Debating Old News: The Contraceptive Coverage Controversy

Apr 2nd, 2012 | By | Category: Family Planning

By Suzanne York,, April 2, 2012


Photo: slw606's photostream,

It’s very hard to comprehend that here we are in the 21st century, living in a supposedly advanced and democratic nation, and there is a huge debate about women’s rights – namely women’s access to and use of contraceptives in the United States.

As a Generation X’er, I’ve taken the freedom to use birth control for granted. It’s certainly nothing I thought would be taken away from subsequent generations of American women. And as someone who supports greater education and access for women and families to family planning services all over the world, I’m embarrassed and outraged that my country is trying to take several steps backwards, by allowing bosses to deny birth control coverage to their employees.

I’ve had recent conversations with women who lived through the sexual revolution who, too, thought we’d never go back to the “old ways.” Needless to say, they are shocked at the turn of events. I can only imagine what it feels like, from their perspective, to have this right questioned. Is contraception really that big of a threat?

A little time spent on Google reflects that the answer is yes. Sara Robinson, editor with AlterNet, wrote a thoughtful and compelling piece on why “patriarchal” men are petrified of birth control. Robinson talked about “how many of us were wrong to think that contraception would be a non-issue today, given the historical trends of birth control. Basically, it is a threat to the male hierarchy.”

Moreover, she said that “…mass-produced, affordable, reliable contraception has shredded the ages-old social contracts between men and women, and is forcing us all (willing or not) into wholesale re-negotiations on a raft of new ones. “

Robinson is spot on when she states that “Contraception, in the mere blink of an eye in historical terms, toppled the core rationale that justified that entire system. And now, every aspect of human society is frantically racing to catch up with that stunning fact. Everything will have to change in response to this — families, business, religion, politics, economics…everything.”

The recently proposed and barely (!) defeated Blunt Amendment encapsulates that fear of loss of control. The “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” would have allowed not only religious groups but any employer with moral objections to opt out of the coverage requirement; this included coverage for prenatal care, childhood vaccinations, cancer screenings, and mammograms.

What is the rationale of a person who is against contraception, against reproductive health and rights, and against policies designed to help economically disadvantaged parents raise a child? Wouldn’t it be better and more just to simply educate people and allow access for those who choose to use family planning services than take away that right?

It’s more complicated than it should be. Robinson’s article offers many further important insights into the emotional and economic passions that will fuel this backlash against contraception for quite a long time, perhaps even several centuries. It is useful for those of us who strongly support gender equality to read this article and understand how deep these passions are, so that we can be more effective in our own actions, and tolerate the frustrations of a long battle.

Suzanne York is a senior writer with the Institute for Population Studies/

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