Lauryn Gutierrez / Rewire
On this episode of Reality Cast, I’ll be talking with Adam Sonfield of the Guttmacher about an under-covered aspect of the contraception mandate case. Arguments for that case start in front of the Supreme Court this week, and a new HBO documentary covers what life is like for a single mother living on the edge.
Jezebel posted a comedy video purporting to be an ad for a fake abortion pill that conservatives could take to prevent the possibility of having, gasp, a liberal child. Some pretty funny stuff.
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It’s kind of silly, but I do think circles around a very important point, which is that the attacks on legal access to abortion are structured in such a way that poor people are the ones who lose access while wealthy people retain access. It’s awfully convenient for powerful conservatives to get rid of abortion access for other people while making sure they can keep it for themselves, isn’t it?
It’s here, folks: Arguments start this week in front of the Supreme Court regarding the Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius case regarding the contraception mandate and all the employers that are trying to get out of paying the full benefits package to their employees if their employees use it for contraception. Hobby Lobby is the most famous employer in the lawsuit, but far from the only one.
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There’s a reason it’s become so popular for employers to press their point on this, and it has nothing to do with religious freedom. The reason is simple: This is a major opportunity for employers to gain some serious leverage over their employees. This is about the return to the “company store” model of paying people, where employers make your compensation contingent on how you spend it. In the company store model, employers will pay you, but you can’t spend your money anywhere but in a store they own, one that conveniently has all the prices jacked up so they make a major profit. In this case, employers are paying you for your work with health insurance, but they are trying to make that pay contingent on you spending it in a way that comports with their beliefs about sex and sexuality. This is about dramatically expanding your boss’ power to meddle with your private life and should be resisted.
Since arguments before the court start this week, there’s going to be a lot of debate back and forth about this. With that in mind, I’ve decided to put together a list of some of the most common arguments against the contraception mandate, and how to debunk them. The first is the myth of who is “paying” for contraception.
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And nor do we now have that law, because the contraception mandate does not require that your boss buy your birth control. Or anyone else, for that matter. This is critical. You are the one buying your birth control and you are using your insurance coverage that belongs to you to do it. Yes, your employer writes a check to your insurance company to pay for part or all of your insurance, depending on your plan. But after he writes that check and puts it in the mail, the plan is yours, not his. The health insurance companies offer to employees is part of the employee’s compensation package, and it is no different than your paycheck. He is not giving it to you. You earned it and it is yours. This is no different than a boss refusing to pay your full wages because he fears you will spend it on condoms. In addition, the federal government gives employers a tax break if they pay part of their employee’s compensation in health benefits. That means an employer who wants to deny you contraception coverage is trying to tell you how to spend your money and wants the government to give him a tax break to do it.
The second myth is that the contraception mandate is just a gimme to bribe female voters into supporting the Democrats. Mike Huckabee expressed this most famously.
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Let’s be clear: The government is not writing prescriptions for women or giving them “free” birth control with this mandate. It is simply mandating that the insurance coverage you earn by working covers your contraception, should you choose to use it. So what “Uncle Sugar” gave women was, uh, the opportunity to buy their own contraception with their own insurance. Which most of us had, but this regulation just made the coverage more comprehensive. But what really makes this myth offensive is that Huckabee and everyone who repeats it assumes that if you support contraception access, then you must just be a sex machine who has nothing else going on in your life. That is roughly as dumb as saying that because a politician, say, promotes easier access to guns, he is telling the voters he has no other agenda items. That makes no kind of sense. In addition, unlike a lot of other policies that are pandering to voters and nothing else, the contraception mandate was created after the Institute of Medicine recommended it, on the grounds that copay-free contraception has been shown to reduce unintended pregnancy and all the attendant health care costs. Since we all like saving money, we should all be for it.
Now for myth number three: Birth control is abortion.
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This is easy enough to debunk by simply going to the HHS website and showing that the mandate does not, in fact, cover abortion but just contraception. In fact, by law the exchanges have to have plans in them that don’t cover abortion. When you point this out, inevitably your right wing nut will claim that female-controlled hormonal contraception is “abortion”. This is a lie, unless you think suppressing ovulation, which is how the pill and emergency contraception work, is abortion. At this point, feel free to point out that if they have to lie to demonize contraception, then that only says they hate contraception so much that they’re willing to do immoral things to attack it. Very few people really want to admit to being anti-contraception, so that should be entertaining.
