Something just occurred to me: What is the single thing Republican men are more afraid of than gay marriage? Simple. Women.
The recent rash of crazy comments coming from the Right regarding birth control has a lot less to do with abortion than even I realized. To have a clearer understanding of the apoplectic comments with which we’ve been bombarded, you have to understand the history of the politics of birth control in our country and how it has changed the place of women in our society, socially, economically and ethically.
This realization came into sharp focus for me this week when Foster Friess, the main donor to the Super PAC backing Rick Santorum’s presidential bid, made the following comment to MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell:
“On this contraceptive thing, my gosh, it’s so inexpensive. You know, back in my days, they used Bayer Aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”
His comment left Andrea Mitchell (and me) stunned and unable to immediately respond. The media backlash, however, was swift and harsh. He later dismissed it as a bad joke, but behind every bad joke lays the heart of the jokester. What’s the subtext here? Let’s start with his use of the word “gals”. In the world of Foster Friess, we’re not rational, thinking adults who know what’s best for our bodies and our families, we’re “gals” who need the clear guidance of a man to make decisions for us. And of course, if we “gals” would just keep our legs closed, contraception wouldn’t be an issue. Yes, if we’d just stop acting like whores, we wouldn’t have to worry about pregnancy.
I couldn’t believe this was a wealthy, educated man in a suit uttering these words and when I watched the clip (about a dozen times), all I could see was a man with a three-day beard holding a longneck, wearing a “wife beater” screaming for his woman to “make me a sammich!” I thought long and hard about this and it led me to wonder how, in the year 2012, we could possibly have anyone left in our society with such blatantly sexist and backward views. That wonder led me to take a closer look at the historical experience of the American woman with regard to birth control.
And I couldn’t comment on this week without sharing this photo taken of the “experts” on women’s health and reproduction taken at a Congressional hearing this week on Capitol Hill. I’m betting you’ll probably be able to point out what’s wrong with this picture as quickly as did I.
Contraception was legal in the United States throughout most of the nineteenth century, but in the 1870’s a social purity movement, much like the one we see today (yes, we’ve regressed 140 years), grew in strength, aimed at outlawing vice, prostitution and obscenity. The campaign also attacked contraception, which was viewed as an immoral practice promoting prostitution and venereal disease. Anthony Comstock was a postal inspector and leader in the purity movement, who successfully lobbied for the passage of the 1873 Comstock Act, a federal law prohibiting mailing of “any article or thing designed or intended for the prevention of conception or procuring of abortion”, as well as any form of contraceptive information. Anthony Comstock made it illegal to even educate women on contraception. Think about that, because we’ll come back to it later.
For Social Conservatives, perhaps the most hated woman in history is the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. Social Conservatives like to re-write history by claiming that Margaret Sanger was a leading proponent of abortion. Sanger’s family planning advocacy always focused on contraception, rather than abortion. It was not until the mid 1960’s, after Sanger’s death, that the reproductive rights movement expanded its scope to include abortion rights as well as contraception. Sanger was opposed to abortions, both because they were dangerous for the mother (at the time they were), and because she believed that life should not be terminated after conception. In her book Woman and the New Race, she wrote,
“while there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.”
In her 1938 autobiography, Sanger noted that her opposition to abortion was based on the taking of life:
“[In 1916] we explained what contraception was; that abortion was the wrong way, no matter how early it was performed it was taking life; that contraception was the better way, the safer way — it took a little time, a little trouble, but was well worth while in the long run, because life had not yet begun.” And in her book Family Limitation, Sanger wrote that, “no one can doubt that there are times when an abortion is justifiable but they will become unnecessary when care is taken to prevent conception. This is the only cure for abortions.”
I realize that flies in the face of everything the Social Conservatism/Modern Purity Movement would have you believe about Ms. Sanger, but it took very little research and an easy read of her own writings to uncover these facts. Sanger’s mother bore 11 children and died young. My own mother bore way too many children at way too early an age to the detriment of her mental health. I’m not sorry I was born. I’m sorry that birth control was still illegal for married couples at the time, disallowing her to make the choice. That’s right. She didn’t have a choice. It wasn’t until 1965, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the ban on contraception by married couples violated their right to privacy.
