As the country prepares to mark another anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the controversy over abortion shows no sign of abating. Instead, it has intensified to include a general attack on contraception.
It is estimated that ninety-nine percent of all American women between the ages of 15 and 44 have used some form of birth control. Sixty-two percent of these women are currently using the pill, IUDs, vaginal rings or similar family planning methods.
But an increasingly extreme Right-To-Life movement has identified many of these methods as contrary to the will of God.
A ballot measure in Mississippi last fall that defined a fertilized ovum as a legal person would not only have outlawed abortion, but also prohibited use of intrauterine devices that work by blocking an egg’s implantation into the lining of the womb. While hormonal regulators like the pill and “morning after pill” work mainly by interfering with ovulation, there is a remote possibility that they too could stop the reproductive process after the fact of fertilization. Dr. Beverly McMillan, a practicing physician and president of Pro-Life Mississippi, refused to issue prescriptions for oral contraceptives for this reason, saying "I painfully agree that birth control pills do in fact cause abortions."
The fact that 55% of voters rejected the initiative in Mississippi doesn’t mean there aren’t a substantial minority ready to impose their views on others. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum made that clear on the campaign trail this October. “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before,” he declared, are “the dangers of contraception in this country. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Santorum believes states have the right to prohibit birth control, even between married couples.
Santorum has also pledged to defund all federal programs to assist with family planning. This shouldn’t be surprising. For behind the longstanding right-wing attack on Planned Parenthood as an “abortion provider,” isn’t there another agenda? The agency actually provides far more contraceptive services than abortions. Serving nearly five million women with health care and education, Planned Parenthood prevents an estimated 584,000 unintended pregnancies annually, which helps just that many women avoid the painful moral choice of whether to end a potential life. But for people like Rick Santorum and his followers, reducing the number of abortions isn’t really the goal. (At least not if reducing the numbers of abortions involves contraception, face-based sex education, or anything more effective than crossing your legs.)
That’s an attitude shared by fellow Presidential contender Rick Perry, who as Governor of Texas cut funding for the state’s family planning clinics by two-thirds. Much of that money will now go to “Crisis Pregnancy Centers” which provide neither contraceptives, well woman visits, nor Pap smears. When The Texas Tribune asked state Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Nacogdoches), part of Perry’s Republican base, if this was a war on birth control, he replied, "Well of course this is a war on birth control and abortions and everything.”
That war on everything is far reaching, and apparently includes everything but abstinence, “rhythm,” and interruptus. The people who first came asking to end abortion are now coming into the privacy of your bedroom, into your medicine cabinet, and into your doctor’s office. When they come for you, who will be left to stop them?