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Forget Roe, Try Griswold

Posted on Jan 22, 2012
Plan B / Teva Women's Health

By Ellen Goodman

Maybe Siri was being an alarmist. When I asked my BFF, the talking virtual assistant behind my new iPhone 4S, where I could find birth control, she answered, “I didn’t find any birth control clinics.”

This response wasn’t nearly as chilling as the one she uttered last fall when Siri was asked to find an abortion clinic and pointed to an anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy center.” Nevertheless in this charged atmosphere, she gave me a digital pause.

Sunday marks the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that supported a woman’s right to abortion. On Monday, the usual anti-Roe marchers will assemble in Washington, D.C., where they will calibrate their momentum.

But the big news this year is that we’ve run the reel right back past the 1973 Roe decision on abortion. Next up for debate is the 1965 decision of Griswold v. Connecticut. This ruling made contraception legal by overturning laws that could send you to prison for giving birth control to married couples.

Remember when the right edge of the Republican spectrum was Barry Goldwater, a Planned Parenthood supporter, even a fanboy? Now the GOP is a wholly owned subsidiary of the right-to-life movement with the last men standing for president outbidding each other in promises to smack down Roe. And they’re even getting a little squishy on birth control.

I used to think that leaders for reproductive rights were either hyperbolic or hyperventilating when they claimed that pro-life politics were targeting contraception. It was only the frayed fringe of the movement who equated birth control—The Pill Kills—with abortion or with sex run amok. But an attack that was once, um, inconceivable, is now gestating in the public square.

In politics, Rick Santorum was the test-tube candidate for this anxiety. Last October, the would-be president said, “Many in the Christian faith have said, well, that’s OK, contraception is OK. It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” For this, he won over folks like the Duggar family, stars of the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting.”

In Iowa, nearly all the candidates pledged to support the “personhood amendment” that would undermine IUDs, emergency contraception and the pill. Mitt Romney stopped one waffle short of agreeing. In New Hampshire, the ABC News debate featured candidates weaseling away from talking about the right to privacy that undergirds Griswold. And, by the way, Romney’s platform boasts that he’ll eliminate Title X family planning programs.

Without Title X, the Guttmacher Institute’s research says that the number of abortions would be one-third higher. Question to Siri: “Are these people crazy?” Answer: “I don’t know what you mean by ‘Are these people crazy?’ ”

Right-wing politics is one thing, but the idea that contraception is now controversial has crept into the mainstream and even its once-liberal rivulets. Consider what happened in health care reform. There was a knock-down argument last summer about making insurers cover birth control under the Affordable Care Act. Despite the Fox News commentator who compared covering contraception with covering pedicures, the administration made this mandatory. The uterus was recognized as a legitimate piece of anatomy.

But in short order, the White House got embroiled in an issue over a “conscience clause.” Could religious institutions—including colleges, nonprofits, even hospitals—get an exemption from paying for birth control for their employees on moral grounds? If a corporation is a person, is a hospital a worshiper? About 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use contraception, but it was only after months of handwringing that the Obama administration said that the religious employers are not exempt. 

Meanwhile, the FDA said it was safe to sell emergency contraception—the “morning-after pill”—without age restrictions over the counter. But the administration overruled it on the grounds that some imaginary 11-year-old might not read the directions correctly. The White House redefined a socially conservative choice: contraception as controversy.

No one is reaching into your medicine cabinet tonight to confiscate the pill case. You don’t attack this head on. You follow the 39-year-old pro-life script: Chip away at access, hack away at funding, raise anxiety about sexual morals, argue about the legal precedent, and make politicians more afraid of the angry minority than the incredulous majority. Step by step you make a certainty—family planning—into a subject for debate. What happens next?

Question for my virtual assistant: “Siri, am I paranoid?” Answer: “I would prefer not to say.” Thanks, hon. And let’s keep in touch.

Ellen Goodman’s email address is ellengoodman1(at)

© 2012, Washington Post Writers Group


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By purplewolf, January 23, 2012 at 8:12 pm Link to this comment

and just how are we going to pay for all the excess babies that denying abortion and birth control to women will result in ? we have a minimum of 4 to 5 or more people for every job out there. tonight I heard one of the repug hopefuls talk about people working at sporting good stores and other stores paying for their homes,food,cars,college for kids, babies and tons of other expenses that these jobs do not pay enough for 1 person to live on let alone raising a family and college? and these repugs call these part time minimum wage earners middle class wage earners. these people work usually less than 40 hours a week at min.wage and no benefits, so people living below the poverty level are the new middle class. walmart even has the paperwork and social service applications for their new employees to apply for food stamps and medicaid as walmart does not pay enough for people to even feed their family and these radical ass hats want to force more babies into a world where even the older children and parents don’t know if they will have a house to live in from day today. yep. lets f-ck with the little people and force more unaffordable babies into the mix.

every child should be a wanted child.people who have secure jobs and housing and enough money to afford another child if they want one make better parents and have a more stable lifestyle to raise a child in than ones that don’t.there are too many abused children and murdered children in the world today,why do these repugs and their group feel it is their business to force unwanted babies into a world that will resent them and they will more likely be abused. it happens everyday. in fact this week past one child’s murderer was convicted in the death of his girlfriends child by another man in Flint, Mich.
it is almost a weekly thing here and I know we are not the only city where this takes place in America.

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By A Warren, January 23, 2012 at 2:06 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Geez, talk about nanny state government.

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By Chester Field, January 22, 2012 at 6:52 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is what happens when men start to lose control
in a socio-economic sphere: they start to reign in
women. The most direct way to do this is force
women to have children they don’t want or to pay
the price for having sex by getting pregnant.

When times were good and people were employed, this
taking away contraceptive choices and access to
safe, legal abortion would NEVER be discussed as it
was part of our lives.

Now that manufacturing in America has gone away and
more women than men are employed, this, I believe,
is the driving resentment behind the push to roll
back Roe v. Wade and to disallow the morning-after
pill and now contraception will be made harder for
women to access.

Fear of the future during this world wide recession
has also driven uptight and nervous people back
into churches to find answers to calm nerves and
offer assurance. Perhaps this sudden injection of
dogma has something do do with people getting
incredibly moral about the right for women to
control their reproductive options or for these
same women to manage population growth at a time
when there are more people on the planet,
simultaneously, than in human history.

Still, it feels like a backlash coming from
powerless men who want to extend some sort of
control over women who have jobs, who have security
in their sexuality and who may choose to have or
not have sex at their leisure. The average man is
tremendously insecure and, speaking generally, no
longer has the financial resources to secure sex
when he wants it.

Just some thoughts.

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