Condom Sabotage Isn’t A Joke

Amanda Marcotte

The accusations against Julian Assange have brought forth a fancy new defense of abusive behavior, which is that condom sabotage isn't that big a deal.  In reality, birth control sabotage is a common and particularly scary form of abuse.

Without commenting either way on the validity of the accusations against Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks who was recently arrested under politically suspicious circumstances for rape charges in Sweden international officials would usually ignore, I want to say that the charges themselves are very serious.  I realize it’s hopeless to suggest that pointing out the charges are serious isn’t the same as stating he’s guilty.  And that it’s probably hopeless to beg people not to rehash the same tired accusations that are always whipped out against women who file criminal complaints about rape.  When someone who has ever done anything that someone else liked is accused of rape, Rape Apology Day is declared, and all common sense is usually thrown out the window.  But I beg of you, this article has nothing to do with the validity of the charges or rendering judgment on Wikileaks itself.

This is about the seriousness of the charges and of birth control sabotage. Both of which are being downplayed by interested parties who struggle to grasp both that a man could do something they admire and do something that is immoral and illegal. Not that he did do it (please, people, calm down!).  But surely grown-ups can realize that people are complicated, and many can have both good and evil inside them.

The charges in this case, from what has been accurately reported, are rape, sexual molestation, and coercion—including accusations of holding a woman down and having sex with a sleeping woman.  But, as Jessica Valenti reports, there has been some information to suggest that one of the women is charging that Assange assaulted her by having sex with her after she withdrew her consent because he reneged on a promise to use a condom.  Unsurprisingly, the usual rape apologists stood by their usual claim that if a woman consents to [fill in the blank], then a man has a free pass to force whatever sexual acts he wishes on her.  But more surprisingly, some people came up the novel idea that birth control sabotage is not, in and of itself, a good enough reason for a woman to withdraw consent.

Most upsettingly, Naomi Wolf bypassed the actual accusations that Assange forcibly raped women, and latched on to the condom aspects of the case to accuse the women of being oversensitive babies.  Her facts were all wrong, of course—the lack of condom use was mostly noted in the charges as an aggravating factor, because the alleged victim had insisted on condoms. But I want to look carefully at the notion that a man sabotaging a woman’s birth control shouldn’t be considered a form of assault.  I’m not talking about honest mistakes (such as a condom breaking while you’re unaware), but the problem of men slipping off the condom during intercourse to get one over on the woman they’re sleeping with, claiming they’re wearing one in a dark room when they’re not, or otherwise doing things to a woman’s preferred form of contraception that makes it less effective.  Is this behavior just being “caddish,” or should it be considered a form of abuse?

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I’m in the latter camp, and think that if you had a few high profile cases where men were convicted of sexual assault for performing what I call the “condom slip,” then the incidence of this dangerous, abusive behavior would go down dramatically.  I think that penetrating a woman who asked for a condom without a condom, either through force or trickery, is sexual assault and should be treated as such.  I think men who do this and other kinds of birth control sabotage, through force or trickery (which is a kind of force), do so in order to abuse and dominate women. And I’m not alone in this thought.  There’s a small but growing body of research to back me up.

As researchers Elizabeth Miller and Jay Silverman discovered, birth control sabotage is one of the many ways that domestic abusers demonstrate their dominance and control over their victims.  They do the condom slip, flush pills down the toilet, or otherwise use coercion to get unwilling women to submit to unprotected sex.  Often, they desire the pregnancy in order to make it harder for a woman to leave the relationship, but at the root of this is a desire to use a woman’s ability to get pregnant as a way to hurt her. 

Indeed, it’s not uncommon for men who force pregnancy on unwilling women to then demand an abortion.  It’s not about having babies, but about controlling women’s bodies.

It seems to me that tools in the abuser’s toolbox are often employed by men who sexually assault women they aren’t in relationships with. Just like batterers, rapists do what they do because they want to dominate and control their victims.  For a predatory man, it might be a particular thrill feeling like you’ve gotten one over on your victim by threatening her not with up front violence, but forcing STD and pregnancy risks on her.  This has the added bonus, to an assailant, of being hard to prove and therefore unlikely to get him in trouble.

As Miller and Silverman noted, the problem of birth control sabotage isn’t just about women’s rights and emotional well-being—though in a perfect world, that would be reason enough to care.  It’s also a public health menace.  Birth control sabotage increases the rate of unintended child-bearing and all its heightened risks, STD transmission, and abortion. If we can’t care about women for themselves, we should care about how men employing clever, quasi-legal forms of assault are hurting the public health.  Instead of laughing off the condom slip as some kind of caddish behavior, we should see it for what it is: abuse.   And it should be taken seriously as a legal matter.

