I’ve long thought that the rise of religious fundamentalism (of all types) is, at its core, an attempt to maintain or re-establish traditional patriarchy. Its rise in recent decades can be traced to the changing role of women. The biggest development in that change was the easy availability of contraception, which allowed women to control whether or when to have children and to enter the work force in larger numbers. This is a bit of an oversimplification, of course. Religious fundamentalism entails a more general rejection of modernity. And the changing role of women derives from more than just contraception. But to a considerable degree, the rise of religious fundamentalism – particularly in affluent, modern societies like the United States, and particularly as a political phenomenon – can be traced back to the Pill.
The anti-choice movement has never been primarily anti-abortion. From a social policy standpoint, there are all sorts of things that have been proven to be extremely effective in reducing the rates of abortion – primarily, widespread availability of contraception and early sex education. The Netherlands, for example, has an abortion rate that is less than 1/3rd the rate in the US. The difference is even more dramatic among adolescents, for whom the abortion rate in the Netherlands is only 15% of the rate in the US. Their teen pregnancy rate is only 10% of the US rate. On the other hand, there are things that have been demonstrated pretty conclusively NOT to reduce teen pregnancy or abortion rates – such as “abstinence-only” education, which is almost entirely useless.
Yet, the anti-choice forces, for the most part, reject contraception and sex education and embrace “abstinence-only” education. Exactly the opposite of the policies you would pursue if your goal was to actually reduce abortions.
It’s really all about controlling women’s bodies and who makes the choices.
Which brings us around to the latest efforts of the Bush administration to “roll-back” the reproductive freedom of women – redefining contraception as “abortion”.
This is from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:
Treating the Pill as Abortion,
Draft Regulation Stirs Debate
By STEPHANIE SIMONJuly 31, 2008; Page A11
Set aside the fraught question of when human life begins. The new debate: When does pregnancy begin?
The Bush Administration has ignited a furor with a proposed definition
of pregnancy that has the effect of classifying some of the most widely used
methods of contraception as abortion.
A draft regulation, still being revised and debated, treats most birth-control
pills and intrauterine devices as abortion because they can work by preventing
fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. The regulation considers that
destroying "the life of a human being."
Many medical groups disagree. They hold that pregnancy isn't established until several days after conception, when the fertilized egg has grown to a cluster of several dozen cells and burrowed into the uterine wall. Anything that disrupts that process, in their view, is contraception.
The draft regulation, circulating within the Department of Health and Human Services, would have no immediate effect on the legality of the pill or the IUD if implemented because abortion is legal. But opponents fear it would undercut dozens of state laws designed to promote easy access to these methods of birth control, used by more than 12 million women a year.
Dozens of Congressional Democrats -- including presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama -- have signed letters of protest blistering the proposal. His Republican rival, Sen. John McCain, declined to comment. …
If the draft regulation were to prompt some insurance companies to drop coverage for prescription birth control, "that would be fantastic," said Tom McClusky, a strategist with the conservative Family Research Council.
The draft could still be revised or rejected. Or the administration could enact it at any point; no congressional approval is needed. (The next president could just as easily reverse it.) …
The regulation's stated purpose is to improve enforcement of existing federal laws that protect some medical professionals' right to refuse to participate or assist in
In a lengthy preamble entitled "The Problem," the draft argues that state laws too often coerce health-care workers into providing services they find immoral.
Among the laws considered coercive: Requirements that emergency rooms offer rape victims the morning-after pill, insurance plans cover contraception as part of prescription-drug benefits, and pharmacists fill prescriptions for birth control. The draft regulation would weaken these laws by expanding the right of conscientious objection.
The White House said the administration "has an obligation to enforce" that right and is "exploring a number of options."
If the regulation is enacted, insurers, hospitals, HMOs and other institutions could claim that a law requiring them to dispense contraception or subsidize an IUD discriminated against their religious convictions. State and local governments would have to certify in writing that they don't practice such discrimination. Those who didn't comply could lose federal funding or be sued for damages.
The draft also extends the conscience objection to most staff members and volunteers working for health-care providers. So, for instance, an employer couldn't punish a clinic receptionist for refusing to make appointments for patients seeking birth-control pills.
"It's pernicious," said Janet Crepps, an attorney with the Center for
Reproductive Rights. "A few individuals could mess up the whole system."
Barr Pharmaceuticals, which makes oral contraceptives, took issue with the idea
that its products cause abortions and added that "an individual's conscience
should not prevent the timely dispensing of these products."
With its expansive definitions, the draft bolsters a key goal of the religious right: to
give single-cell fertilized eggs full rights by defining them as legal people --
or, as some activists put it, "the tiniest boys and girls."
As long as Roe v. Wade remains in effect and abortion remains legal, that goal can't be fully realized. But in recent years, abortion opponents have scored notable successes. For instance: Several states now define a fertilized egg as a legal person -- an "unborn child" -- for purposes of fetal homicide laws, which allow criminal
prosecution when a woman miscarries as a result of an assault. …
"You keep striking away and framing the issue the way you want to frame it," said David DeWolf, a law professor at Gonzaga University who has advised anti-abortion
groups. "That's the political strategy."
Justices Scalia, Thomas, Roberts and Alito have left no doubt that they are prepared to overturn Roe vs. Wade in a second if they get a fifth vote on the Court. And guess what kind of justices a President McCain would appoint? From USA Today:
McCain: Roberts, Alito are model judges
By David Jackson, USA TODAY
WASHINGTON — Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito are
the models for the type of judges Republican John McCain said Tuesday he would
appoint to the federal bench if elected president. …
[It’s worth noting that McCain voted FOR the confirmation of both Roberts and Alito, while Obama voted AGAINST the confirmation of both men.]
But it doesn’t stop with abortion. The ultimate goal is to eliminate the easy availability of contraception. Because this is really ultimately about the role of women in society.
So what does McCain think about the availability of contraceptives? You really have to check out this video (the look on his face and his body language are priceless).