Commentary Contraception

The Aftermath of ‘Hobby Lobby’: Multiple Attacks on Contraception Access

Amanda Marcotte

Suing to keep grown daughters from accessing contraception, or to keep employees from having coverage for contraception from somewhere besides the health-care plan you offer? Conservatives are getting aggressive in arguing they have a right to directly interfere with your ability to get contraception, and they may win.

Read more of our coverage on challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit here.

The official anti-choice line when objecting to the birth control benefit in the Affordable Care Act is “religious freedom.” It’s always been a transparent lie, particularly since the actual objection, trotted out in right-wing media sources like Rush Limbaugh’s show, has always been about how women shouldn’t be having sex in the first place. But recent events confirm, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the objections have nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with the belief that women should not be allowed to make their own decisions when it comes to sexual and reproductive health.

The first story is kind of a stunner. State Rep. Paul Wieland (R-MO), a vehemently anti-choice legislator from Missouri, is suing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prevent his daughters, two of whom are legal adults, from having access to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception benefit. Under the health-care reform law, young adults can be covered until age 26 on their parent’s health-care plans (though there’s no requirement that they have to be). Rep. Wieland’s argument is that because of this, he has a right to try to control the private medical decisions of his adult daughters.

There’s been no real attempt on the right to make this story about anything but the argument that parents have a right to interfere with the private sexual and reproductive health decisions of daughters, even grown daughters. Timothy Belz of the Thomas More Society, for instance, argued that contraception coverage is “as though the federal government had passed an edict that said that parents must provide a stocked unlocked liquor cabinet in their house whenever they’re away for their minor and adult daughters to use.”

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The casual equation of a medication that prevents a serious medical condition—pregnancy—with liquor gives away the game here. What’s going on here is nothing but a bunch of moralizing combined with the belief that women are never really full-grown adults but are simply wards of their parents until their custody can be transferred to husbands.

But beyond that, the argument here is also false, as are all other claims that contraception coverage amounts to “buying” contraception for someone else. The parents aren’t buying the contraception. They are paying for an insurance plan, and the insurance company pays for the contraception—if you want it. A better analogy would be buying your daughter a house which she, since it’s a gift, now owns, and then calling the police on her if she has a gentleman caller over, arguing that because you gave her something, the government should enforce your desires about how she uses it.

Indeed, this is why Wieland lost his case in district court: because the judges were uneasy with the idea of the government trying to use its power to enforce parental authority over grown adults. Belz argued, however, “Well, we all have high hopes for our kids, that is true. We all expect and want them to obey us, they don’t always.” This suggests that parental desire to have adult daughters who are virgins trumps adult daughters’ own right to control their bodies.

Of course if Wieland is so upset over this, he could simply refuse to cover his daughters on his insurance. But that was also true of Hobby Lobby—the closely held corporation could have refused to offer insurance altogether and not received a tax break instead. The refusal to even acknowledge that alternative demonstrates that this is not about its religious “conscience,” but about trying to manipulate the law and the political controversies over Obamacare to achieve the real goal, which is taking power away from women and giving it to employers, parents, husbands, and schools: Anyone but the women themselves.

You don’t need a keen legal mind to realize that, prior to the decision in Hobby Lobby v. Burwell, it was generally understood that once you transferred possession of something—such as a house, a car, a pair of pants, or a health insurance plan—over to someone else, it belonged to that person and not you, and the current owner got to decide what to do with it, not the former owner. For instance, you may buy your daughter a car and ask her not to use the seatbelt. You may even refuse to give her a car if you are afraid she’ll buckle up. But what you can’t do is demand that the government make an exception to its mandatory seatbelt rules so you can remove her seatbelt because you’re afraid she’ll be tempted to use it.

But now the Supreme Court has signaled that they are eager to make an exception to this long-standing legal idea when it comes to women’s bodies, allowing others to make really bold claims about their right to stop you from getting care from your own plan or even from one offered by the government.

The fact that conservatives feel the court is going to offer them the right to stand between women and contraception is evidenced by the latest machinations in the fight to make sure employers don’t offer birth control coverage. The administration is offering a compromise through which those employers don’t have to offer the birth control coverage in their own plans, but they have to allow women to go elsewhere for the coverage, in this case to the insurance companies themselves. It’s the equivalent of saying, “OK, you don’t have to provide an office parking lot, but you can’t prevent them from parking in this public lot we’ve built next door.”

But the Little Sisters of the Poor, one of the groups suing to prevent employees from accessing contraception, has rejected this plan. It’s become painfully clear at this point that the Little Sisters will accept no other answer besides giving them permission to cut off any and all contraception coverage that women might get from anyone. They won’t pay for it, but they won’t allow anyone else to pay for it. It’s the equivalent of arguing that the government is obliged to shut down the public lot because you are trying to force all your employees to walk to work and the government services are interfering with that.

