Our Common Good
Let’s come back now to the birth control employer question. Thanks to the gains of the feminist movement and Griswold v. Connecticut, we now understand the Constitution to prohibit the government from imposing restrictions on access to birth control. Even most Republicans, I think, accept that. But there’s nothing in the Constitution to stop employers from refusing to provide health insurance coverage for birth control to their employees. And here’s where the McCarthy specter becomes particularly troubling. Notice the second provision of the Arizona legislation: employers will now have the right to question their employees about what they plan to do with their birth-control prescriptions. Not only is this a violation of the right to privacy—again, not a right our Constitution currently recognizes in the workplace—but it obviously can give employers the necessary information they need to fire an employee. If a women admits to using contraception in order to not get pregnant, there’s nothing in the Constitution to stop an anti-birth control employer from firing her.


Compared to the rest of the United States, the rates of sexual violence among Native American women are nearly twice as high; one in three Native women will be raped in her lifetime, according to the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center. But in many Native communities, women have little to no access to emergency contraception, the group reports in a new paper advocating for greater access.

On many reservations, the only medical facilities are the Indian Health Service centers, which are a federally administered division of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center’s research found that only 10 percent of the pharmacies in the IHS offered Plan B, or “the morning after pill”—the leading form of emergency contraception—over the counter. Forty percent only provide Plan B with a prescription, and the other half don’t provide the pill at all. The federal government approved over-the-counter sales for women over the age of 18 in 2006, and for 17-year-olds in 2009, but access has lagged in the IHS.

Reservation communities are often rural and geographically isolated, and lack any private pharmacies that carry EC, said Charon Asetoyer, chief executive officer of the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center in the introduction to the report. Often, the IHS service centers are closed on the weekends, and the women must wait hours or even days to see a doctor in order to obtain a prescription. This can mean the woman misses the 72-hour window during which EC is effective in preventing pregnancy. The alternative requires driving long distances to a nearby city, which can pile additional costs on top of a pill that already costs $50.

The report includes accounts of women from all over the country detailing their own experiences with the IHS health centers. They also spoke to pharmacists, who noted that there are many reasons that they don’t carry EC: the committees that decide what to stock have neglected to put the drug on approved lists; medical staff have decided that Plan B isn’t necessary; decision-makers think the drug is too expensive; doctors haven’t requested the drug. The IHS did not respond to a request for comment on the report before press time. Women in these communities should not be held to the religious, cultural, or personal beliefs of decision-makers, the report argues.

Asetoyer argues this not carrying and providing EC violates the sexual assault protocols recommended by the Department of Justice for women seeking medical attention following a rape, which include pregnancy risk evaluation and prevention measures. It also violates the Tribal Law and Order Act of 2010, said Asetoyer, which was put in place to ensure that federal laws are enforced on reservations, and the rights to self-determination protected by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People.

Access to emergency contraception prevents Native women from having to deal with additional trauma of needing an abortion should she have a pregnancy resulting from rape, said Asetoyer. “Who wouldn’t want to help a woman reduce that trauma?”


*All people who can get pregnant, not just cis women.

This is shameful. I wish I could say this surprises me, but it doesn’t in the least. This is just one more example of how race, class, gender, and geographic location intersect to suppress reproductive rights. And it’s truly a tragedy because Plan B is safe, easy to use, and would be so beneficial for reducing unwanted pregnancies, yet it is being kept out of vulnerable people’s hands because of politics and bureaucracy. It just goes to show that we can’t claim victory when we maintain the legality of things like Plan B or abortion, victory will only happen when everyone has access to them.


Conservative media figures, led by Rush Limbaugh, have continually distorted and exaggerated the content of Sandra Fluke’stestimony before Democratic members of Congress.

They have gone so far afield of Fluke’s actual testimony that it often appears as if they never actually watched or read it.

Here are some of the conservative claims about Fluke’s testimony, along with what she actually said.

Conservative media claimed Fluke’s activism was hidden

Conservative media figures have suggested that Fluke’s history of activism was hidden and that Fluke portrayed herself as a concerned college student unconnected with any cause. In fact,  Fluke’s testimony discusses her activism.

