Democracy Under Assault
Theopolitics, Incivility and Violence on the Right

Michele Swenson

‘Birth Control Causes Promiscuity’ & Other Specious Arguments
Z Magazine May 2006

by Michele Swenson

Whether opposing mention of global warming or access to contraception, the political right consistently chooses politics over science. Thus, a single political appointee at the FDA halted approval of the Plan B Contraceptive, rejecting 40 studies and 15,000 pages of clinical data that demonstrated the safety of emergency contraception. One person overruled the 23-4 decision of two advisory panels to make Plan B available without prescription.

Many arguments against women’s access to information (sex education) and reproductive control are made under the pretense of "protecting" females. With inscrutable logic, Rev. Jimmy Swaggart declared that "Sex education classes in our public schools are promoting incest." It has been argued by some on the political right and within the Catholic Church hierarchy that birth control "causes promiscuity" (do umbrellas cause rain?).

Among the tortured arguments against pharmacist-prescribed emergency contraception is the bizarre rationalization by Colorado state Sen. Greg Brophy that E.C. is a drug used to take advantage of women. In his imagination, a sexual predator - "possibly a high school coach" - would obtain emergency contraception to give to his underage victim in order to cover his transgression, making Colorado "a playground for sexual predators."

Similarly, long-time abortion foe Mark Crutcher accused Planned Parenthood of "protecting pedophiles" by preserving confidentiality of medical records of women who had abortions. The Kansas Attorney General used the same argument in 2005 when he subpoenaed the abortion records of adult women, not "10-year-olds" that he professed to protect against pedophiles.

Arguing that "Incest is a voluntary act on a woman’s part," former Notre Dame University law professor Charles Rice opposed abortion in cases of rape and incest, reinforcing blame of the victim and the notion of pregnancy as punishment of females. Yet another doctrinaire Bush judicial nominee and former head of Arkansas Right to Life, James Leon Holmes opposes abortion for rape victims: "…the concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with the same frequency as snow in Miami". This apocryphal notion has long circulated within right-to-life circles, expressed in right-to-life denial literature: "Medically we know pregnancy in these cases [incest or rape] would be rare if not impossible" because "fear prevents ovulation…only when the female is consenting does pregnancy occur."

Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill) used the same erroneous logic— "rape rarely results in pregnancy"— in drafting the 1977 Hyde Amendment denying Medicaid coverage for abortion. Nineteen ninety-eight Arkansas Republican U.S. Senate candidate Fay Boozman stated that "pregnancies from rape are rare because of ‘God’s protective little shield’." An adrenalin rush triggered by fear causes hormonal changes that block a woman’s ability to conceive during a violent attack, he asserted, a claim apparently based on his observations as an eye surgeon rather than any scientific evidence.

The right wing consistently frames every issue, from welfare reform to abortion and family planning, to protect male prerogatives of behavior and punish females for any perceived sexual transgression, even their own abuse. Welfare reform became yet another occasion to punish and stigmatize single mothers, who were blamed for everything from high taxes and immorality to crime and drug abuse. Welfare Reform was exploited as opportunity to eliminate access to family planning, and to institute abstinence-and-marriage-only options for women. The right continues to withhold funding for domestic and international family planning programs under the guise of opposition to abortion.

Anti-abortion leaders who object to abortion used "as birth control" are the fiercest opponents of contraception. The American Life League, whose president Judie Brown brands contraception "better killing through chemistry," ran newspaper ads in 2000 predicting that Microsoft CEO Bill Gates would suffer divine retribution for the hundreds of millions of dollars he donated to international family planning programs. The most strident anti-welfare, anti-choice legislators, led by Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ) and Henry Hyde (R-Ill), have targeted for elimination Title X domestic family planning, as well as international family planning programs. "Baby pesticides" is Smith’s favorite deprecating term for contraception, his justification for the 1998 House vote that barred Food and Drug Administration research on a wide range of contraceptives to prevent implantation.

The Vatican that has enthusiastically endorsed Viagra for men still vigorously opposes contraception for women. So, too, have insurance companies rushed to cover Viagra, while boycotting contraceptive coverage for over 30 years. A spokesman for the Health Insurance Association of America justified the omission, declaring Viagra a treatment for medical dysfunction, and contraception a "lifestyle drug."

Further erosion of contraceptive access has been legislated by some states as "conscience clauses" that increasingly subject women to pharmacists’ refusal to fill contraceptive prescriptions that they deem "morally objectionable." So pervasive is the imposition of fundamentalists political right doctrine that even total strangers presume the right not only to overrule science, but also to violate the conscience and health of women.