about the Christian Taliban, confident that their right to self-determination was secure–Congress has sent a message. It can happen here.

In fact, it is happening. Right now.


File Under “Duh”

I know that evidence and data–let alone logic–are irrelevant to single-issue voters. This is especially true of the more rabid anti-choice warriors intent not just on preventing abortion but also on limiting women’s access to birth control.

Even reasonable anti-choice activists agree with the majority of Americans that easier access to birth control will reduce the incidence of abortion.

A recent study once again confirms that assertion.

Countries with the most restrictive abortion laws also have the highest rates of abortion, the study by the Guttmacher Institute found. Easier access to birth control drives down abortion rates, the report also finds.

Despite the fact that in his former life, Trump declared himself pro-choice , his Health and Human Services Department has reversed Obama era policies that made contraception more freely available and that used evidence-based approaches to fight teen pregnancy — over the objections of career health officials.

A 2012 study of more than 9,000 women found that when women got no-cost birth control, the number of unplanned pregnancies and abortions fell by between 62 and 78 percent. But political appointees at HHS advocate for abstinence-only approaches, which have been shown not to affect unplanned pregnancy rates.

Confirmation that more birth control equals fewer abortions ought to elicit a “no shit, Sherlock” reaction. Abortions typically terminate pregnancies that were unwanted; avoid those unwanted pregnancies and you avoid their termination. Duh.

Given that both logic and evidence support measures to reduce the incidence of abortions by making birth control widely available and easy to access, the obvious question becomes: why are anti-choice zealots so determined to restrict access to contraception?

The only answer to that question that passes the smell test is opposition to women’s autonomy.

The belief that women are “lesser vessels” is often rooted in fundamentalist religious beliefs about the proper roles of men and women. In those communities, men are to rule and women are to submit. But non-fundamentalist culture also plays a role; for eons, prior to the development of reliable birth control, women of childbearing age were dependent upon men, and the social roles that evolved reflected that dependency. It hasn’t been all that long, in historical terms, that contraception freed women from biological inevitability, and allowed us to choose the trajectories of our own lives.

There are sincere people among those who oppose abortion, people who genuinely believe that a zygote or fetus is morally equivalent to a human person. They are entitled to their beliefs, and entitled to try to convince others of their validity (although in a religiously diverse country, where different religions take very different approaches to this issue, they are not entitled to impose those beliefs upon women who do not share them.)

The people who want to restrict women’s access to contraception, however, are not genuinely anti-abortion. They’re anti-woman.


You Can’t Make This Stuff Up…

If Democrats were creating a caricature of a Republican extremist–a one-dimensional straw man to run against– it would look a lot like Mike Pence. Unfortunately, Indiana’s zealot Governor isn’t a fabrication by the opposition.

As the IBJ reported yesterday,

Gov. Mike Pence announced Monday that he will expand Indiana’s affiliation with a not-for-profit organization that counsels pregnant women against abortion and pushes abstinence as the only method of birth control.

Indiana Right to Life was reportedly gratified. A Google search confirmed the reason why–not only does “Real Alternatives” (the nonprofit in question) confine its “services” to “counseling” against abortion, it also provides “clients” with the horrifying “facts” about birth control. I found a handy little pamphlet explaining why Contraception Is Not the Answer, filled with misinformation and fear-producing “facts.” (Did you know that injectable contraceptives “drastically increase your risk of invasive breast cancer”? No, and neither do medical experts.)

A blogger in Michigan–where their anti-choice Governor has also contracted with Real Alternatives– detailed the organization’s dubious tactics, many of which were documented in an investigation conducted by a Philadelphia newspaper. The reporter visited a Real Alternative clinic, claiming to be pregnant; she was told that abortion would leave permanent psychological damage, that it often leads to depression, and could interfere with her ever having children– claims thoroughly debunked by reputable medical science.

