Roundup: Common Sense on Contraception, Sex Ed, Women, Catholicism, and Palin’s Liberal Fundraising Boon

Scott Swenson

Editorials around the country call for common sense on both contraception and sex ed; policies for women are explored; advocacy groups enjoy Palin fundraising bounce; Joe Biden's Catholicism and the inconsistent Bishops.

Contraception Is the Middle Ground

Cynthia Tucker writes an outstanding editorial in the Atlanta Journal Constitution that should be read in full, arguing for serious engagement by voters on the issue of supporting contraception. Citing declining abortion rates, and the need for reality-based approaches, she writes:

The flip side of the news about declining abortion rates is this:
Nearly half of all pregnancies to American women are still unintended,
and about 40 percent of those pregnancies will end in abortions, the
Guttmacher Institute says. Unintended pregnancies have been decreasing
among higher-income women, those with the resources to readily obtain
contraceptives. But unplanned pregnancies have increased among poor

So let’s make this simple: We can concentrate on working-class and
poor women. Since conservatives are reluctant to provide a comfortable
social safety net to help those women support children born outside
marriage, they ought to sign on quickly. And for those social
conservatives who still insist that teenagers ought to be taught
abstinence only (although research shows that approach a miserable
failure), there is still room for you under the big tent — supporting a
broad public campaign for contraception that focuses on adults.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Of course, the ultraconservative fringe — those who insist that sex
is intended only for procreation — will not want to get with the
program. They’re the ones who distort the science about condoms,
insisting that they don’t protect against pregnancy or disease. They’re
the ones who push legislation to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill
prescriptions for birth control. But those fringe rightwingers don’t
represent the values of the broad American middle.


Women Need Reality More Than Symbols

Writing for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Roberta Bliely argues that on matters of public policy for women, having a woman on a national ticket doesn’t actually represent change from the current administration.

American teens suffer high pregnancy and chlamydia rates, yet McCain
and Bush oppose medically accurate sex education. Instead, McCain
panders to the far right, vowing to continue the Bush tradition of
doling out hundreds of millions of tax dollars to fundamentalists who
preach “abstinence only” and don’t want young people to know about

Medical science recognizes contraception is central to women’s
health. Without it, the average woman would bear a dozen or more
pregnancies. It’s strange that Bush and McCain oppose all efforts to
make contraception affordable, whether in health plans, programs for
the uninsured, drug pricing, drug approval, international assistance,
etc. But they don’t want sensible folks to know about it….

Our next president’s views really do matter because contraception, which most of us take for granted, is at risk.

That lipstick crew has been working behind the scenes. Some would
turn the clock back half a century to when contraception was a crime.
Take, for example, Dr. Susan Orr, author of “Real Women Stay Married.”
She equates contraception with “a culture of death.” Bush appointed her
to lead Title X, the program that subsidizes contraception and cancer
screening for the uninsured. Orr brought the program to its knees.
McCain earlier voted to abolish Title X altogether. Today 17 million
uninsured women need these services.

Even women with health insurance may lose their contraception
because a Bush appeals court judge issued a precedent-setting ruling
last year against female workers who sought contraceptive coverage.
Their health plan covers all other preventive care, drugs and even
Viagra and Rogaine for men. The decision erases hard-fought gains women
won just a few years ago. McCain voted against contraceptive coverage

Before leaving office, Bush will issue rules to boost a trend among
pharmacists who refuse to dispense contraception because of religious
objections. Some Montana women must drive 80 miles to find a pharmacy
willing to sell the pill. By blurring the line between contraception
and abortion, Bush’s proposed rules will thwart state laws meant to
assure proper care for sexual assault survivors.

Don’t believe for a second that McCain and Palin will “change”
anything. Palin’s group, Feminists for Life, not only opposes all
abortion, even for rape victims, it fosters this bizarre, unfounded
notion of birth control pills as murder weapons. The group’s Web site
refers to contraception as an “abortofacient,” a favorite code word of
the far right. It means they’re gunning for your birth control.

The gradual re-criminalization of abortion has, of course, begun.
The new Supreme Court, in yet another 5-4 ruling, recently upheld an
abortion restriction that McCain approved and Bush signed. As though
high-risk pregnancy is a walk in the park, the ruling eviscerates the
women’s health protections of Roe. McCain promises to appoint judges
who will overturn Roe entirely. As the far right blurs contraception
with abortion, who knows where it will end?

