Commentary Contraception

Irrationality vs. Science: The IOM Recommendations

Amanda Marcotte

If you had any lingering hope that the Institute of Medicine could recommend including contraception in the list of preventive services that should be offered without co-pay and not have a hysterical reaction from anti-choicers, I’m afraid I’ll have to dash those hopes.

All our coverage on the IOM report and the HHS recommendations can be found here.

If you had any lingering hope that the Institute of Medicine could recommend including contraception in the list of preventive services that the HHS will require insurance companies to cover without a co-pay, I’m afraid I’ll have to dash those hopes. Media Matters has graciously put together a round-up of hysterical, sex-phobic right wing reactions to the news.  The theme of the reactions can be summed up as, “Dirty sluts don’t deserve nothing,” with a side dose of classism and hostility to the idea of universal health coverage for Americans.   

As I’ve noted before, as the battle over women’s rights becomes as much about contraception as abortion, anti-choicers are being forced to rely less on pretending to care about “life”, and instead are coming out with more straightforward arguments positing that women simply can’t have rights.  Jeffrey Kuhner of the Washington Times laid out the basic argument against eliminating co-pays for contraception.  It was, unsurprisingly, illogical when it wasn’t completely nonsensical.  But it was also comprehensive.  Every argument against the proposal was included, and every single one is a bad argument.   Let’s take them one at a time.

Argument #1: Free contraception will turn a sea of innocent virgins into the town pumps.

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Kuhner:

Promoting widespread contraception is essential to forging a pagan society based on consequence-free sex.

Reality: Contraception use is already widespread.  In fact, it’s basically universal, with more than 99 percent of women who have ever had sexual intercourse having also used contraception at some point.  Free contraception will promote widespread use in the same way that making food free would entice people to try out that eating thing they’ve heard so much.  Women have already decided they want to use contraception.  Making it available without co-pays will simply make it easier for them to live up to their intentions more consistently.   

The argument that contraception turns Christian women into pagans must be understood in this light, as contraception use is functionally universal and yet no mass conversion to vague pagan religions have yet to be reported. 

Argument #2: Female pleasure is wrong.

Kuhner:

Contraception violates the natural moral order. It decouples sexual intercourse from its main purpose: procreation. It entrenches the hedonistic ethic that sex is about recreation and individual gratification.

Reality: Since 95 percent of Americans have sex before marriage and 99 percent of women use contraception, we can safely say this belief has been voted down by the American public.  Anyway, esoteric religious beliefs can’t really be the basis of public policy.  Jehovah’s Witnesses probably outnumber people who don’t use contraception at this point, and they oppose blood transfusions, but you don’t see them demanding that insurance companies drop coverage for blood transfusions. 

Argument #3: This recommendation violates religious consciences.

Kuhner:

Moreover, subsidizing free birth control violates the conscience rights of devout Christians, orthodox Jews and Muslims.

Reality: If the principle is “no single dollar of extremely small pockets of anti-contraception fanatics should go to contraception,” then that principle has already been violated. Insurance companies already cover contraception.  The recommendation just requires that they cover more of the costs of it.  I’m unclear how, say, .005 percent of your insurance premiums going to contraception is okay with your religion, but having .01 percent of your premiums going to contraception is an outrageous violation of your religious rights.

Argument #4: ABOOOOOOORRRRRTION!

Kuhner:

Abortion is liberalism’s genocide. Since Roe v. Wade, nearly 50 million babies have been killed – lives exterminated in the womb of their mothers. Abortion clinics are the Gulag Archipelago of the modern left – a vast system of death camps underpinning the liberal regime’s secular hedonism.

Reality: Setting aside the hysterical accusation that 1/3 of American women have engaged in “genocide” against their own people (even though most women having abortions are mothers, and almost all the rest will be one day), this argument still makes no sense.  If abortion troubles you, you should be the first in line to demand free contraception for all. The whole point of contraception is that it prevents pregnancy, and you can’t get an abortion if you’re not pregnant.  Opposing contraception because of abortion is like opposing exercise because you don’t like the high heart attack rate.  Or opposing stoplights because you’re worried about traffic accidents. 

No matter how much anti-choicers ratchet up the rhetoric about abortion, the ugly truth is this: by opposing contraception, anti-choicers reveal their true agenda.  And it has nothing to do with fetal life and everything to do with women and sex.

Kuhner is no lone wolf in his hysteria over this recommendation.  As demonstrated at Media Matters, Bill O’Reilly has come out against this, using the “drunk sluts” excuse.  Greg Gutfeld on Fox News came out against this on the grounds that poor people especially should be forced to bear unwanted children, though he pretended his belief that only the well-off should have contraception was somehow supportive of poor people.  Sandy Rios of Fox News argued that contraception encourages sluttiness.  (Once again, since almost all sexually active women use contraception, the definition of a slut in this line of thinking encompasses basically all non-virgin women, married or single.) Jeanne Monahan of the Family Research Council objected to the IOM recommendation, using the “religious conscience” excuse, even though these supposed objectors are already paying insurance premiums that cover contraception, meaning that it’s not a principle that’s being changed but simply a percentage of cost. 

There’s a good and bad side to this.  All this conservative outcry is good in a sense, because anti-choicers are revealing an anti-woman, anti-sex agenda they’ve tried in the past to conceal because it’s so unpopular.  But the bad news is that this level of pressure could be felt at the HHS, and cause them to cowardly give into the “dirty sluts” argument and refuse women their right to have contraception covered as preventive care.  Hopefully the HHS will ignore the misogyny choir and do the right thing.   

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