My apologies to James McManus for appropriating and paraphasing the title of his marvelous essay, but it does feel these days that there is a war, if not against women, then certainly against modernity.
In the realm of public policy sometimes we let our guards down on particular issues. We expect, for example, gay marriage to spark controversy. We do not expect the same level of opposition (Alabama and Mississippi Republicans notwithstanding) to interracial marriage. We have come to expect controversy surrounding abortion. Not so with contraception.
But here we are. When Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a rule that reinforces our existing law here in North Carolina that religious universities and hospitals have to include contraceptive coverage in health plans, the backlash began. Then a bill introduced in Congress said that no employer health plan should have to cover this most basic benefit to women. There was a time when women who took contraceptives were considered responsible. Now our mothers and sisters and daughters are “sluts” and “prostitutes” for protecting themselves against unwanted pregnancies.
Now comes the New Hanover County Commissioners continuing this line of attack while turning down a state family planning grant. This from the Wilmington Star News:
Chairman Ted Davis said he thought it was a sad day when “taxpayers are asked to pay money to buy contraceptives” for women having sex without planning responsibly.
If these young women were responsible people and didn’t have the sex to begin with, we wouldn’t be in this situation,” Davis said.
Commissioner Jonathan Barfield said he was “one of those abstinence guys” and agreed with Davis’ comment.
How do you rebut these opinions? Do you start with the hypocrisy? Do you give a basic lecture on women’s health? In the end it’s difficult to read these quotes and accept that they were spoken by men who are of sound mind and body.
While the actions by Congress and the New Hanover Commissioners were mean and petty, they do serve as good reminders that progress is not necessarily permanent and no fight is final. There are always politicians ready to circumscribe the most personal decisions women must face. We should all push back before every gain of the last century is washed away in the aftermath of a single wave election.