News Abortion

Study: United States a ‘Stark Outlier’ in Countries With Legal Abortion, Thanks to Hyde Amendment

Nicole Knight Shine

The study's lead author said the United States' public-funding restriction makes it a "stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations."

The vast majority of countries pay for abortion care, making the United States a global outlier and putting it on par with the former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan and a handful of Balkan States, a new study in the journal Contraception finds.

A team of researchers conducted two rounds of surveys between 2011 and 2014 in 80 countries where abortion care is legal. They found that 59 countries, or 74 percent of those surveyed, either fully or partially cover terminations using public funding. The United States was one of only ten countries that limits federal funding for abortion care to exceptional cases, such as rape, incest, or life endangerment.

Among the 40 “high-income” countries included in the survey, 31 provided full or partial funding for abortion care—something the United States does not do.

Dr. Daniel Grossman, lead author and director of Advancing New Standards in Reproductive Health (ANSIRH) at the University of California (UC) San Francisco, said in a statement announcing the findings that this country’s public-funding restriction makes it a “stark outlier among countries where abortion is legal—especially among high-income nations.”

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The researchers call on policymakers to make affordable health care a priority.

The federal Hyde Amendment (first passed in 1976 and reauthorized every year thereafter) bans the use of federal dollars for abortion care, except for cases of rape, incest, or life endangerment. Seventeen states, as the researchers note, bridge this gap by spending state money on terminations for low-income residents. Of the 14.1 million women enrolled in Medicaid, fewer than half, or 6.7 million, live in states that cover abortion services with state funds.

This funding gap delays abortion care for some people with limited means, who need time to raise money for the procedure, researchers note.

As Jamila Taylor and Yamani Hernandez wrote last year for Rewire, “We have heard first-person accounts of low-income women selling their belongings, going hungry for weeks as they save up their grocery money, or risking eviction by using their rent money to pay for an abortion, because of the Hyde Amendment.”

Public insurance coverage of abortion remains controversial in the United States despite “evidence that cost may create a barrier to access,” the authors observe.

“Women in the US, including those with low incomes, should have access to the highest quality of care, including the full range of reproductive health services,” Grossman said in the statement. “This research indicates there is a global consensus that abortion care should be covered like other health care.”

Earlier research indicated that U.S. women attempting to self-induce abortion cited high cost as a reason.

The team of ANSIRH researchers and Ibis Reproductive Health uncovered a bit of good news, finding that some countries are loosening abortion laws and paying for the procedures.

“Uruguay, as well as Mexico City,” as co-author Kate Grindlay from Ibis Reproductive Health noted in a press release, “legalized abortion in the first trimester in the past decade, and in both cases the service is available free of charge in public hospitals or covered by national insurance.”

Analysis Abortion

Legislators Have Introduced 445 Provisions to Restrict Abortion So Far This Year

Elizabeth Nash & Rachel Benson Gold

So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.

So far this year, legislators have introduced 1,256 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights. Of these, 35 percent (445 provisions) sought to restrict access to abortion services. By midyear, 17 states had passed 46 new abortion restrictions.

Including these new restrictions, states have adopted 334 abortion restrictions since 2010, constituting 30 percent of all abortion restrictions enacted by states since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. However, states have also enacted 22 measures this year designed to expand access to reproductive health services or protect reproductive rights.

Mid year state restrictions


Signs of Progress

The first half of the year ended on a high note, with the U.S. Supreme Court handing down the most significant abortion decision in a generation. The Court’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt struck down abortion restrictions in Texas requiring abortion facilities in the state to convert to the equivalent of ambulatory surgical centers and mandating that abortion providers have admitting privileges at a local hospital; these two restrictions had greatly diminished access to services throughout the state (see Lessons from Texas: Widespread Consequences of Assaults on Abortion Access). Five other states (Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Virginia) have similar facility requirements, and the Texas decision makes it less likely that these laws would be able to withstand judicial scrutiny (see Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers). Nineteen other states have abortion facility requirements that are less onerous than the ones in Texas; the fate of these laws in the wake of the Court’s decision remains unclear. 

Ten states in addition to Texas had adopted hospital admitting privileges requirements. The day after handing down the Texas decision, the Court declined to review lower court decisions that have kept such requirements in Mississippi and Wisconsin from going into effect, and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R) announced that he would not enforce the state’s law. As a result of separate litigation, enforcement of admitting privileges requirements in Kansas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma is currently blocked. That leaves admitting privileges in effect in Missouri, North Dakota, Tennessee and Utah; as with facility requirements, the Texas decision will clearly make it harder for these laws to survive if challenged.

More broadly, the Court’s decision clarified the legal standard for evaluating abortion restrictions. In its 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Court had said that abortion restrictions could not impose an undue burden on a woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy. In Whole Woman’s Health, the Court stressed the importance of using evidence to evaluate the extent to which an abortion restriction imposes a burden on women, and made clear that a restriction’s burdens cannot outweigh its benefits, an analysis that will give the Texas decision a reach well beyond the specific restrictions at issue in the case.

