Who Decides?

Can you stand a few more observations about the Supreme Court’s birth control decision and women’s reproductive rights in this, the 21st Century?

The amount of disinformation about abortion–and the use of that disinformation by cynical Republican operatives–is fairly widely known. I’ve previously quoted religious historian Randall Ballmer for the actual genesis of the “pro life” movement.

Ballmer points out that it wasn’t until 1979—a full six years after Roe—that evangelical leaders, goaded by Paul Weyrich, seized on abortion as “a rallying-cry to deny President Jimmy Carter a second term.” Being against abortion was “more palatable” than what was actually motivating the Religious Right, which was protection of the segregated schools they had established following the decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Both before and for several years after Roe, evangelicals were overwhelmingly indifferent to the subject, which they considered a “Catholic issue.” In 1968, for instance, a symposium sponsored by the Christian Medical Society and Christianity Today, the flagship magazine of evangelicalism, refused to characterize abortion as sinful, citing “individual health, family welfare, and social responsibility” as justifications for ending a pregnancy. In 1971, delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, passed a resolution encouraging “Southern Baptists to work for legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such conditions as rape, incest, clear evidence of severe fetal deformity, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.” The convention, hardly a redoubt of liberal values, reaffirmed that position in 1974, one year after Roe, and again in 1976.

So much for the “moral outrage” that presumably prompted the movement.  A number of political scientists and sociologists attribute its continued salience to an equally unlovely motive: keeping those uppity women in their place: the kitchen and bedroom. (When women are able to plan their families and manage their reproduction, they can enter the workforce, and if necessary, leave abusive husbands.) 

Those pious concerns about women’s health have always been dishonest; abortion is far safer than childbirth. A recent study reported by the New Yorker further confirms that claims about later regrets or emotional problems following abortion are simply fabrications.

If there was any doubt about the pro-Republican, anti-woman animus motivating attacks on women’s reproductive autonomy, the Supreme Court’s birth control decision should dispel it. 

As both Justice Ginsberg and the New York Times Editorial Board pointed out, between 70,500 and 126,400 women will immediately lose access to no-cost contraceptive services.

The Trump administration has been attacking both the A.C.A. and access to birth control since the moment President Trump took office. On the latter front, its most successful effort before this week was to gut the nation’s decades-old family planning program, called Title X, in an explicit effort to cripple Planned Parenthood. All of the administration’s efforts on this front have most directly affected poor women and women of color.

As Nancy Papas noted, in a trenchant comment to my previous post on the subject, denying women access to birth control makes no sense (unless, of course, your goal is to erect barriers to female equality). Less birth control means more unwanted pregnancies and abortions, more unwanted children (and increased levels of child abuse). Employee health declines; employee absenteeism rises–and more children on a family plan means higher cost health insurance premiums.

There’s another cost that rarely is factored in: these decisions are “exceptions” to the American concept of liberty.

The Bill of Rights is often described as a list of decisions and behaviors that government must respect: individuals have the right to decide for ourselves what books we will read, what–if any–Gods we will worship, who we will marry and whether and how often we will procreate, among other things. The Courts have routinely referred to such decisions as “intimate” and ruled that government interference with them is illegitimate and unconstitutional. Those same Courts have carved out de jure exceptions for abortion, and now, what amounts to a de facto exception for birth control.

Here’s a thought: states with progressive legislatures (not Indiana, unfortunately) should partner with health insurance companies to establish a fund that would provide low-or-no cost birth control for women who work for these anti-woman “religious” companies. The women should apply directly, eliminating the need for the “religious” owners to be “complicit.” (I guess it doesn’t bother them to be “complicit” in worsening the health of women who take birth control medication for reasons other than contraception–but then, logic and honesty aren’t involved in these decisions.)

Here’s another thought: if America had a single-payer system like the 36 countries that pay less for health outcomes superior to ours, government wouldn’t allow employers to impose their religious beliefs on employees who don’t share them.