  • Warner Todd Huston wrote on Breitbart.com: “The media is presenting this Fluke character as if she is just a fresh-faced, wide-eyed, 23-year-old coed that has been accidentally swept up in this story. But the fact is, this Fluke woman is hardly the simple Georgetown coed that she’s being portrayed as.”
  • Jim Hoft of Gateway Pundit wrote, “The Democrat’s token abused college coed is actually a 30 year-old hardcore women’s rights activist.”
  • “Just a Grunt” of Jammie Wearing Fools wrote, ”For me the interesting part of the story is the ever-evolving ‘coed’. I put that in quotes because in the beginning she was described as a Georgetown law student. It was then revealed that prior to attending Georgetown she was an active women’s right advocate.”

From the very first paragraph of Fluke’s testimony:

My name is Sandra Fluke, and I’m a third year student at Georgetown Law, a Jesuit school. I’m also a past president of Georgetown Law Students for Reproductive Justice or LSRJ. I’d like to acknowledge my fellow LSRJ members and allies and all of the student activists with us and thank them for being here today.

Conservative media claimed Fluke’s testimony was about her sex life

Conservatives have claimed that Fluke’s testimony was about her personal sexual behavior, and her purported desire to have the government subsidize it.

  • Rush Limbaugh: “What does it say about the college coed Susan Fluke [sic], who goes before a congressional committee and essentially says that she must be paid to have sex? What does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex.”
  • CNN contributor Erick Erickson writing at RedState: ”Sandra Fluke, who spends over $50,000.00 on law school per year really believes that American tax payers should, because of her expensive law school, pay for her birth control pills so she can have sex.”
  • Writing in National Review, Mark Steyn referred to Fluke as “the brave middle-aged schoolgirl” who “had the courage to stand up in public and demand that someone else pay for her sex life.”
  • On her radio show, CNN contributor Dana Loesch said, “She’s doing it more than she’s studying in law school. Is that why our — is that why law sucks lately? Is that why we’re having such a problem in our courts?” Loesch went on to say, “They act like they’re nymphos. That’s what they act like.”
  • On Breitbart.com, Loesch described Fluke as “a 30 year-old woman embarrassing herself before congress by testifying that she simply cannot stop getting it on and her inability to control her urges constitutes infringing upon everyone else for a bailout.”

In her testimony, Fluke explained that she was “testify[ing] on behalf of the women who will benefit from the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage regulation” and that her testimony was on behalf of women “from Georgetown or other schools or who works for a religiously affiliated employer who has suffered financial, emotional, and medical burdens because of this lack of contraceptive coverage.”

In her testimony, Fluke explained that she was “testify[ing] on behalf of the women who will benefit from the Affordable Care Act contraceptive coverage regulation” and that her testimony was on behalf of women “from Georgetown or other schools or who works for a religiously affiliated employer who has suffered financial, emotional, and medical burdens because of this lack of contraceptive coverage.”

Fluke testified about a student who needed contraceptive medicine to treat polycystic ovarian syndrome.

In sixty-five percent of cases, our female students were interrogated by insurance representatives and university medical staff about why they needed these prescriptions and whether they were lying about their symptoms. For my friend, and 20% of women in her situation, she never got the insurance company to cover her prescription, despite verification of her illness from her doctor. Her claim was denied repeatedly on the assumption that she really wanted the birth control to prevent pregnancy. She’s gay, so clearly polycystic ovarian syndrome was a much more urgent concern than accidental pregnancy.

She also testified about the need for access to contraceptive medicine after a woman was raped.

One student told us that she knew birth control wasn’t covered, and she assumed that’s how Geor getown’s insurance handled all of women’s sexual healthcare, so when she was raped, she didn’t go to the doctor even to be examined or tested for sexually transmitted infections because she thought insurance wasn’t going to cover something like that, something that was related to a woman’s reproductive health. As one student put it, “this policy communicates to female students that our school doesn’t understand our needs.” These are not feelings that male fellow students experience. And they’re not burdens that male students must shoulder.

Conservative media figures could have debated the issues Fluke actually discussed and the situations she presented in her testimony. Instead they chose to invent testimony and rebut premises that never existed.

