America’s Uneasy Relationship With Contraception

Special Report: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Trump Judges

Your Reading List

Use quotes to search for exact phrases. Use AND/OR/NOT between keywords or phrases for more precise search results.

America’s Uneasy Relationship With Contraception

Kathleen Reeves

Colorado's Senate Bill 225 reminds us that there is still a great deal of hostility toward birth control in this country, and one of the most glaring examples of this hostility is in the United States’ international policy.

Colorado’s Senate has passed a bill that defines contraceptives as “any medically acceptable drug, device or procedure used to prevent pregnancy.” Seems pretty straight-forward, but, as the University of Denver’s newspaper reports, “students are divided” over it. Then again, so is our country.

The purpose of this curious statement of the obvious is to squelch attempts to define some types of contraception as abortion. Last year’s Amendment 48, which was defeated in the state, sought to give legal status to fertilized eggs, and thus outlaw any contraception interfering with the progress of a fertilized egg. How this law would have been enforced is hard to say, since even the long arm of the law can’t be sure when an egg has been fertilized. Regardless, the Colorado legislature decided that a little clarification was in order.

Ridiculous as it may seem, Senate Bill 225 reminds us that there is still a great deal of hostility toward birth control in this country. The war on abortion sometimes distracts us from the continuing war on contraception. One of the most glaring examples of this hostility is in the United States’ international policy.

Including family planning in our international aid packages has been, and continues to be, extremely politically fraught. A panel of former directors of USAID’s Office of Population and Reproductive Health recently convened in San Francisco with the message that we need to do much, much more to support family planning around the world. The ability of women to be in charge of their own fertility will dramatically improve not just their lives, but the lives of their children, and the environmental and economic health of their communities.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

The latest news, delivered straight to your inbox.


Extremists in the United States call this kind of discussion “population control” and may point to their own large families as evidence that unchecked reproduction should be encouraged and even helps a country thrive. This argument ignores the fact that large families in the United States enjoy a very healthy (even now) economic environment and that the birth rate in the United States is low. Despite the way that contraception has been stigmatized, socially and politically, in this country, it’s been widely used for a while now. So the resistance to funding international family planning strikes me not as a question of ideological difference, but as hypocrisy.

Those on the far-right are correct about one thing: this is a moral debate. Those who don’t use contraception themselves–and only two percent of Americans fall into this category—cannot expect the belief of such a small minority to be good international policy. And since statistically, the vast majority of those who oppose sending family planning resources to other countries enjoy these resources themselves, I can only assume that these people don’t believe that Africans or Asians or South Americans deserve the same basic rights that they themselves do.

Then there is the minority that continues to fight contraception however it can—hence the fertilized egg amendment in Colorado. I take hope, however, from the guileless comments of a University of Denver sophomore who “doesn’t align himself with the left or the right”:

“It should be up to the woman taking the birth control whether or not she wants to have children…The government should have no say in it. I think the [bill] passing protecting that right is a good thing.”

What an idea. The student, a man, does not have personal, direct experience with birth control (though he may be quite affected by it, now or in the future). He’s merely articulating a very reasonable right to choose. In a similar way, Americans living comfortably with two children or ten can’t imagine what it’s like to raise a family in extreme poverty in an overburdened country. All we can do is give women the resources that we take for granted and let them make a choice.