Friday, October 21, 2011

After 46 Years Will Contraceptives Again Be Criminalized?

Many people do not remember that the purchase and use of birth control products, even by married couples, was against the law in many states until 1965. There are those who, for the last 46 years, have worked to reverse the 1965 Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court finding that women have a fundamental "right of privacy" to make family planning decisions, which includes the right to learn about and use contraceptive products for birth control.

Rick Santorum pledged to repeal all federal funding for contraception, during a recent interview with editor Shane Vander Hart, arguing that the use of contraceptives devalues the act of procreation.

“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country,” the former Pennsylvania senator explained. “It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and nearly all the other GOP presidential candidates support the idea that contraceptives should be outlawed though the adoption of a "life begins at conception" constitutional amendment -- even if they don't fully understand the measure will outlaw most common contraceptives.

The key is in the definition of conception:

Does conception occur the instant that an egg is fertilized, when sperm unites with egg, or does conception occur only when a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. The outcome of the battle to define conception has potentially serious implications for American women.

According to both the scientific community and long-standing federal policy on the definition of conception, a woman conceives and is considered pregnant only when a fertilized egg has implanted in the wall of her uterus.

Anti-contraception activists, like the PersonhoodUSA organization, are pushing "personhood - life begins at conception" constitutional amendments in every state legislature. The personhood amendments redefine the legal meaning of conception by specifying that a "person," who is entitled to legal protections under law, like the right to life, includes embryos and fertilized eggs that have not yet implanted in the uterus. Birth control pills prevent pregnancy by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus. Clearly, function of the birth control pill is at odds with such personhood amendment wording.

Mississippians are set to vote on a ballot measure this November that would redefine the state's constitutional definition of a "person who is entitled to all legal protections under law" to include embryos and fertilized eggs that have not yet implanted in the womb. Personhood USA, the advocacy group pushing the amendment, is attempting to paint the issue only as a black-and-white abortion ban. But in defining legal human rights as starting from the instant that sperm unites with egg, Mississippi Initiative 26, often called the "Personhood Amendment," not only will criminalize abortion in Mississippi, with no exceptions for rape, incest or life of the mother, it will open the door to criminalize the most common birth control choice - the hormonal birth control pill.

Members of the medical and legal communities have raised concerns that the state amendments could have unforeseen, far-reaching implications for women's health, such as banning the birth control pill, which prevents pregnancy by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb, in-vitro fertilization and stem cell research.

Texas Republicans this year cut funding for family planning clinics by two-thirds. When the Texas Tribune asked Texas state Rep. Wayne Christian (R-Nacogdoches), a supporter of the family planning cuts, if this was a war on birth control, he said: “Well of course this is a war on birth control and abortions and everything.”

Family planning clinics, where women receive health services and family planning information on contraceptives are routinely referred to by many Republican lawmakers across the U.S. as “abortion clinics.” Anti-contraception activists believe that using the birth control pill to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb is abortion.

Listen to NPR's report on Texas' Cuts to Women's access to birth control choices
As NPR notes, the state estimates that 300,000 women will lose access to family planning services because the Republican controlled Texas Legislature cut funding for family planning clinics that provide information on birth control methods and prescriptions. Those cuts will result in roughly 20,000 additional unplanned births. Texas was already spending $1.3 billion on unplanned teen pregnancies — more than any other state — before the legislature cut the funding.

On her Thursday show Rachel Maddow tore into GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney over his stated support for the " life begins at conception" constitutional amendment. Maddow took issue with what she saw as Romney's failure to accurately answer a young Iowa woman who questioned the Governor's stance on birth control in relationship to his support for " life begins at conception" constitutional amendment.

The young woman asked," You were on governor Huckabee's show a few weeks ago and one of the things that you talked about, was that you support life begins at conception amendments. Now, that would essentially mean that banning most forms of birth control. 98% of American women, including me, use birth control, so can you help me understand why you oppose the use of birth control?"

Romney replied, " I don't. I'm sorry, life begins at conception, birth control prevents conception."

Romney's answer suggests he understands conception according to the scientific community's long-standing definition of conception, that a woman conceives and is considered pregnant only when a fertilized egg has implanted in the wall of her uterus. Romney, and likely most Republicans who support the "life begins at conception" constitutional amendment, have missed the fact that such amendments currently being considered by state legislatures are worded such that the commonly understood definition of conception is discarded and redefined to be the instant an egg is fertilized, when sperm units with egg.

As part of her segment on this topic Maddow had her producers change her usual blue background to a "man cave" with a bar, large TV screen and big leather sofa and the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympics logo. She popped open a beer and told the ladies to leave so she could talk "just to the fellas."

"It's very simple," Maddow said. "This-is-how-a-baby-is-made." She then launched into a full description of the baby-making process and even put up a diagram of the female reproductive system titled the "man cave's not-too-upsetting guide to down-there parts." She mockingly went through three beers in the process of explaining to men how babies were made, how birth control worked, and that sometimes people engaged in sexual acts that could lead to pregnancy even though they don't want it to. "This is how the birth control works that Mitt Romney told Mike Huckabee he would like to make illegal!" she cried, criticizing government involvement in "litigating the second-by-second legal status of what is happening in some guy's girlfriend's uterus on a Friday night."

"I know it's awkward to talk about these things sometimes," Maddow concluded. She also said that she knew this was "very upsetting" but felt it was warranted to talk sense into men.

Watch Maddow's entire segment in this topic:

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