McCain may have a woman on the ticket, but he does not have the interests of women at heart.


Common Sense Sex Education

An editorial in Oklahoma City’s The Black Chronicle talks about common sense when it comes to sex ed:

In an ideal world, abstinence education and purity balls would be sufficient.

In the real world, the one of raging hormones and a highly sexualized pop culture, they dissuade woefully few teens.

for the non-partisan Mathematica Policy Research Corp. tracked four
abstinence-only programs for four to six years. Their definitive
164-page report can be summed up in four words: These programs aren’t

Numerous studies show that the most successful approach is a combination of sex education and abstinence counseling.

Sen. Barack Obama (Dem., Ill.) supports this balanced policy. Yet, U.S.
Sen. John McCain (Rep., Ariz.) and his running mate, Gov. Palin, both
come down on the opposite side of the research.

McCain has expressed support for President George W. Bush’s policy and
Palin, running for governor in 2006, wrote in a questionnaire: “The
explicit sex-ed programs will not find my support.” The Republican
Platform, approved at last week’s party convention, calls for
“replacing ‘family planning’ programs for teens with increased funding
for abstinence education.”

the $1.5 billion spent since 2000 on abstinence education, however, the
Centers for Disease Control & Prevention reported earlier this year
that a decade-long decline in the teen birth rate was reversed in 2006.

“explicit” sex-ed programs, better known as comprehensive sex
education, generally promote abstinence or postponing sex but also
provide information about contraception and safe sex. Think of it this
way: You tell your children not to drink, but you also teach them that
if they do, they shouldn’t drive.


Advocacy Groups on Both Sides Enjoy Fundraising Bounce

Politico.com is reporting that both anti-choice and pro-choice advocacy organizations have seen dramatic increases in fundraising since Sarah Palin was announced as the GOP candidate for Vice President.  The spontaneous flood of cash and enthusiasm is welcome by both sides though even anti-choice advocates acknowledge Palin will be good for progressive fundraising because she is so polarizing and divisive. “She will be the feature story in every direct mail piece that goes
out,” says [Marjorie] Dannenfelser. “She’s going to raise a lot of money for them,

NARAL Pro-Choice American reported an impressive $120,000 income from just two email alerts. But some of the efforts are grassroots. For example, an email has been circulating for about a week in pro-choice circles, that encourages donations be made to Planned Parenthood as a gift in Sarah Palin’s name, sending the gift card to the McCain campaign headquarters. Officials at Planned Parenthood told Rewire that our inquiry was the first they’d heard about the email campaign.


Biden’s Catholic “Problem”?

Time Magazine asks and answers a question about Sen. Joe Biden’s Catholic faith, and recent attacks by Bishops on Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for expressing views the majority of Catholics in America support, that it is possible to separate private faith from public duty, even as Biden and Pelosi were criticized for their theological comments.  The article also points out that the most vocal Bishops have a consistency problem:

As much as these missteps have made them groan, Catholic Democrats
like Korzen complain that there is an inconsistency in the bishops’
actions. In a recent interview with Religion News Service, Archbishop
Chaput was asked why he has not also denounced the conflict between John McCain‘s
support for
embryonic stem-cell research and his statement that life begins at
conception. Chaput responded by denying that McCain held that position.
When reminded by the interviewer that McCain has made public statements
of support for embryonic stem-cell research on numerous occasions,
Chaput switched gears, arguing that he would only have reason to
express criticism if McCain had vocal Catholic support, “if a group
came out [called] Catholics for McCain.'”

There is in fact a “Catholics for McCain” organization. But
contesting the fairness of criticism won’t help Democrats this fall.
They are already poised to improve on Kerry’s support from Catholic
voters, whose top issues this year have been the economy and national
security instead of hot-button moral issues. In a TIME poll of Catholic
voters conducted this summer, a
full 80% said that they could vote for a candidate whose position on
abortion differed from theirs.


Culture & Conversation Abortion

The Comic Book That Guided Women Through Abortion Months After ‘Roe’

Sam Meier

Abortion Eve used the stories of fictional girls and women to help real ones understand their options and the law. At the same time the comic explained how to access abortion, it also asserted that abortion was crucial to women's health and liberation.

“Can you picture a comic book on abortion on the stands next to Superman?”

