Women Against Birth Control

Recently there has been a series of images circulating the internet depicting a number of women holding signs explaining why they do not utilize birth control. While one or two of the reasons given can be seen as rational (e.g. they want to be “organic” and hormone free), there are many of the statements that are not only highly illogical, but also downright offensive. Among those that fall into the latter category are statements like “because my body is a gift to my future husband and that gift includes motherhood” and “because [birth control] allows men to use women with no consequences.” There are nearly two dozen more images with proclamations like the aforementioned including “because I can control myself,” “because I am responsible and make mindful decisions accepting the consequences for my actions,” or better yet “because children are not an inconvenience, they’re a gift”. What these women seem to be forgetting, what a lot of people on the anti-birth control band wagon have forgotten, is that what is good for them is not good for everyone else, and how you act is not how everyone else acts, and it really is just that simple.

A favorite of mine that was posted is “because I don’t have to give up my womanhood to be a feminist.” By the time I got to this statement, I was already scrambling to pick my jaw up off the ground, but when I finished reading it, I was dumbfounded. I’m not exactly grasping what this woman seems to know as truth. First, since when does having children mean one cannot be a feminist, and second, since when does feminism require you to not have children and to use birth control? The answer to these questions is since never. Never have I heard the feminists I know say or imply that being on birth control is a requirement to be a feminist. The statement she made is just further proof to me that there are still an incredible amount of women who have been mislead about feminism, albeit what “feminism” means to an individual tends to be quite subjective.

Also referenced in a few of the photos in the series, although not cited or peer reviewed, were some interesting science and medical facts. Apparently, at least according to one of the women pictured, women get cervical cancer from birth control alone, and not from things such Human papillomavirus (HPV), which using protection and getting vaccinated can prevent. There is no link between the use of general birth control and developing cervical cancer. The link here is from an increased risk for developing cervical cancer due to long term use of birth control pills in women who already have HPV and leave it unchecked and the symptoms untreated. While I can’t address every single absurd claim of phony science in the photos, I feel like it should also be noted that the same sign also mentioned a link between birth control and breast cancer. This link is also an increased risk, but this was back in the 1970s primarily, when birth control had high amounts of estrogen, not so much with the low dose pills these days. But if hormones are what are deterring these women from birth control there are alternative no-hormone options.

A running theme amongst the images that I found to be exceptionally flabbergasting is the way the word “womanhood” is used, for example “because womanhood and fertility are a beautiful gift and I want a love that is self-giving and life-giving.” What saddens me is how many of the women pictured define womanhood not by the fact that they have vaginas, or feel themselves to be women, but are dictated by ancient value systems of whether or not they reproduce, as though having children is a measure of merit to how worthy one is of their womanhood. Womanhood does not equal motherhood. The two are not synonymous, will never be synonymous, and have never been synonymous. People who say or believe things like that are essentially reduce the countless number of women throughout history who have been unable to have children or have chosen not to have children to what? What exactly is it that these women are implying? Is a woman who does not have any children but is accomplished in other aspects less of a woman because she has not bore children? Many of these same women in the photo series also mentioned how they don’t use birth control because they only plan to have sex for the purposes of producing life (e.g. the one who said that her body essentially belongs to her future husband, and should be fertile and ready to reproduce).

Throw in the reference to Roman Catholic family planning and I can hear the church bells a-ringing.

SCOTUS Hobby Lobby Decision

Earlier this year, Secular Woman signed an amicus brief filed by the National Women's Law Center in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. These cases involve for-profit companies challenging the Affordable Care Act's requirement that all new health insurance plans cover the full range of FDA-approved contraceptives and related education and counseling, without cost sharing.

Then, this week, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court decided in favor of Hobby Lobby. Hobby Lobby sought to impose religious beliefs upon employees by denying comprehensive health care coverage, while still reaping the tax benefits for providing that coverage. The majority opinion, written by Justice Alito raises more questions than it answers.

Perhaps the most obvious result of the Court’s decision is that it extends religious rights, citing Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, to any closely held “corporate persons.” In doing so, however, they negate both the religious and reproductive rights of employees, who are actual persons. How does that correlate with the Act, which codified religious rights for people and religious entities? Also, does ascribing the personal beliefs of owners to their business pierce the corporate veil?

How can the Justices rationalize overlooking both science and law?