Maria Shriver’s project, the Shriver Report, just released a documentary on HBO called Paycheck to Paycheck about a single mother of three raising children in a mobile home. The woman is 30-year-old Katrina Gilbert and she lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and she works for a little over $9 an hour as a nursing home assistant. The movie is a wonderful counterpoint to conservative propaganda blaming single mothers living in poverty for their problems. To hear the pundits on Fox News tell it, women end up as single mothers in poverty because they’re throwing a feminist-inspired temper tantrum against living with men and are grifting off the government to fund their lifestyle. The reality is that life happens and no matter how many plans you make, they can get derailed. Katrina’s story shows this.
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Most conservative discourse about single mothers pointedly ignores that many of them are divorced and most of the rest of them were in relationships with the fathers of their children when they had kids. Most of them, in other words, did not think of themselves as “single” when they had kids, and so dumping endless lectures on women about the supposed evils of single motherhood is not only mean-spirited and misleading, it’s useless. You can’t tell people not to be something they don’t think they’re trying to be. Most women end up as single mothers after their relationship falls apart. By then, it’s not like they have a choice. Not a real one. Inevitably, as Katrina’s story shows, if you start to ask why a relationship fell apart, you discover that it was for a very good reason. This documentary also shows how it’s a lie to call these children “fatherless.” Their father got clean and sober and now they see him regularly. He wants to live closer, but he can’t get work closer. Katrina also worries that he would move back in if he lived closer, and since she’s already supporting three children, she doesn’t know where she’d find the money to support him, too. It’s impossible to claim, in the light of things, that she didn’t do what she was “supposed” to do, and it still didn’t work out.
But what really is important here is the money. And how she doesn’t have enough of it.
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This really should be obvious and simple here, but with all the smoke that is blown in right wing media, the point gets lost. Single mothers living in poverty are poor because they don’t have enough money. Katrina is not rejecting the idea of having a husband or a boyfriend. She had a husband and then a boyfriend and both kind of failed, because that’s life. But her real, ongoing problem is that her job only pays $9.49 an hour and no matter how hard she works, she doesn’t have enough money. This documentary really shows how much right wing attempts to blame women’s financial problems on anything but lack of money are nothing but distractions from the real issue. The demagoguery about single motherhood is misogynist to boot, of course, because it assumes that women deserve to suffer and live in misery if they have lives, whether they chose them or not, that fall out of conservative prescriptions to be married and to find your identity and livelihood through marriage. Obviously, this attitude is unfair to women, and your heart goes out to Katrina because she no matter how hard she tries, stuff just isn’t working out for her.
But it’s also unfair to children. One of the scenes that got me all teared up was a scene when Katrina had to get rid of a puppy that she had living with her family. First of all, this puppy is adorable. Second of all, while the kids tried to be brave, they really did not want to lose their puppy.
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This podcast, of course, is focused on reproductive rights. So why did I do a segment on an HBO documentary about poverty? Because all this stuff is tied together. The same thing that motivates conservatives to try to ban abortion and restrict access to birth control is the same thing that makes them blame single mothers’ choices regarding men and sex for their poverty: a combination of sex-phobia and misogyny. Both attacks are based on the premise that a woman’s life is meant for service and suffering, and that poor women in particular don’t deserve to have anything. Not a moment’s rest. Not the ability to have sex without getting pregnant. Not a puppy for their kids. There’s a sadism at the heart of it and documentaries like this that put a human face on the person who is the victim of all these anti-woman, anti-working class, anti-human policies matters. So I highly recommend watching the documentary, and, more importantly, sharing it with people you know.
And now for the Wisdom of Wingnuts, advocating for yourself is “whining” edition. The Minnesota legislature is looking over a package of bills that would raise the minimum wage, secure family and sick leave time, and make it harder to discriminate against women. Republican lawmaker Andrea Kieffer responded with this.
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So wanting basic labor protections and equality in the workplace makes you look like “whiners,” huh? I suspect strongly that Kieffer doesn’t think it’s whining when powerful business groups lobby in their own self-interest, but women are supposed to just lay down and take whatever is dished out lest they look like “whiners.” You won’t be surprised, I bet, to learn that Kieffer is anti-abortion. She is happy to force women to have babies against their will, but if those women want better jobs and better leave policies to actually raise those children, she’ll fight them tooth and nail.