Saturday, April 02, 2005


(Originally published 2/15/05 @ The American Street)

David Brooks has been on a roll for years, babbling ever-more-ludicrous inanities on social matters about which (as his rhetoric usually reveals), he seems to have little or no direct knowledge. The lefty blogs have had great fun at his expense, dogpiling on each nugget of dumbth that sifts out of the grit of his NYTimes page, but one of the most interesting of them was his lamentation over the tragic lack of fecundity displayed by white American womenfolk and their wayward mates. His conclusion was that this could all be rectified if only women would leave the work force and stay home, possibly enticed by those irresistable Republican mainstays, tax credits. Never mind the broad body of evidence on factors that seem to impact reproduction in our species: stress, fear, overwork, education, self-interest. Axes must be ground! The heterosexual Christian white middle-class is under seige, and their subtle self-genocide must be thwarted!

Although I've been following this development for awhile, it took some deeper digging for me to finally locate the pithy proper noun being used by pundits and ideologues to pin down the trend: Pro-Natalism. That is, "an attitude or policy that encourages child-bearing". Based on events shaping up so far, this is apparently a pet project of the anti-family planning Nouveau Regime. One of Bush's first budget-cutting stunts was his proposal in 2001 to eliminate birth control coverage for federal employees. An amendment saved the coverage, but now it has morphed into a faith-based,Roman Catholic-friendly proposal for coverage (remember "rhythm"?)

And in keeping with his record of utilizing ideologues in place of scientists, his appointments reflect his agenda. Dr. W. David Hager, appointed to the FDA reproductive health panel, refuses to prescribe birth control to his patients and prescribes prayer for menopause and PMS. Tom Coburn, appointed to the Advisory Council on AIDS/HIV, is on record as opposing condoms. The manipulation and distortion of scientific information has become so blatant that even The Union of Concerned Scientists cries out for relief.

His minions in the Ninth Circle have been a big help, too. Rick Santorum won't go so far as to ban birth control himself, but has no problem letting the good folks in the next state do it:
"There is no constitutionally based right to privacy, (Santorum) says, arguing that it is a phony legal concoction foisted on the country by liberal judges. As it happens, the 1965 case which declared the existence of privacy rights legitimized contraception. He calls that case, and others that followed it, a "massive usurpation of power by the judiciary." "Would I ban contraception in the states as a state legislator? No way. Would I do it as a federal official? No way." Even so, he said, each state should be free to legislate the matter on its own. If that means the banning of contraception (or, presumably, adultery or premarital sex), then so be it. "It should be the same with sodomy laws," he said. "Texas should have had the right. People should have had the right."
(As usual, Rick's definition of others' rights is rather circumscribed by his own preferences.)

What is stunning about all this is the growing condemnation of, not just abortion, but birth control itself. The anti-choice movement keeps re-drawing the lines where personhood begins so that, for some, even a freshly fertilized egg less than an hour old becomes the moral equivalent of a 5 year old child. Read their arguments here, or here, or here. The American Life League lays it out for you, and they're not even pretending that their opposition has anything to do with the death of an embryo anymore (see last line):
"American Life League opposes any legislation, or the funding of any program, that in any way promotes contraception. This includes any proposed law that would require health insurance coverage for birth control products. Such laws would require health insurance program participants to pay for birth control drugs and devices that kill. Many of these chemicals and devices act, at least some of the time, by preventing the implantation of a newly-conceived, living human embryo-an action that causes the death of that human being. Such a law, therefore, requires policyholders to subsidize chemicals that kill human persons during their first days of life.
Furthermore, all contraception (even those contraceptives that do not kill embryonic persons) is, in and of itself, a grave moral evil that civil authority should not promote in any way. "
Pharmacists for Life organized behind one woman's refusal to honor prescriptions written for birth control pills, a phenomenon reported on by Prevention Magazine in the article, "Access Denied." The BBC followed up with a piece about it last September, in which they noted the growing refusal of American doctors and pharmacists to prescribe or dispense birth control, and the concern that it would lead to more unplanned pregnancies. Now that we have a presidential appointee to the FDA who subscribes to this nonsense on the basis of his own interpretation of his own particular religion, how much more likely is it that so-called "conscience clauses" allowing legitimate prescriptions to be withheld will gain in popularity throughout the Scarlet Territories?

And while this war on birth control gains momentum, the future of abortion after the next Republican appointment to the Supreme Court can be seen in Mississippi, where draconian measures barely skirting legality have resulted in the most miserable of all worlds: a place where not only is it is all but impossible to get an abortion, but where access to birth control has been severely curtailed. The birth rate there for teens is higher than anywhere else. The second trimester rate of abortion has soared as 1st trimesters have become harder to get. The state has a refusal clause applicable to all contraception services.. And the infant mortality rate, due in good part to the miserly apportioning of health care for poorer women forced to carry pregnancies to term, is the highest in the nation.

When I began to use birth control, I couldn't fathom the history tales I read about the struggles to legitimize it, couldn't understand how anyone could object to a woman handling this most private of decisions in the way she saw fit. Certainly couldn't understand a law like Comstock that led to that final showdown in 1965, Griswold v Connecticutt, the court decision that gave us the phrase "right to privacy"...the privacy of married people to choose to limit their conceptions. So how much more unlikely was it that such prohibitions would raise their ugly snouts in this more modern age? Wrong again, Riggsveda.

But not only is the concept of limiting, even outlawing, birth control, becoming more mainstream as the anti-choice movement gains momentum, but joining it now we see "Pro-Natalism", as described in Brooks' Red-Blather Babies piece. And not just as some whiny yearning by the crackpot fringe for the "good old days" of big families home-growing their own farm hands, but in the pages of the most influential print medium in the country. More and more, the childless (or parents of only children) are being beseiged and put on the defensive for making choices that are nobody's--let me repeat that--nobody's damned business. The theology of Christian fundamentalism is being used to give moral weight to the coercion of people who prefer to remain that way, and to restrict this most fundamental and private right, the right to reproduce.

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