These arguments are all ridiculous, but so were the arguments in Hobby Lobby. The reason conservatives are pushing forward is they believe they have a Supreme Court that will accept any pretzel logic so long as it means that fewer women get contraception. Unfortunately, the Roberts Court hasn’t given them any reason to doubt that’s exactly what’s going on.

Roundups Sexual Health

This Week in Sex: The Sexually Transmitted Infections Edition

Martha Kempner

A new Zika case suggests the virus can be transmitted from an infected woman to a male partner. And, in other news, HPV-related cancers are on the rise, and an experimental chlamydia vaccine shows signs of promise.

This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Zika May Have Been Sexually Transmitted From a Woman to Her Male Partner

A new case suggests that males may be infected with the Zika virus through unprotected sex with female partners. Researchers have known for a while that men can infect their partners through penetrative sexual intercourse, but this is the first suspected case of sexual transmission from a woman.

The case involves a New York City woman who is in her early 20s and traveled to a country with high rates of the mosquito-borne virus (her name and the specific country where she traveled have not been released). The woman, who experienced stomach cramps and a headache while waiting for her flight back to New York, reported one act of sexual intercourse without a condom the day she returned from her trip. The following day, her symptoms became worse and included fever, fatigue, a rash, and tingling in her hands and feet. Two days later, she visited her primary-care provider and tests confirmed she had the Zika virus.

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A few days after that (seven days after intercourse), her male partner, also in his 20s, began feeling similar symptoms. He had a rash, a fever, and also conjunctivitis (pink eye). He, too, was diagnosed with Zika. After meeting with him, public health officials in the New York City confirmed that he had not traveled out of the country nor had he been recently bit by a mosquito. This leaves sexual transmission from his partner as the most likely cause of his infection, though further tests are being done.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s recommendations for preventing Zika have been based on the assumption that virus was spread from a male to a receptive partner. Therefore the recommendations had been that pregnant women whose male partners had traveled or lived in a place where Zika virus is spreading use condoms or abstain from sex during the pregnancy. For those couples for whom pregnancy is not an issue, the CDC recommended that men who had traveled to countries with Zika outbreaks and had symptoms of the virus, use condoms or abstain from sex for six months after their trip. It also suggested that men who traveled but don’t have symptoms use condoms for at least eight weeks.

Based on this case—the first to suggest female-to-male transmission—the CDC may extend these recommendations to couples in which a female traveled to a country with an outbreak.

More Signs of Gonorrhea’s Growing Antibiotic Resistance

Last week, the CDC released new data on gonorrhea and warned once again that the bacteria that causes this common sexually transmitted infection (STI) is becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to treat it.

There are about 350,000 cases of gonorrhea reported each year, but it is estimated that 800,000 cases really occur with many going undiagnosed and untreated. Once easily treatable with antibiotics, the bacteria Neisseria gonorrhoeae has steadily gained resistance to whole classes of antibiotics over the decades. By the 1980s, penicillin no longer worked to treat it, and in 2007 the CDC stopped recommending the use of fluoroquinolones. Now, cephalosporins are the only class of drugs that work. The recommended treatment involves a combination of ceftriaxone (an injectable cephalosporin) and azithromycin (an oral antibiotic).

Unfortunately, the data released last week—which comes from analysis of more than 5,000 samples of gonorrhea (called isolates) collected from STI clinics across the country—shows that the bacteria is developing resistance to these drugs as well. In fact, the percentage of gonorrhea isolates with decreased susceptibility to azithromycin increased more than 300 percent between 2013 and 2014 (from 0.6 percent to 2.5 percent).

Though no cases of treatment failure has been reported in the United States, this is a troubling sign of what may be coming. Dr. Gail Bolan, director of CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, said in a press release: “It is unclear how long the combination therapy of azithromycin and ceftriaxone will be effective if the increases in resistance persists. We need to push forward on multiple fronts to ensure we can continue offering successful treatment to those who need it.”

HPV-Related Cancers Up Despite Vaccine 

The CDC also released new data this month showing an increase in HPV-associated cancers between 2008 and 2012 compared with the previous five-year period. HPV or human papillomavirus is an extremely common sexually transmitted infection. In fact, HPV is so common that the CDC believes most sexually active adults will get it at some point in their lives. Many cases of HPV clear spontaneously with no medical intervention, but certain types of the virus cause cancer of the cervix, vulva, penis, anus, mouth, and neck.

The CDC’s new data suggests that an average of 38,793 HPV-associated cancers were diagnosed each year between 2008 and 2012. This is a 17 percent increase from about 33,000 each year between 2004 and 2008. This is a particularly unfortunate trend given that the newest available vaccine—Gardasil 9—can prevent the types of HPV most often linked to cancer. In fact, researchers estimated that the majority of cancers found in the recent data (about 28,000 each year) were caused by types of the virus that could be prevented by the vaccine.

Unfortunately, as Rewire has reported, the vaccine is often mired in controversy and far fewer young people have received it than get most other recommended vaccines. In 2014, only 40 percent of girls and 22 percent of boys ages 13 to 17 had received all three recommended doses of the vaccine. In comparison, nearly 80 percent of young people in this age group had received the vaccine that protects against meningitis.