H/T: Media Matters For America

The real attraction of the birth-control issue was that it could be used to bash Obamacare. It’s not proving to be a very effective weapon, however. When birth control is uncoupled from the religious-freedom argument—and when conservatives start talking in ugly ad-hominem language, like Limbaugh’s, or clueless anachronistic language, like Santorum’s—women, in particular, do not respond well. Just after Limbaugh lashed out at Fluke, a Georgetown professor attended a reunion at a Catholic school in Queens. An elderly nun asked her, “Do you know that girl?” She added, “That awful man should be fired for what he said. How’s she holding up?”

As I argue in “The Reactionary Mind,” conservatism is dedicated to defending hierarchies of power against democratic movements from below, particularly in the so-called private spheres of the family and the workplace. Conservatism is a defense of what I call “the private life of power.” Less a protection of privacy or property in the abstract, as many conservatives and libertarians like to claim, conservatism is a defense of the rights of bosses and husbands/fathers.

So it’s no surprise that the chief agenda items of the GOP since its string of Tea Party victories in 2010 have been to roll back the rights of workers — not just in the public sector, as this piece by Gordon Lafer makes clear, but also in the private sector — and to roll back the reproductive rights of women, as this chart, which Mike Konczal discusses, makes clear. Often, it’s the same Tea Party-controlled states that are pushing both agendas at the same time.

What I hadn’t predicted was that the GOP would be able to come up with a program, in the form of this anti-birth control employer legislation we’re now seeing everywhere, that would combine both agenda items at the same time.


There are many reasons to be wary of this line of argument, but the history of the Christian right provides perhaps the most important one of all. It’s often forgotten that one of the main catalysts for the rise of the Christian right was not school prayer or abortion but the defense of Southern private schools that were created in response to desegregation. By 1970, 400,000 white children were attending these “segregation academies.” States like Mississippi gave students tuition grants, and until the Nixon administration overturned the practice, the IRS gave the donors to these schools tax exemptions. And it was none other than Richard Viguerie, founder of the New Right and pioneer of its use of direct-mail tactics, who said that the attack on these public subsidies by the civil rights movement and liberal courts “was the spark that ignited the religious right’s involvement in real politics.”

According to historian Joseph Crespino, whose essay “Civil Rights and the Religious Right” in “Rightward Bound: Making America Conservative in the 1970s“ is must reading, the rise of segregation academies “was often timed exactly with the desegregation of formerly all-white public schools.” Even so, their advocates claimed to be defending religious minorities — and religious beliefs — rather than white supremacy. (Initially nonsectarian, most of these schools became evangelical over time.) Their cause, in other words, was freedom, not inequality; not the freedom of whites to associate with other whites (and thereby lord their status and power over blacks), as the previous generation of massive resisters had foolishly and openly admitted, but the freedom of believers to practice their own embattled religion. It was a shrewd transposition. In one fell swoop, the heirs of slaveholders became the descendants of persecuted Baptists, and Jim Crow a heresy the First Amendment was meant to protect.

Americans overwhelmingly regard the debate over President Barack Obama’s policy on employer-provided contraceptive coverage as a matter of women’s health, not religious freedom, rejecting Republicans’ rationale for opposing the rule. More than three-quarters say the topic shouldn’t even be a part of the U.S. political debate.

More than six in 10 respondents to a Bloomberg National Poll — including almost 70 percent of women — say the issue involves health care and access to birth control, according to the survey taken March 8-11.


The results suggest the Republican candidates’ focus on contraception is out of sync with the U.S. public. Seventy-seven percent of poll respondents say birth control shouldn’t be a topic of the political debate, while 20 percent say it should.

“These candidates are talking to a relatively small subset even among Republicans,” said J. Ann Selzer, of Des Moines, Iowa-based Selzer & Co., who conducted the telephone poll of 1,002 respondents. “They may have the feeling, and their polls may be showing them, that this is a way in and this is a wedge issue within the party, but this does not dovetail with the views of the majority in the U.S.”


More than half of those interviewed also say radio host Rush Limbaugh, who called a female law student testifying publicly in favor of birth-control coverage a “slut” and “prostitute,” should be fired based solely on those comments.

Republicans are more likely than respondents generally to see the controversy over contraception as an issue of religious liberty, with 54 percent viewing it that way, compared with 42 percent who say it was a matter of health-care access.