In June 1973, Joyce Farmer and Lyn Chevli wrote to the National Organization for Women in Chicago, asking this question of their “dear sisters” and pushing them to envision a world where women’s experiences could be considered as valiant as the superhero’s adventures. They enclosed a copy of their new comic book, Abortion Eve.

Published mere months after the Supreme Court’s January 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, Abortion Eve was intended to be a cheap, effective way to inform women about the realities of abortion. Like the few other contemporaneous comic books dealing with abortion, Abortion Eve‘s primary purpose was to educate. But for a comic dominated by technical information about surgical procedures and state laws, Abortion Eve nonetheless manages to be radical. Though abortion had so recently been illegal—and the stigma remained—the comic portrays abortion as a valid personal decision and women as moral agents fully capable of making that decision.

The comic follows five women, all named variations of “Eve,” as counselor Mary Multipary shepherds them through the process of obtaining abortions. Evelyn is an older white college professor, Eva a white dope-smoking hippie, Evie a white teenage Catholic, Eve a working Black woman, and Evita a Latina woman. Evelyn, Eve, and Evita are all married and mothers already.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

Their motivations for getting an abortion differ, too. Evita and Eve, for instance, wish to protect themselves and their loved ones by keeping their families smaller. Sixteen-year-old Evie is the poster child for sexual naiveté. Pregnant after her first time having sex, she spends most of the comic wrestling with guilt. “It’s all so ugly!” she exclaims. “I thought sex was supposed to be beautiful!”

Teenager Evie, one of the characters in the comic book Abortion Eve, breaks down as counselor Mary Multipary asks questions about her pregnancy. (Joyce Farmer)

Nonplussed, the older Eves talk her through her choices. As Eve reminds her, “Like it or not, you are a woman now, and you are going to have to decide.”

In an interview with Rewire, Farmer said that the plot of Abortion Eve was a direct outgrowth of her and Chevli’s experiences in the nascent women’s health movement. Both women had started working as birth control and “problem pregnancy” counselors at the Free Clinic in Laguna Beach, California, soon after it opened in 1970. Archival documents at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute show that Chevli and Farmer visited Los Angeles abortion providers in December 1972, on a business trip for the Free Clinic. According to Farmer, one of the doctors they met approached the pair with the idea of doing a comic about abortion to publicize his clinic.

Earlier that year, the women had produced one of the first U.S. comic books written, drawn, and published by women, Tits & Clits alpha (the “alpha” distinguished the comic from subsequent issues). So they took the doctor’s idea and ran with it. They decided to use their newly founded comics publishing company, Nanny Goat Productions, to educate women, particularly teenagers, about abortion.

At the Free Clinic, Chevli and Farmer had seen all kinds of women in all kinds of situations, and Abortion Eve attempts to reflect this diversity. As Farmer noted in an interview, she and Chevli made sure that the Eves were all different races, ages, and socioeconomic backgrounds in order to demonstrate that all kinds of women get abortions.

Farmer had made the choice to get an abortion herself, when her IUD failed in 1970. The mother—of a 12-year-old son—who was putting herself through college at the University of California at Irvine, she decided that she couldn’t afford another child.

California had liberalized its abortion laws with the Therapeutic Abortion Act of 1967, but the law was still far from truly liberal. Before Roe, California women seeking abortions needed doctors (a gynecologist and two “specialists in the field”) to submit recommendations on their behalf to the hospital where the abortion would take place. Then, a committee of physicians approved or denied the application. Only women who could pay for therapeutic abortions—those needed for medical reasonscould get them.

For Farmer, as for so many others, the process was onerous. After an hour, the psychiatrist who had interviewed her announced that she would not be eligible, as she was mentally fit to be a mother. Stunned, Farmer told the doctor that if he denied her an abortion, she would do it herself. Taking this as a suicide threat, her doctor quickly changed his mind. She wrote later that this experience began her political radicalization: “I was astounded that I had to prove to the state that I was suicidal, when all I wanted was an abortion, clean and safe.”

Farmer and Chevli began work on Abortion Eve before Roe v. Wade, when abortion was still illegal in many states. After the Supreme Court’s decision, they added a page for “more info” on the ruling. Yet even as they celebrated Roe, the women weren’t yet sure what would come of it.

The comic reflects a general confusion regarding abortion rights post-Roe, as well as women’s righteous anger over the fight to gain those rights. On the day of her abortion, for example, Evita tells Eve that, at five months pregnant, she just “slipped in” the gestational limits during which women could have abortions.

