If you’re a journalist or a private citizen who, say, happens to be at a “town hall” meeting with Republican presidential candidates (work with me here), please consider raising the issue that Eleanor Clift discusses in a “web exclusive” column (note to Newsweek editors: run this in the magazine) — Where do the candidates stand on family planning and birth control?
Clift spoke with Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, who notes that while the National Right to Life organization doesn’t exactly advertise a birth-control position, it’s become a hot-bed issue for social conservatives who argue that life begins at conception. “[Y]ou find in that movement — and they’ve become much more assertive about it — if you use birth control, you are stopping a life and that’s not acceptable,” says Keenan.
Cristina Page, author of “How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex,” wrote an op-ed for the Baltimore Sun this week that makes a similar argument. At National Right to Life’s conference, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney “implied an opposition to the birth control pill and a willingness to join in their efforts to scale back access to contraception. There are code phrases to listen for – and for those keeping score, Mr. Romney nailed each one.” Page continues:
One code phrase is: “I fought to define life as beginning at conception rather than at the time of implantation.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists defines pregnancy as starting at implantation, the first moment a pregnancy can be known. Anti-abortion advocates want pregnancy to start at the unknown moment sperm and egg meet: fertilization. They’d also like you to believe, despite evidence to the contrary, that the birth control pill prevents that fertilized egg from implanting in the womb.
Mr. Romney’s code, deciphered, meant, “I, like you, hope to reclassify the most commonly used forms of contraceptives as abortions.” In fact, he told the crowd, he already had some practice redefining contraception: “I vetoed a so-called emergency contraception bill that gave young girls abortive drugs without prescription or parental consent.”
No matter that emergency contraception has the same mode of action as the birth control pill and every other hormonal method of birth control. To the anti-abortion movement, contraception is the ultimate corruptor. And so this year, the unspoken rule for candidates seeking the support of anti-abortion groups is that they must offer proof they’re anti-contraception too.
So enough questions about Roe v. Wade and judicial appointments — we get where the Republican candidates stand. Clift puts forth Keenan’s suggestions for a more revealing line of questions:
Do you think it’s OK for a pharmacy to refuse to fill a woman’s prescription for birth-control pills based on the personal views of the pharmacist? Should hospital emergency rooms be allowed to withhold information from a rape victim about the morning-after pill, which can prevent a pregnancy if it’s taken soon enough after the assault? Do you support age-appropriate sex education (with “age-appropriate” the key phrase as to when it’s time to shelve the stork)?
We can glean some answers from the public record. Romney vetoed a bill in 2005 that would have let pharmacists dispense information about — and access to — emergency contraception without a prescription for sexual-assault survivors. The FDA’s decision a year later to allow the morning-after pill to be sold over-the- counter made Romney’s veto moot, but it offers a window into his thinking. Everybody is awaiting the heralded entry of “Law & Order” actor Fred Thompson into the race. He’ll have to defend lobbying for a pro-choice group, but he should also be asked about his Senate vote to cut $75 million from the maternal- and child-health bloc grant. (He wanted to fund a new abstinence program.) John McCain voted against Title 10 family-planning programs, which provide low-income women access to birth control. How far will the candidates take public policy to pander to Republican primary voters? Romney has taken flip-flopping to an existential level, but he’s not the only one who sees merit in confusing the voters.
The emphasis is mine — but the question really can’t be over-emphasized. Page nicely sums up how far the Bush administration has already twisted public policy on behalf of anti-contraception activists:
While [Bush] has delivered some big anti-abortion victories for the religious right in the last seven years (Supreme Court Justices John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr., and the so-called partial-birth abortion ban), anti-contraception work has taken up more of his energy. He attempted to strip contraceptive coverage for federal employees; appointed anti-birth control leader David Hager to the FDA panel that approves and expands access to contraceptive methods; chose another contraception opponent to oversee the nation’s contraceptive program for the poor; defunded international family-planning programs, and invested unprecedented sums into sex-ed programs that prohibit mention of contraception.
Plus: Happy anniversary to Plan B. Let’s hope there’s many more … As the AP’s David Crary writes: “In the year since it was approved for over-the-counter sales, the morning-after pill has become a huge commercial success for its manufacturer, but its popularity and solid safety record haven’t deterred critics from seeking to overturn the milestone ruling.”
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