While Democrats have charged that the Republican position amounts to a “war on women,” the poll indicates that they aren’t benefiting from it in respondents’ perceptions of the two parties. The survey also suggests that the advantage Democrats have historically enjoyed among women may have narrowed.

Forty-nine percent of women say they would choose Obama over Romney, the front-runner in delegates in the Republican primary, compared with 45 percent who say they’d pick the former Massachusetts governor. In 2008, Obama won 56 percent of the women’s vote to 43 percent for the Republican nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona, according to national exit polls.

Obama Against Santorum

Obama’s advantage among women is more pronounced over Santorum, a Roman Catholic who says he is personally opposed to contraception and has made such social issues a hallmark of his campaign. Women also back Obama over the former Pennsylvania senator 51 percent to 42 percent, while voters overall choose the president by a narrower six-point margin.

At the same time, women’s impressions of the Democratic Party are only slightly better than of the Republicans. Forty- nine percent view Democrats favorably and 42 percent see them unfavorably, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points; 44 percent regard Republicans favorably compared with 48 percent who see them unfavorably.

“I don’t understand why it’s even an issue in politics —a woman’s decision of what she’s going to do for her health and her family,” said Alycia Vetter, a 44-year-old Republican and Romney supporter in Denver. “And I’m pro-life.”


Fifty-five percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who support Romney say religious beliefs should never influence decisions, compared with just 29 percent of Santorum supporters.

Men are more likely to say contraception coverage is a matter of religious liberty, with 38 percent saying so compared with 28 percent of women who see it that way. Majorities of both genders — 57 percent of men and 68 percent of women — say the issue is one of women’s health and access to birth control.

While a majority of Republicans see the topic as a question of religious freedom, only 36 percent of independents and 12 percent of Democrats agree. By contrast, 60 percent of independents and 81 percent of Democrats call it a matter of women’s health.


As for Limbaugh’s derogatory comments about Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke, men are split over whether the radio host should be let go from his job — 49 percent say so, while 47 percent disagree. Fifty-six percent of women support the move compared with 39 percent who don’t. Almost one in three Republicans, 30 percent, say Limbaugh should be fired for the remarks.

Limbaugh mocked Democrats on the air yesterday for having thought his comments about Fluke were going to work to their advantage, saying they failed to gain significant headway among women voters.


N.C. County Kills Family-Planning Funds
 - The commissioners didn’t think it was right to use taxpayer money to pay for women who want to have sex for non-procreative purposes. From the Star-News: Chairman Ted Davis said he thought it was a sad day when “taxpayers are asked to pay money for contraceptives” for women having sex without planning responsibly. 
“If these young women are being responsible and didn’t have the sex to begin with, we wouldn’t have this problem to begin with,” Davis said. The New Hanover County decision comes amid a growing debate about contraception and family planning in North Carolina and nationally.
 Last year, North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature became one of a handful to try and ban state funding for Planned Parenthood.


N.C. County Kills Family-Planning Funds

 - The commissioners didn’t think it was right to use taxpayer money to pay for women who want to have sex for non-procreative purposes. From the Star-News: Chairman Ted Davis said he thought it was a sad day when “taxpayers are asked to pay money for contraceptives” for women having sex without planning responsibly.

“If these young women are being responsible and didn’t have the sex to begin with, we wouldn’t have this problem to begin with,” Davis said. The New Hanover County decision comes amid a growing debate about contraception and family planning in North Carolina and nationally.

Last year, North Carolina’s Republican-led legislature became one of a handful to try and ban state funding for Planned Parenthood.

Put aside the fact that contraception is used to treat conditions that have nothing to do with sex (this was Fluke’s actual point). Put aside that a woman’s ability to control whether or not she is pregnant is about as fundamental and important as the right to health gets. (I’ve never been pregnant, but it sure seems like a more serious medical condition than a lot of the things we expect health insurance to pay to prevent, such as the flu.) Put aside that it’s only if we assume all women are abstinent or should be that female contraception is about promoting sex instead of protecting health, and that no society in history has ever made this assumption. Even put aside that O’Reilly and Limbaugh don’t complain about male contraception such as vasectomies, and they definitely don’t complain about “paying for people to go skiing,” which is exactly what happens when your health care premiums go toward fixing all those broken legs.

