I asked in an earlier post what rights women have about getting pregnant, staying pregnant, and giving birth (among other things). The UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) has the following to say about contraception:
Women’s and adolescents’ right to contraceptive information and services is grounded in internationally recognized human rights, including the right to life, the right to the highest attainable standard of health, the right to decide the number and spacing of one’s children, the right to privacy, the right to information, and the right to equality and non-discrimination.
Throughout history, there is no doubt that contraceptive information and access were not considered human rights, but of course, there were also serious debates about whether or not women were fully human or whether or not they generally had rights accorded to other humans. And women (and men) throughout history went to great lengths to find and use contraception, resorting to abortion and even infanticide when faced with unwanted pregnancies.
Nearly all sexually active women in the U.S. use or have used contraception.
There are two main philosophies regarding why contraception should not be regarded as a routine aspect of healthcare coverage.
- Contraception is a “lifestyle drug” that is not a routine part of healthcare. This is essentially the argument made by the likes of Eden Foods and Rush Limbaugh.
- Contraception is evil because people–especially women–should never have intercourse unless they are open to getting pregnant (and having a baby). This is generally the argument made by the Catholic Church and other religious organizations that oppose contraception.
In the first case, objection to contraception is usually just a mask for general opposition to health care reform. The objection to contraception is merely a path to legitimize objections to implementing Obamacare. It is, however, hard to escape the underlying idea here that sex is not a routine, healthy part of a woman’s life–at least not sex free from pregnancy.
In the second case, however, the people registering objections to the contraceptive mandate are against the use of contraception. By anyone. Ever.
It is worthwhile to look at what happens when women are prohibited from using contraception. We actually have an example of what happens when contraception is prohibited in a modern, industrialized society: Romania under Ceausescu.
In 1966, in response to a drastic decline in birth rates, the Communist Party under Nicolae Ceausescu issued Decree 770. The Decree made abortion illegal under almost all circumstances (exceptions were made for older women or those who already had at least four–and later five–children). Contraception was entirely prohibited. To enforce that women did not actually use contraceptives (or try to abort), all women were monitored by a gynecologist and had to pay extra taxes if they did not have children. Miscarriages were investigated, and hospitals that provided reproductive health care to women were monitored by the secret police. Sex education became synonymous with pronatalism. As a result, the birth rate went up 100% in the year after the decree. Before the decree, the average women had fewer than 2 children (which is below population replacement). After the decree, it was 3.7. So as far as controlling women’s fertility and increasing the birth rate, the decree was wildly successful.
The downside was that many women did not want to have lots of children. Abortion (which had commonly been used to control fertility before the decree) continued at rates almost unimaginable. Illegal and unsafe abortion flourished, and Romania’s maternal mortality rate become the highest in Europe. Abortion rates continue to be very high even today, as abortion was normalized as the only way to prevent an unwanted birth (it is important to note here that, in general, contraceptive methods are safer for women than legal abortion).
And the children–well, as before the decree, some children were wanted, or at least not unwanted, and grew up in families. But many of them did not. Some were born deformed as a a result of botched abortions. Many grew up in orphanages, even though most of these children were not orphans. The orphanages were terrible places where children were usually neglected and often abused (again, as the culture normalized these institutions, poor conditions often persist today). You can watch a documentary about the abandoned children of Decree 770 here.
So, a quick overview of what happens when contraception is prohibited:
- Women get pregnant more often and have more children.
- Most women and men do not want as many children as they will have if they cannot prevent pregnancy.
- The prospect of having sex with a partner–even a life partner with whom you share a loving relationship– becomes fraught.
- Abortion rates go up–way, way up.
- Abortion becomes a normal part of life.
- Women’s bodies become regarded as state property.
- Women are injured.
- Women die.
- Infant mortality goes up.
- Children die.
- Children are raised in neglectful, abusive conditions that prevent them from reaching their adult potential.
People may think that such things could never happen here–I’m sure the Romanian policy makers weren’t expecting these particular results either. And Americans might rightly point out that not funding contraception as a part of routine health care is not the same as making it illegal. But “conscience clauses” legitimate the idea that contraception is morally objectionable, as do “Personhood” amendments. There are also numerous contemporary examples of what happens when women don’t have access to contraception–though that is not the same as contraception being illegal, the effects are often similar, especially in a society that puts increasing restrictions on the ability to terminate a pregnancy. When contraceptive access is limited, women have unwanted pregnancies. When women can access contraception, abortion rates go down and teen birth rates plummet, and women and their families are better off financially and physically. If one cannot afford contraceptives or can’t get access to methods that are safe and appropriate, how much does the legality matter?
What exactly would be accomplished by removing the mandatory contraceptive provision from Obamacare?