Monday, February 27, 2006

Forced Conception

The Washington Post has a story today that nicely illustrates some of the points that hybrid made in her post yesterday. The article discusses state legislation around Plan B, also known as emergency contraception or the morning-after pill. Plan B, notably, prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation or fertilization of an egg. In other words, it keeps you from getting pregnant after you have sex. As such, it's a product that a lot of women, including myself, have used at one time or another. It's also a product that one might reasonably expect opponents of abortion to promote--after all, it prevents unwanted pregnancy. And therefore, it prevents abortion.

And yet, it turns out that the "pro-life" forces do not, in fact, want to promote the use of the morning-after pill. As the Post article I linked to above notes, the states are nearly universally considering legislation to either expand or restrict access to emergency contraception:

More than 60 bills have been filed in state legislatures already this year, and that follows an already busy 2005 session on emergency contraception. The resulting tug of war is creating an availability map for the pill that looks increasingly similar to the map of "red states" and "blue states" in the past two presidential elections -- with increased access in the blue states and greater restrictions in the red ones.

In other words, the states with greater restrictions are, for the most part at least, the same as the states where abortion is itself hard to get--such that women who aren't able to access emergency contraception may be flat out of luck if they're not able to travel elsewhere. New Hampshire, for example, is looking at legislation that would deny emergency contraception to minors without parental notification. And, as we know from the NH legislation recently challenged at the Supreme Court in the Ayotte case, they already have a parental notification provision for abortion. So my advice to young women in New Hampshire? Keep track of which states expand access to allow over the counter dispensation of the drug. When you travel there, get some and bring it home with you. Do this even if you aren't sexually active. Because it turns out, not all of the women in the world who take Plan B had consensual sex. Probably some were careless (though "careless" is hardly equivalent to "deserving of punishment in the form of unwanted pregnancy) but others were not. The right wing, it turns out, hates both.

I believe it's fair to characterize the anti-abortion position as supporting forced pregnancy and childbirth--if a woman is not allowed to have an abortion once she is pregnant, then she truly is forced to carry a fetus within her body, with attendant discomfort, pain, health risks, and (in the case of an unwanted pregnancy) misery, and then to give birth. Nonetheless, I think making the Plan B unavailable is an even better match with the concept of forced pregnancy--because its denial actually forces women to become pregnant, when they could otherwise avoid that pregnancy. That's a little additional proof that the right wing hates women for y'all, right there. Unlike anything else I've seen, a desire to deny women access to emergency contraception--contraception, not abortion--clarifies for me the extent to which the "pro-life" position is not about saving babies, but is intended to be punitive. It's intended, at its heart, to punish women for having sex. That may not apply to every member of the movement; but its leaders, those who spread misinformation about Plan B and set the agenda against it, are hurting women, and must certainly know it when they oppose access to emergency contraception.

Finally, one good thing for today:

The FDA's inaction on Plan B has been sharply criticized by most major medical societies and many in Congress, and led to a lawsuit by the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York. The federal magistrate judge hearing the case on Friday concluded that the center had established a "strong preliminary showing of 'bad faith or misbehavior' " on the part of FDA officials, and so ordered the case to go forward and ruled that top current and past FDA leaders should be interviewed under oath.

One thing that is illustrated by the hodge-podge of varying laws in different states is the extent to which women's equality is now determined at the regional level. I think that's the level on which we have to be prepared to fight on the abortion issue (an opinion that is really a function of my pessimism about the future of constitutional abortion litigation). But this case looks potentially winnable at a federal level to me (at least on a first glance) and a federal win on this would be a great thing.

*If anyone wants more information on Plan B, Planned Parenthood has a good webpage here.


Blogger Krupskaya said...

Great post. What chaps my ass is that when you've established that anti-abortion people want to punish women for having sex, what follows is that the punishment is (they hope, eventually) a baby. What a sad, sad way to look at what they claim is the greatest gift of all. They can't have it both ways.

11:50 AM  
Blogger hybrid said...

Well said, Thistle.

I completely agree with Krups. It drives me up the wall that this hypocrisy goes uncriticized.

11:58 AM  
Blogger 4 said...

People who are anti-abortion are opposed to abortifacient contraception...

Was this supposed to be a news flash?

2:50 PM  
Blogger skylanda said...

Yeah, krupskaya, and of course the weirdest part is that somehow that "punishement" is supposed to become a functional human being.

3:05 PM  
Blogger thistle said...

Justforsarah, not sure why I'm bothering, but "abortifacient contraception" is a contradiction in terms. A drug that prevents contraception is by definition not an abortifacient. Experts (and by this I mean actual experts, not the unqualified nutcases the right wing tends to trot out on this one) agree that Plan B does the former, not the latter.

9:30 AM  
Blogger skylanda said...

Despite the dubious vocabulary, I do think that JFS is onto something. Of course people who are against abortion are also against various forms of birth control, including EC. After all, if you're against reproductive rights and for the government telling women when and how they get to reproduce, you might as well go all the way and take that extremism to its logical end. An end which I believe Margaret Atwood described very well in The Handmaid's Tale.

12:39 PM  
Blogger thistle said...

I don't know--I think it would possible, as an ideological stance, to be in favor of reproductive rights but feel that women's interests in their reproductive rights are outweighed by the right to life of the fetus as an independent human being. I would disagree with that framing of the issue and with the balance struck, but I think it's possible. That the above *isn't* the position that anti-abortion activists in this country actually take is well illustrated, in my view, by their opposition to contraception, which serves the interests of reproductive autonomy with no downside in terms of harming the supposed rights of a fetus.

12:46 PM  
Blogger Krupskaya said...

The contraception thing exposes, I think, how the anti-abortion right isn't really about reducing abortions and unwanted pregnancies at all, since they often cut contraception education/funding while making anti-abortion laws. One rarely sees the former from them without the latter. I have seen it, but rarely. And when I do see it, it's usually from a lefty Catholic

1:16 PM  
Blogger 4 said...


I agree with you completely. I was uncareful in formulating my sentence. What I should have said was "abortifacient contraceptives."

I didn't realize that Plan B is not abortifacient. I appreciate the correction!

6:58 PM  
Blogger 4 said...

I've been reading about Plan B (which I mistook as another name for RU-486)...very fascinating... I'm going to have to look into it more!

Thank you Thistle!

7:05 PM  
Blogger skylanda said...

That's a common mistake, JFS. I think the confusion comes because anti-abortion factions have purposely called Plan B an "abortion pill" which it is not, while RU-486 is. Not that that should make a lick of difference - they are still equally viable reproductive choices.

1:18 AM  
Blogger 4 said...

Skylanda et al.,

I definitely agree that Plan B should be made available to the public. Thank you for all the info!

P.S. Sorry for the saracastic tone of my first comment.

12:34 PM  
Blogger Anil Philip said...

We are longing to adopt. Please let us know if you know anyone with an unwanted pregnancy willing to place their baby for adoption

3:21 PM  

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