Just seven years later, in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the Supreme Court ruled that unmarried people had the right to possess contraception on the same basis as married people and, by implication, gave the right of unmarried couples to engage in potentially non-procreative sexual intercourse. The Court struck down a Massachusetts law prohibiting the distribution of contraceptives to unmarried people, ruling that it violated the Equal Protection Clause. The reason most of us aren’t even aware of Eisenstadt v. Baird, is because another landmark case, Roe v. Wade, was decided on the very same day. The Court ruled that a right to privacy, under the Due Process Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment, extended to a woman’s decision to have an abortion. So, when you hear people talking about overturning Roe v. Wade, they’re not talking about overturning legalized abortion, they’re talking about overturning a woman’s right to privacy, a woman’s right to have a private conversation between her and her doctor, a woman’s right to be truly free. What I’m saying is that it took 100 years after blacks were given citizenship and the right to vote, for women to gain the hard-earned right to sovereignty over their own bodies.
Speaking of the Right to Privacy, this week, the Virginia state Legislature passed a bill that the Republican Governor has vowed to sign, that would require women to have an ultrasound before they may have an abortion – but not just any ultrasound. Because the great majority of abortions occur during the first 12 weeks, that means most women will be forced to endure a “transvaginal ultrasound”, in which a probe is inserted into the vagina, and then moved around until an ultrasound image is produced. This is not a medically necessary procedure, the patient can’t opt out of the procedure and the physician can’t refuse to perform it. Women in Virginia will be forcibly penetrated, for no medical reason, prior to obtaining a legal abortion. Under any other set of facts, forcible penetration constitutes rape under Virginia state law, unless of course, it’s the state perpetrating the rape. I call this intrusion of the worst kind. Republicans, for all their talk of small government demonstrate just how invasive the government can be – and how it can look exactly like a very large phallus.
The socio-economic impact of access to birth control for women was immediate. No longer were women automatically eliminated from the workplace. No longer were women automatically denied some of the same financial advantages as men. No longer were women reliant on men and marriage for their futures. Access to birth control meant women didn’t just gain autonomy over their own reproductive choices, they were no longer forced into a life of servitude and forced incubation. They could choose a career if that’s what they wanted. If a woman chooses motherhood, no one is happier for her than me. If she chooses to stay out of the workplace to devote life to motherhood, no one is happier for her than me. I’m happy for her because that is what she chooses. But make no mistake about it: removing reproductive choices for women does force them to incubate a pregnancy to term and the impact on her body, her health and her career is immediate and long-lasting and that is a conversation worth having. This is the Republican Jobs Plan: keep women barefoot and pregnant and you keep them out of the workforce.
Fox News commentator Sean Hannity is entitled to believe that access to birth control encourages “screwing around”. In the same breath that he slammed the President for ruling that insurance companies should cover birth control without co-pays, he defended men receiving the same coverage for Viagra. Hannity insists that birth control isn’t a women’s health issue while claiming that men not getting erections on demand is a “medical problem”. I don’t know too many men who don’t worship at the altar of birth control. I don’t know too many men who want to give up sex for pleasure. I don’t know too many men who can afford to have as many children in which their unprotected sex would ultimately result. It’s pretty clear to all involved that access to birth control prevents pregnancy and access to Viagra promotes “screwing around”.
But back to “Aspirin Man”. Mr. Friess, I dropped my aspirin a long time ago. I’ve been fortunate in this life to have a man who loves me, agreed that we didn’t want children together for personal reasons and spent all of my adult life enjoying a healthy and active sex life. Yes, I’ve enjoyed a healthy and active sex life not to procreate, but for pleasure, all the while enjoying a very successful career. I did, however take your advice and purchase that bottle of Bayer Aspirin. I figured when that angry, birth control loving mob of sexually active women caught up with you… you were going to need it. I’m here for you, man.