Eve explains that women now have the right to an abortion during the first three to six months of a pregnancy, but that the matter is far from settled in the courts. After all, Roe v. Wade said that states did have some interest in regulating abortion, particularly in the third trimester.

“I get mad when they control my body by their laws!” Eve says. “Bring in a woman, an’ if the problem is below her belly button and it ain’t her appendix, man—you got judges an’ lawyers an’ priests an’ assorted greybeards sniffin’ an’ fussin’ an’ tellin’ that woman what she gonna do an’ how she gonna do it!”

Abortion Eve Dialogue

Abortion Eve confronts the reality that abortion is a necessity if women are to live full sexual lives. Writing to the underground sex magazine Screw in September 1973 to advertise the comic, Chevli noted, “Surely if [your readers] screw as much as we hope, they must have need for an occasional abortion—and our book tells all about it.”

Six months after they published the comic, in December 1973, Chevli and Farmer traveled to an Anaheim rally in support of Roe outside the American Medical Association conference. They were met by a much larger group of abortion opponents. Chevli described the scene in a letter to a friend:

300 to 8. We weren’t ready, but we were there. Bodies … acquiescing, vulnerable females, wanting to show our signs, wanting to be there, ready to learn. Oh, Christ. Did we learn. It was exhausting. It was exciting. We were enervated, draged [sic] around, brung up, made to feel like goddesses, depressed, enlightened … bunches of intangible things. I have rarely experienced HATE to such a massive extent. 

That wasn’t the last feedback that Chevli and Farmer received about their views on abortion. In fact, during the course of Nanny Goat’s publishing stint, the majority of complaints that the independent press received had to do with Abortion Eve. Several self-identified Catholics objected to the “blasphemous” back cover, which featured MAD Magazine‘s Alfred E. Neuman as a visibly pregnant Virgin Mary with the caption: “What me worry?”

As archival documents at the Kinsey Institute show, other critics castigated Chevli and Farmer for setting a bad example for young women, failing to teach them right from wrong. One woman wrote them a letter in 1978, saying “You have not only wasted your paper, time, money, but you’ve probably aided in the decision of young impressionable girls and women who went and aborted their babies.”

Farmer and Chevli responded to such charges by first thanking their critics and then explaining their reasons for creating Abortion Eve. In another response, also in the Kinsey archives, Chevli wrote, “Whether abortion is right or wrong is not our concern because we do not want to dictate moral values to others. What we do want to do is educate others to the fact that abortion is legal, safe, and presents women with a choice which they can make.”

Today, abortion opponents like Louisiana Rep. Mike Johnson (R) frame abortion as the “dismemberment” of unborn children, suggesting that women who seek abortions are, in essence, murderers. With Abortion Eve, Chevli and Farmer dared to suggest that abortion was and is an integral part of women’s social and sexual liberation. Abortion Eve is unapologetic in asserting that view. The idea that abortion could be a woman’s decision alone, made in consultation with herself, for the good of herself and of her loved ones, is as radical an idea today as it was in the 1970s.

Commentary Sexual Health

Don’t Forget the Boys: Pregnancy and STI Prevention Efforts Must Include Young Men Too

Martha Kempner

Though boys and young men are often an afterthought in discussions about reproductive and sexual health, two recent studies make the case that they are in need of such knowledge and that it may predict when and how they will parent.

It’s easy to understand why so many programs and resources to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) focus on cisgender young women: They are the ones who tend to get pregnant.

But we cannot forget that young boys and men also feel the consequences of early parenthood or an STI.

I was recently reminded of the need to include boys in sexual education (and our tendency not to) by two recent studies, both published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The first examined young men’s knowledge about emergency contraception. The second study found that early fatherhood as well as nonresident fatherhood (fathers who do not live with their children) can be predicted by asking about attitudes toward pregnancy, contraception, and risky sexual behavior. Taken together, the new research sends a powerful message about the cost of missed opportunities to educate boys.

Like This Story?

Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

Donate Now

The first study was conducted at an adolescent medicine clinic in Aurora, Colorado. Young men ages 13 to 24 who visited the clinic between August and October 2014 were given a computerized survey about their sexual behavior, their attitudes toward pregnancy, and their knowledge of contraception. Most of the young men who took the survey (75 percent) had already been sexually active, and 84 percent felt it was important to prevent pregnancy. About two-thirds reported having spoken to a health-care provider about birth control other than condoms, and about three-quarters of sexually active respondents said they had spoken to their partner about birth control as well.