Even if you reject all of the above, you should still want health care to cover female contraception, and you should be excited about paying for it. This is because health care subsidies on birth control actually save you money — a lot of money. Every dollar that our society spends on preventing unintended pregnancies produces us “savings of between two and six dollars,” according to a new report from the Brookings Institution. The savings come from averting health care, child care, and other costs associated with unplanned pregnancies. That’s a rate of return of 100% to 500%, making it one of the safest and most profitable investments anywhere.

"Unintended pregnancies are disproportionately concentrated among women who are unmarried, teenaged, and poor," the report finds. Those are all groups of people who could probably use help affording contraception. If you happen to dislike the idea of your money going to help poor, unmarried, or teenage women, consider the fact that you will not just get your money back, you’ll at least double it and at most quintuple. You’ll enjoy this profit in the form of lower health care costs and lower taxes.

The reverse may also be true: spending less money on contraception services leads to higher health care costs and higher taxes. When Texas cut $73 million from state family planning services, the increase in unplanned pregnancies ended up costing $230 million in additional Medicaid burdens, according to the nonpartisan state Legislative Budget Board. The other result was more unintended pregnancies and, presumably, more abortions. Other states are considering similar measures.

As an added bonus, you’ll also reduce the number and rate of abortions, 90% of which are estimated to be for unintended pregnancies. And you’ll reduce the number of unwed mothers (if you happen to think this is a number that should be reduced), who carry 70% of unplanned pregnancies.

There are a lot of unplanned pregnancies in America (almost half of U.S. pregnancies are unintended) and these pregnancies cost all of us money. If you’re thinking to yourself that unplanned pregnancies are only costly because of social safety net programs, think again. “Unintended pregnancy and childbearing depress levels of educational attainment and labor force participation among mothers and lead to higher crime rates and poorer academic, economic, and health outcomes among children,” the report notes. It’s not just about Medicaid spending, although the report says health care immediately related to unintended pregnancies cost the program $12 billion annually, or about 3% of Medicaid’s total spending. It’s about the productivity of our economy, which is something we’d all like to see improve.

Walgreens has a history of creating unnecessary delays to dispensing emergency contraception. After we brought prior incidents in Texas and Mississippi to Walgreens’s attention, they promised to ensure that their pharmacists were trained to follow federal guidelines that say that both men and women are able to purchase the drug as long as they are 17 years old with a valid identification. How many men has this happened to and who we’ve never heard from?

Do You Really Want to Make Contraception More Accessible? Make Birth Control Available Over the Counter

Anyone — a local teenager, a traveling businessman, a married mother of four, an illegal immigrant, even a student at a Jesuit university — can walk into my neighborhood CVS any time, day…

Most birth control are hormonal drugs that work differently on different people and need to involve a doctor’s care and supervision.  What works for one woman might not work with another - and depending on other health issues could kill.  There is a lot more at risk than with condoms. 


Elephant - 6 Mar 2012


Elephant - 6 Mar 2012

In a letter to Speaker John Boehner — which was sent my way by a source — the 12 female Senate Dems, led by Patty Murray, are demanding that he drop his promise to hold a vote on the House version of the Blunt amendment, which has over 200 Republicans co-sponsors.

The letter from the female Senators — which is timed to International Women’s Day — asks Boehner to pledge not to move any more birth-control-related legislation in the House.

“We are asking that you abandon the promise you have made to bring legislation to the House floor similar to the Blunt amendment, which was defeated in the Senate last week, and which would turn the clock back on women’s access to health care,” the letter says. “We ask that you listen to the overwhelming outcry from American women who support access to contraception and drop all politically-charged efforts to deny them coverage.”

About time our side did a bit of knife twisting.
<h/t quickhits>


Nell Boeschenstein is angry. “I take birth control to minimize my risk of ovarian cancer,” she said. “To have that be potentially denied coverage makes my blood boil in ways I can’t articulate.”

Boeschenstein once wrote, “I’ve never sprained an ankle. The only bone I’ve ever broken is the…


Happy 2012 International Women’s Day