The Centers for Disease Control is not the
first place one looks for ideas on conflict resolution but, with
one issue that has divided America, it should be. A recent CDC
study revealed that between 1990 and 2004, abortion rates plummeted
by 50 percent in the U.S. The researchers suggest one common-sense
policy approach is most responsible: access to contraception.
As political campaigns around the country
take very different stands on the abortion issue, this argument
will intensify. And the stakes couldn’t be higher. The next
president, if history is any measure, is likely to appoint two
Supreme Court justices. Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision
legalizing abortion nationwide, currently stands by one vote. The
next election will likely decide whether Roe v. Wade remains the
law of the land.
Against this political backdrop, another,
potentially more important, reproductive rights conflict may get
lost. In fact, the issue many candidates don’t want voters to think
about is not abortion, but contraception — and the media hasn’t
called them on it.
Access to contraception is the only proven
way to reduce unwanted pregnancy rates. It’s no wonder that
Americans on both sides of the abortion debate overwhelmingly
support contraception. Yet few know that more and more candidates
vying for their vote don’t. Across the U.S., anti-abortion
organizations have added anti-contraception activities to their
agenda and expect those they help get elected to office to join in
these efforts. Since this issue isn’t on most voters’ radar, most
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North Kentucky Right to Life, for instance,
will not endorse a candidate unless he or she states that the
standard birth control pill is an abortion method (a widely held,
but scientifically unfounded, belief within the anti-abortion
establishment). Pro-Life Wisconsin asked legislators to ban
emergency contraception from state university campuses and opposed
efforts to provide rape victims with pregnancy prevention, too.
Missouri Right to Life convinced its allies
in the state Legislature to completely discontinue the state’s
family planning program. Georgia Right to Life organized its
favorite legislators to support a bill that would reclassify all
hormonal methods of birth control as abortion. In Virginia,
pro-life legislators, taking marching orders from their local
anti-contraception groups, successfully defeated legislation that
clarified, using scientific evidence, that contraception is not
In the last eight years, on the federal
level, anti-abortion organizations have used their political
leverage to undermine the nation’s contraception program, Title X.
They have appointed anti-contraception ideologues to oversee the
program. Not surprisingly, they have under-budgeted it while the
number of Americans relying on Title X has swelled.
Anti-contraception groups have gummed up the
gears of the Food and Drug Administration with like-minded
ideologues and have successfully obstructed Americans from gaining
greater access to the most effective contraception methods. They
were the brains behind the recently leaked Health and Human
Services proposal that sought to reclassify the most commonly used
forms of contraception as abortion.
The questions being posed to candidates on
all other critical issues facing the nation today demand cogent and
solution-oriented answers. A candidate isn’t considered serious
about the economy without answers on how to create new jobs. Who
would be labeled pro-environment without a position on fighting
noxious emissions? No discussion of escalating gas prices is
complete without a candidate explaining his or her position on
energy alternatives too. But, oddly, no anti-abortion candidates
are ever asked about their position on contraception despite the
fact that their views on the matter often differ dramatically from
what the public wants and what works.
As we teeter on the precipice of reversing
Roe v. Wade, candidates’ positions on contraception and pregnancy
prevention are more important than ever.
What’s most frightening in light of the
precariousness of the right to choose, is how closely tethered it
is to the right to contraception. A candidate’s position and,
whenever possible, legislative record on ensuring contraceptive
access should be closely examined in elections at every level.
Candidates should be asked plainly, "Do you
support contraception?" And, "If so, what have you done and what
will you do to ensure access to it?"
In 2006, soon after South Dakota passed a
near total ban on abortion, I was scheduled to debate Jim Sedlak,
vice president of the American Life League.
Before we took the stage I asked if he was
disappointed by how "limited" the near total abortion ban was. He
replied without irony, "Was it the perfect law? No. Would we have
liked it to ban contraception? Yes." It’s not that those opposed to
contraception are unwilling to answer the question, it’s simply
that no one ever thinks to ask.