Yet, only 42 percent said that they knew anything about emergency contraception (EC), the only method of birth control that can be taken after intercourse. Though not meant to serve as long-term method of contraception, it can be very effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within five days of unprotected sex. Advance knowledge of EC can help ensure that young people understand the importance of using the method as soon as possible and know where to find it.

Still, the researchers were positive about the results. Study co-author Dr. Paritosh Kaul, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told Kaiser Health News that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the proportion of boys and young men who had heard about EC: “That’s two-fifths of the boys, and … we don’t talk to boys about emergency contraception that often. The boys are listening, and health-care providers need to talk to the boys.”

Even though I tend to be a glass half-empty kind of person, I like Dr. Kaul’s optimistic take on the study results. If health-care providers are broadly neglecting to talk to young men about EC, yet about 40 percent of the young men in this first study knew about it anyway, imagine how many might know if we made a concerted effort.

The study itself was too small to be generalizable (only 93 young men participated), but it had some other interesting findings. Young men who knew about EC were more likely to have discussed contraception with both their health-care providers and their partners. While this may be an indication of where they learned about EC in the first place, it also suggests that conversations about one aspect of sexual health can spur additional ones. This can only serve to make young people (both young men and their partners) better informed and better prepared.

Which brings us to our next study, in which researchers found that better-informed young men were less likely to become teen or nonresident fathers.

For this study, the research team wanted to determine whether young men’s knowledge and attitudes about sexual health during adolescence could predict their future role as a father. To do so, they used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (known as Add Health), which followed a nationally representative sample of young people for more than 20 years from adolescence into adulthood.

The researchers looked at data from 10,253 young men who had completed surveys about risky sexual behavior, attitudes toward pregnancy, and birth control self-efficacy in the first waves of Add Health, which began in 1994. The surveys asked young men to respond to statements such as: “If you had sexual intercourse, your friends would respect you more;” “It wouldn’t be all that bad if you got someone pregnant at this time in your life;” and “Using birth control interferes with sexual enjoyment.”

Researchers then looked at 2008 and 2009 data to see if these young men had become fathers, at what age this had occurred, and whether they were living with their children. Finally, they analyzed the data to determine if young men’s attitudes and beliefs during adolescence could have predicted their fatherhood status later in life.

After controlling for demographic variables, they found that young men who were less concerned about having risky sex during adolescence were 30 percent more likely to become nonresident fathers. Similarly, young men who felt it wouldn’t be so bad if they got a young woman pregnant had a 20 percent greater chance of becoming a nonresident father. In contrast, those young men who better understood how birth control works and how effective it can be were 28 percent less likely to become a nonresident father.9:45]

Though not all nonresident fathers’ children are the result of unplanned pregnancies, the risky sexual behavior scale has the most obvious connection to fatherhood in general—if you’re not averse to sexual risk, you may be more likely to cause an unintended pregnancy.

The other two findings, however, suggest that this risk doesn’t start with behavior. It starts with the attitudes and knowledge that shape that behavior. For example, the results of the birth control self-efficacy scale suggest that young people who think they are capable of preventing pregnancy with contraception are ultimately less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy.

This seems like good news to me. It shows that young men are primed for interventions such as a formal sexuality education program or, as the previous study suggested, talks with a health-care provider.

Such programs and discussion are much needed; comprehensive sexual education, when it’s available at all, often focuses on pregnancy and STI prevention for young women, who are frequently seen as bearing the burden of risky teen sexual behavior. To be fair, teen pregnancy prevention programs have always suffered for inadequate funding, not to mention decades of political battles that sent much of this funding to ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Researchers and organizations have been forced to limit their scope, which means that very few evidence-based pregnancy prevention interventions have been developed specifically for young men.

Acknowledging this deficit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of Adolescent Health have recently begun funding organizations to design or research interventions for young men ages 15 to 24. They supported three five-year projects, including a Texas program that will help young men in juvenile justice facilities reflect on how gender norms influence intimate relationships, gender-based violence, substance abuse, STIs, and teen pregnancy.

The availability of this funding and the programs it is supporting are a great start. I hope this funding will solidify interest in targeting young men for prevention and provide insight into how best to do so—because we really can’t afford to forget about the boys.