In response to the newest data, Dr. Electra Paskett, co-director of the Cancer Control Research Program at the Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center, told HealthDay:

In order to increase HPV vaccination rates, we must change the perception of the HPV vaccine from something that prevents a sexually transmitted disease to a vaccine that prevents cancer. Every parent should ask the question: If there was a vaccine I could give my child that would prevent them from developing six different cancers, would I give it to them? The answer would be a resounding yes—and we would have a dramatic decrease in HPV-related cancers across the globe.

Making Inroads Toward a Chlamydia Vaccine

An article published in the journal Vaccine shows that researchers have made progress with a new vaccine to prevent chlamydia. According to lead researcher David Bulir of the M. G. DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research at Canada’s McMaster University, efforts to create a vaccine have been underway for decades, but this is the first formulation to show success.

In 2014, there were 1.4 million reported cases of chlamydia in the United States. While this bacterial infection can be easily treated with antibiotics, it often goes undiagnosed because many people show no symptoms. Untreated chlamydia can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease, which can leave scar tissue in the fallopian tubes or uterus and ultimately result in infertility.

The experimental vaccine was created by Canadian researchers who used pieces of the bacteria that causes chlamydia to form an antigen they called BD584. The hope was that the antigen could prompt the body’s immune system to fight the chlamydia bacteria if exposed to it.

Researchers gave BD584 to mice using a nasal spray, and then exposed them to chlamydia. The results were very promising. The mice who received the spray cleared the infection faster than the mice who did not. Moreover, the mice given the nasal spray were less likely to show symptoms of infection, such as bacterial shedding from the vagina or fluid blockages of the fallopian tubes.

There are many steps to go before this vaccine could become available. The researchers need to test it on other strains of the bacteria and in other animals before testing it in humans. And, of course, experience with the HPV vaccine shows that there’s work to be done to make sure people get vaccines that prevent STIs even after they’re invented. Nonetheless, a vaccine to prevent chlamydia would be a great victory in our ongoing fight against STIs and their health consequences, and we here at This Week in Sex are happy to end on a bit of a positive note.

News Politics

Former Klan Leader on Senate Run: My Views Are Now the ‘GOP Mainstream’

Teddy Wilson

David Duke has been a fervent support of the Trump campaign, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

David Duke, convicted felon, white supremacist, and former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, announced Friday that he will run for U.S. Senate in Louisiana, Roll Call reported.

Duke said that after a “great outpouring of overwhelming support,” he will campaign for the open Senate seat vacated by former Republican Sen. David Vitter, who lost a bid for Louisiana governor in a runoff election.

Duke’s announcement comes the day after Donald Trump accepted the GOP nomination in the midst of growing tensions over race relations across the country. Trump has been criticized during the campaign for his rhetoric, which, his critics say, mainstreams white nationalism and provokes anxiety and fear among students of color.

His statements about crime and immigration, particularly about immigrants from Mexico and predominantly Muslim countries, have been interpreted by outlets such as the New York Times as speaking to some white supporters’ “deeper and more elaborate bigotry.”

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Duke said in his campaign announcement that he was the first candidate to promote the policy of “America first,” echoing a line from Trump’s nomination acceptance speech on Thursday night.

“The most important difference between our plan and that of our opponents, is that our plan will put America First,” Trump said Thursday night. “As long as we are led by politicians who will not put America First, then we can be assured that other nations will not treat America with respect.”

Duke said his platform has become “the GOP mainstream” and claimed credit for propelling Republicans to control of Congress in 2010. He said he is “overjoyed to see Donald Trump … embrace most of the issues I’ve championed for years.”

Trump in February declined to disavow the support of a white supremacist group and Duke, saying he knew “nothing about David Duke” and knew “nothing about white supremacists.” He later clarified that he rejected their support, and blamed his initial failure to disavow Duke on a “bad earpiece.”

Trump’s candidacy has also brought to light brought many incidents of anti-Semitism, much of which has been directed at journalists and commentators covering the presidential campaign.

Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro wrote in the National Review that Trump’s nomination has “drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork,” and that the Republican nominee has been willing to “channel the support of anti-Semites to his own ends.”

Duke took to Twitter after Trump’s acceptance speech Thursday to express his support for the Republican nominee’s vision for America.

“Great Trump Speech, America First! Stop Wars! Defeat the Corrupt elites! Protect our Borders!, Fair Trade! Couldn’t have said it better!” Duke tweeted.

Duke has been a fervent Trump supporter, and has posted dozens of messages in support of Trump on Twitter. Duke has often used the hashtag #TrumpWasRight.

Duke was elected to the Louisiana house in 1989, serving one term. Duke was the Republican nominee for governor in 1991, and was defeated by Democrat Edwin Edwards.

Duke, who plead guilty in 2002 to mail fraud and tax fraud, has served a year in federal prison.