by Bob Burnett
Published on Thursday, January 5 2006 by CommonDreams.org
This month the
Senate will hold confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Samuel
Alito. There will be a painstaking examination of his record,
particularly opinions that indicate his position on the landmark Roe v.
Wade decision. This process will draw attention to the ongoing struggle
over reproductive rights. While not a big news story in 2005, this
battle will again heat up as the Congressional elections draw near.
However, the focus will probably change from abortion, per se, to the
“C” word – contraception.
Public sentiment about abortion has not changed over the past thirty years. Gallup Polls
conducted in 1975 and 2005 found that only 22 percent of respondents
believed that abortion should be “illegal under all circumstances.”
2005, what began to change was the focus of the debate on reproductive
rights. On January 24th, New York Senator Hillary Clinton implored all
sides of the reproductive-rights issue to seek “common ground.” Clinton
asserted that no one in American politics is “for” abortion. Many
Democratic politicians have since adopted her perspective – abortion is
a tragedy. Clinton’s stance served two tactical purposes: One was to
scuttle the notion that Dems favor “abortion on demand.” The other was
to shift the locus of the debate from abortion to reproductive rights,
in general. To reemphasize the right of a woman to choose her own
medical care and to freely obtain contraception.
Clinton observed that where there is access to contraception there is
no necessity for an abortion – the 7 percent of women who do not use
contraception account for 53 percent of unwanted pregnancies. After
Clinton’s speech, Democrats renewed their push for Federal support for
sex-education programs for teenagers, emergency contraception, and
the efforts of the minority Party, for most of 2005 the White House was
silent on the “C” word. Democratic members of Congress repeatedly wrote
the President asking him to clarify his position on contraception. In
an October 25th White House briefing, Press secretary Scott McClellan
responded. “The focus has been from this administration is on promoting
abstinence programs, that ought to be on the same level as the
education funding for teen contraception programs.”
Yet, the funding is not “on the same level.”
The Administration allocates $200 million to abstinence-only programs
and nothing for comprehensive sex education. Studies indicate that
abstinence programs do not prevent, but only delay sexual activity
among teens. And, when these “teens do initiate sex, they are a third
less likely to use contraception, putting themselves at risk for
pregnancy and disease.”
course, there are two aspects of contraception. One is before-the-event
measures – condoms, birth-control pills, IUDs. The other aspect is
after-the-event remedies. One of these is the “morning-after pill,”
RU-486, used in the termination of pregnancies less than sixty-four
days from conception. In September 2000, the FDA approved the drug for
use by prescription. Another remedy is the “emergency contraception”
drug, Plan B , intended to prevent pregnancy after
contraceptive failure or unprotected intercourse. In September 2003 an
FDA advisory panel recommended that Plan B be sold over the counter.
Nonetheless, in July 2004, the FDA denied the application. Democrats
requested a Government Accountability Office review of this decision.
On November 14, 2005, the GAO reported
that the rejection of the Plan-B application was the result of an
“unusual” decision-making process. The GAO noted that a Bush political
appointee overrode the decision of subordinates who recommended
approval of the application.
2005, there were several examples where the Bush Administration
prevented information about contraception from reaching the public. On
December 20 the ACLU issued a press briefing
noting that the U.S, Department of Justice had sent the “National
Sexual Assault Protocol to police agencies throughout America.”
Unfortunately, the first-ever national protocol for treating victims of
sexual assault failed to mention emergency contraception. The ACLU
observed, “If emergency facilities routinely provide emergency
contraception to rape victims, up to 22,000 of the 25,000 pregnancies
that result from rape each year could be prevented.”
In December 2004, California Congressman Henry Waxman (D) reported
that government-funded abstinence-only sex education programs were
giving students false information. An example of the misinformation was
the suggestion that “touching a person’s genitals can result in
pregnancy.” As a result of the bias found in the Federally funded
sex-education programs, states such as California began refusing to use
them. Meanwhile, most parents want comprehensive programs. A February 2004 poll
found that 93 percent of parents want sex education taught in schools.
Of these only 15 percent believe that abstinence should be the only
method of contraception discussed.
Bush Administration is taking an extreme conservative view of
reproductive rights. Their position that life begins at conception –
the union of the egg and sperm – is a view shared by a tiny minority of
American believers. This perspective underlies their negativity towards
contraception and comprehensive sex education.
Bush is a fundamentalist, beholden to the religious right. His social
policies need to be revealed for what they truly are – extreme and
repressive. In 2006, Democrats should goad Bush into talking about the
“C” word, so the public understands how radical he really is.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer and activist. Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.