Groups like Real Alternatives exist throughout the country, mostly funded by anti-abortion organizations like Heartbeat International and individual donations. Real Alternatives, though, is funded almost entirely by the state of Pennsylvania — financed, that is, by you, the taxpayer, and it has received tens of millions of dollars since 1997…

That money, City Paper has found, goes to pay for part of the $199,000 salary (including benefits) of the CEO of Real Alternatives, who has no medical experience. It also funds an army of hundreds of “counselors,” non-medically-qualified personnel whose job it is to dispense the organization’s (sometimes outright inaccurate) information — and who, despite lacking the credentials of nurse practitioners or psychologists, cost the state much more per hour for their services than either.

According to Cosmopolitan magazine, which conducted a year-long investigation of the organization’s operations in Pennsylvania,

Real Alternatives’ contract with the state relies on debunked studies that imply abortion leads to breast cancer and clinical depression. Centers are not allowed to advocate for birth control, much less dispense it. The contract’s directives advise pregnancy-center staff to make an “assessment of the client’s spiritual needs” by asking questions like, “How does your faith impact the choices you make?” (One quarterly report from a center to Real Alternatives refers to clients with the aliases “Mary” and “Joseph.”)

The United Nations Population Fund estimates that one in three deaths related to pregnancy and childbirth could be avoided if all women had access to contraceptive services.

Whatever one’s position on abortion, the use of tax dollars to support “clinics” that offer no medical services— clinics that exist solely to lie to women in order to convince them to forego both abortion and contraception–is immoral.

Our fundamentalist Governor is understandably frantic to mend fences with his Religious Right constituency, after reality and Hoosier businesses forced him to sign the RFRA “fix.” In the echo chamber he inhabits, this contract probably seemed like a good way to do that.

In the rest of the state–even among Republicans– not so much.

John Gregg is looking better all the time.


Getting REALLY Tired of This

Talking Points Memo reports:


Spawn of Citizens United

During my six years as Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, if my youngest son called the office when I was out, he’d leave a message: “just tell her Satan’s spawn called.” (He found the popular caricature of the ACLU endlessly amusing.)

I thought about “spawn” when a Facebook friend pointed me to a recent, truly bizarre ruling from the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.

When the Supreme Court decided, in Citizens United, that corporations have a right to free speech, it drew a dangerous equivalence between individual human beings and the legal constructs created to simplify the transaction of business and commercial transactions. In the immortal words of Mitt Romney, the Court ruled that for purposes of free speech, “corporations are people, my friend.”

Citizens United was itself the spawn of a series of unfortunate Supreme Court rulings that effectively equated money with speech. It thus had the effect of handing a huge megaphone to corporate entities able to outspend–and thus “out-shout”–individual voters. The ruling has been exploited to allow for the creation of so-called “SuperPacs,” and it has raised a number of thorny issues, among them: what happens when shareholders don’t agree with the corporate “message”? What if they don’t agree that money should be spent for such arguably non-business-related purposes?

The problems and questions that have emerged in the wake of Citizens United point to the essential absurdity of treating artificial constructs as if they were people. And now the ruling is spawning even more nonsensical progeny. If you have had trouble getting your head around the nature of a corporate right to “free speech,” try this one: the Seventh Circuit says corporations have a right to the free exercise of religion.

The court came to this bizarre conclusion in a case brought by K & L Contractors, a secular, for-profit company that is challenging the Obama Administration’s mandate that contraception coverage must be provided by employers as part of their health insurance coverage.  The court ruled that the fact “that the Kortes’ [the majority shareholders] operate their business in the corporate form is not dispositive of their claim,” a proposition for which it cited Citizens United.

The result in this case is clearly contrary to the law prior to Citizens United. For decades, the law has essentially recognized a trade-off: if you opt to do business in corporate form, you get to take advantage of the benefits that status confers, especially the ability to limit your personal liability for debts the corporation incurs. In return, you follow the rules that apply to corporations, including loss of the right to impose your religious faith on your employees.

Even for individuals, asserting a religious objection to a law of general application is seldom seen as justification for ignoring that law. If my religion requires that I use cocaine, or sacrifice my first-born, or chain up my spouse, the courts are unlikely to give me a pass from the rules against those behaviors.

Let’s hope Citizens United hasn’t changed that result.

In fact, let’s hope the Supreme Court comes to recognize how reckless that decision really was, and limits or overrules it.