As important as the Whole Woman’s Health decision is and will be going forward, it is far from the only good news so far this year. Legislators in 19 states introduced a bevy of measures aimed at expanding insurance coverage for contraceptive services. In 13 of these states, the proposed measures seek to bolster the existing federal contraceptive coverage requirement by, for example, requiring coverage of all U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved methods and banning the use of techniques such as medical management and prior authorization, through which insurers may limit coverage. But some proposals go further and plow new ground by mandating coverage of sterilization (generally for both men and women), allowing a woman to obtain an extended supply of her contraceptive method (generally up to 12 months), and/or requiring that insurance cover over-the-counter contraceptive methods. By July 1, both Maryland and Vermont had enacted comprehensive measures, and similar legislation was pending before Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner (R). And, in early July, Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) signed a measure into law allowing women to obtain a year’s supply of their contraceptive method.


But the Assault Continues

Even as these positive developments unfolded, the long-standing assault on sexual and reproductive health and rights continued apace. Much of this attention focused on the release a year ago of a string of deceptively edited videos designed to discredit Planned Parenthood. The campaign these videos spawned initially focused on defunding Planned Parenthood and has grown into an effort to defund family planning providers more broadly, especially those who have any connection to abortion services. Since last July, 24 states have moved to restrict eligibility for funding in several ways:

  • Seventeen states have moved to limit family planning providers’ eligibility for reimbursement under Medicaid, the program that accounts for about three-fourths of all public dollars spent on family planning. In some cases, states have tried to exclude Planned Parenthood entirely from such funding. These attacks have come via both administrative and legislative means. For instance, the Florida legislature included a defunding provision in an omnibus abortion bill passed in March. As the controversy grew, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the federal agency that administers Medicaid, sent a letter to state officials reiterating that federal law prohibits them from discriminating against family planning providers because they either offer abortion services or are affiliated with an abortion provider (see CMS Provides New Clarity For Family Planning Under Medicaid). Most of these state attempts have been blocked through legal challenges. However, a funding ban went into effect in Mississippi on July 1, and similar measures are awaiting implementation in three other states.
  • Fourteen states have moved to restrict family planning funds controlled by the state, with laws enacted in four states. The law in Kansas limits funding to publicly run programs, while the law in Louisiana bars funding to providers who are associated with abortion services. A law enacted in Wisconsin directs the state to apply for federal Title X funding and specifies that if this funding is obtained, it may not be distributed to family planning providers affiliated with abortion services. (In 2015, New Hampshire moved to deny Title X funds to Planned Parenthood affiliates; the state reversed the decision in 2016.) Finally, the budget adopted in Michigan reenacts a provision that bars the allocation of family planning funds to organizations associated with abortion. Notably, however, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed a similar measure.
  • Ten states have attempted to bar family planning providers’ eligibility for related funding, including monies for sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, prevention of interpersonal violence, and prevention of breast and cervical cancer. In three of these states, the bans are the result of legislative action; in Utah, the ban resulted from action by the governor. Such a ban is in effect in North Carolina; the Louisiana measure is set to go into effect in August. Implementation of bans in Ohio and Utah has been blocked as a result of legal action.


The first half of 2016 was also noteworthy for a raft of attempts to ban some or all abortions. These measures fell into four distinct categories:

  • By the end of June, four states enacted legislation to ban the most common method used to perform abortions during the second trimester. The Mississippi and West Virginia laws are in effect; the other two have been challenged in court. (Similar provisions enacted last year in Kansas and Oklahoma are also blocked pending legal action.)
  • South Carolina and North Dakota both enacted measures banning abortion at or beyond 20 weeks post-fertilization, which is equivalent to 22 weeks after the woman’s last menstrual period. This brings to 16 the number of states with these laws in effect (see State Policies on Later Abortions).
  • Indiana and Louisiana adopted provisions banning abortions under specific circumstances. The Louisiana law banned abortions at or after 20 weeks post-fertilization in cases of diagnosed genetic anomaly; the law is slated to go into effect on August 1. Indiana adopted a groundbreaking measure to ban abortion for purposes of race or sex selection, in cases of a genetic anomaly, or because of the fetus’ “color, national origin, or ancestry”; enforcement of the measure is blocked pending the outcome of a legal challenge.
  • Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) vetoed a sweeping measure that would have banned all abortions except those necessary to protect the woman’s life.


In addition, 14 states (Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah) enacted other types of abortion restrictions during the first half of the year, including measures to impose or extend waiting periods, restrict access to medication abortion, and establish regulations on abortion clinics.

Zohra Ansari-Thomas, Olivia Cappello, and Lizamarie Mohammed all contributed to this analysis.