The Bush administration's Department of Health and Human Services has been called "ground zero for the ideological wars in this country," and their new proposal, recently leaked to the public, proves why. In a spectacular act of complicity with extremists on the right, HHS is proposing to allow any federal grant recipient to obstruct a woman's access to contraception.
The American public is nearly unanimous in supporting contraception: 90 percent favor wide availability for birth control, and 90 percent of sexually active women of reproductive age are using it. It is simple common sense: the average woman spends nearly three decades of her life attempting to be sexually active without getting pregnant, and access to contraception is the only proven way to avoid an unintended pregnancy.
For most women, birth control is a basic health care need. But with this new proposal, the Bush administration plans to hand over the gears of health care to the few extremists who want to impose their deeply unpopular right-wing doctrine on the many. The "Pill Kills" fringe has generally been ignored for its warped pseudo-science, but not in Bush's government. Its new proposal would make agencies receiving federal health funding promise not to discriminate in hiring against anyone who objects to abortion — and then redefines abortion so as to include most commonly used forms of birth control including oral contraceptives and IUDs.
This is the latest — and now incontrovertible — proof that the anti-abortion movement, and the administration that appears beholden to it, opposes basic pregnancy prevention and is firmly committed to control over Americans' sex lives. If the proposal is approved, anti-contraceptive operatives will seize health financing, one of the most important levers of control. The regulations would be vast in scope and serve as an open invitation for local extremists to directly meddle with your most important life decisions.
Under the new rule, any health care provider who receives federal funding and would like to prevent women from having access to prescription birth control would have federal protection for doing it. State laws requiring hospitals to give pregnancy prevention to rape victims would be automatically invalidated. Pharmacies nationwide could be granted instant permission to refuse to fill prescriptions for birth control. Health centers may be forced to hire religious extremists who would refuse to provide contraception to their patients, even if contraception service is the main focus of the facility.
The new regulation would overrule laws in 27 states requiring health insurers to cover contraceptives. Keep in mind that reluctance of Health Maintenance Organizations to cover contraception was what led to these state mandates in the first place. Health insurance plans would likely be able to eliminate contraceptive coverage, re-imposing on women 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care expenses than men pay.
President Bush has been committed to restricting Americans' access to pregnancy prevention since his first days in office. In 2001, he attempted to eliminate contraceptive coverage for federal employees and soldiers. At the request of the anti-contraception movement, he has obstructed the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's process of approving proposals for wider access to contraception; appointed self-described anti-contraception leaders to oversee the nation's federal contraception program for the poor; eliminated funding for international family planning programs; appointed anti-condom activists to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS; promoted programs that withhold information about birth control from sexually active teens; and sunk unprecedented sums of public funding into these no-sex-until-marriage programs, even after witnessing, as governor of Texas, that the result there was the highest teen birth rate of any state in the union.
The proposed regulation is just one of many campaigns against contraception, all led entirely by the anti-abortion establishment. Few Americans know that not one anti-abortion organization in the United States supports contraception. Even fewer understand that every effort to ensure Americans' access to pregnancy prevention is met with fierce, well-financed, and increasingly successful opposition by anti-abortion groups.
The Bush administration has been able to implement these deeply unpopular attacks against birth control and family planning because the American public doesn't really believe that an anti-contraception movement even exists. Under the cover of public denial, behind the banner of "Who could be against contraception?" ideological extremists have accomplished much of their agenda. Approval of the HHS proposal would be the most encompassing and far-reaching attack on the right to contraception they could hope for. What the anti-birth control extremists need now is for the public to continue to believe it can't happen.
Christina Page is the author of "How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex," and is spokesperson for www.BirthControlWatch.org