In their case, Hobby Lobby objects to four of the twenty birth control methods currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Coincidentally, these are four of the most effective methods, and are included the vast majority of insurance formularies. The objection to these is based on religious belief, not science, with the claim that these methods cause abortion instead of prevent pregnancy. However, by both scientific and legal definitions pregnancy occurs when a fertilized egg is implanted in a hospitable uterine lining. How can the Justices rationalize overlooking both science and law?

People purchase insurance, or it is provided either in whole or in part as part of employee compensation, and should expect to be covered. That a corporation was given the right to dictate to an insurer which services they can and cannot provide is unconscionable! With Justice Alito’s reasoning, it would follow that any employer could dictate to employees whether they can purchase other objectionable things like intoxicants, pork products, or even beverages containing caffeine. Will the intrusion stop at birth control or can we expect more?

Hobby Lobby may find fault with either of these solutions and sue again.

What this decision forces our government to do now is to provide that coverage, either by funding it or, more likely, by allowing the insurance company to provide it separately. Hobby Lobby may find fault with either of these solutions and sue again. So, if birth control is purchased with tax dollars, or provided to employees without cost, will their objections hold? They pay taxes after all… so, where is the line drawn?

Justice Ginsberg wrote a scathing dissenting opinion which addressed some of these gaping issues – recognizing the magnitude of this ruling, its likely impact, and that it was a “decision of startling breadth.” In what seems to be an attempt to mitigate that, there were several clarifications in the court’s majority opinion, each more disturbing than the last.  

Justice Alito intends to set the high court up as arbiter of what is and is not a valid religious belief.

It would seem that with the statement, "[t]his decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to mean that all insurance mandates, that is for blood transfusions or vaccinations, necessarily fail if they conflict with an employer's religious beliefs," Justice Alito intends to set the high court up as arbiter of what is and is not a valid religious belief.  This sets a dangerous precedent whereby courts may determine the validity of religious belief, leaving the door open to discrimination against minority religious practices and making it more likely that religious beliefs which harm minorities and women will be legally sanctioned. One may find it necessary to question the wisdom of that.

The clarification that, “It does not provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice,” adds to, rather than subtracts from, the worrisome precedent set here. Under the previous administration, the HHS ruling was that if any medications were covered, a specific class could not be excluded. To exclude a class of medications which are primarily used by women is discrimination on its face. There was no objection to providing coverage for birth control before ACA. Why the change, and why now? Is discrimination no longer discrimination?

Finally, there lies a question in the financial implications for the insurance companies. Insurers are incentivising preventative care because it saves them money. In addition to prevention of pregnancy, which is a huge part of preventative health care, these medications are used to treat all sorts of things, from acne to endometriosis. Hobby Lobby now gets to prevent insurance companies from saving money, while also getting a tax break for making insurance available that doesn’t even have to meet the ACA’s minimum standards!

Stand With Ohio Women

Ohio reproductive rights activists attempted to fight a budget decision that includes late additions that would defund Planned Parenthood centers, shut down abortion clinics, and redirect state funding to right-wing “crisis pregnancy centers” (read: pro-life manipulation stations), ThinkProgress.org reported. The budget, which was passed shortly before 5 p.m. despite protests from onlookers, a large social media contingent, and multiple Democratic representatives, goes so far as to redefine pregnancy as beginning as fertilization, defining a fetus as “human offspring developing during pregnancy from the moment of conception”––a move that could have disastrous effects for emergency contraception.

Peggy Clancy, a Secular Woman member, went to Columbus to take a stand for women’s reproductive freedom; she and many pro-choice women brought a strong showing to the House and Senate but were herded out and confined to the Senate gallery after the bill was passed. “We stood up and several yelled ‘shame on you!’ says Clancy. “That got us all told to leave immediately.

“This is important to me because I was a student nurse when Roe v. Wade was decided,” said Clancy in an interview. “I remember the older nurses talking about the septic back-alley abortion victims they couldn't save. I knew I was so lucky to be coming of age at a time when birth control and abortion could be safe easy to get and respectable. I hate to see young women today living at a more primitive time without what was available then.”

“Abortions must be safe, legal and accessible,” says Kim Rippere, president of Secular Woman.

“Making them inaccessible or illegal only creates an environment in which women are again forced into back-alley abortions. More women’s lives will be at risk with this bill and similar bills passing throughout the country. Fundamentalists think that striping women of their human rights is acceptable and desired; fundamentally, they have no regard for women and their bodily autonomy, their choices, their lives, and their families.”

Clancy encourages women to continue calling Ohio Gov. John Kasich to express their support of access to birth control and abortion without unnecessary restrictions at 614-466-3555––and keep these events in mind during November elections.