By Kathleen C. Barry
I thought the battle for women's rights had largely been won but the extremists are coming out of the closet with their real agenda, the assault on birth control. This fringe has won converts for its warped pseudo-science at the Department of Health and Human Services, where a proposed rule would codify that anyone receiving federal funding could not be required to provide birth control under the basis that it might violate their religious views.
The new rules would mean that all health care providers -- including pharmacists and medical staff at hospitals and clinics, medical schools and even family planning centers -- could refuse to provide all forms of contraception. Women’s rights are being put at the whim of their providers who could now claim a “conscience” clause to refuse to cover birth control in medical plans or provide pregnancy prevention to rape victims.
It seems the debate over women's reproductive rights has come full circle, so that women are once again forced to argue for their right of self-determination. Every day, Americans face important life decisions, with outcomes that will reverberate for years: how to afford health care; how to die with dignity, how to talk to teenagers about sex; when and what kind of contraceptives to use; when to have a baby and whether it is safe to have more than one child. This debate is really about more than contraception, it's about life decisions and whether women get to make them for themselves.
How did this happen? With nine out of every ten American women using contraceptives, you'd think we were out of the Dark Ages. It's a small minority of activists who are pushing for these extreme measures. The Women Donors Network, together with Communications Consortium Media Center, conducted research and found that 91 percent of voters agreed that couples should have access to birth control. Voters believe, by 83 percent, that we should respect people's ability to make their own life decisions, including when to have a child -- and not impose our values and views on them.
The extremists' agenda is designed to strip woman of self-determination. We cannot allow the intractable debate on pregnancy termination to overshadow our right to prevent a pregnancy. Under the proposed HHS rule anyone -- the doctor, the pharmacist, the receptionist -- could deny a woman the right to contraception.
Given that contraceptives prevent unintended pregnancies, you would think that the anti-abortion crowd would be the biggest promoter of birth control. Not so, because their real target is to end family planning. It's time to move on to the critical issues about reproductive health and sexuality that face all of us every day -- issues such as access to contraception and cervical cancer prevention. Let's agree to disagree about abortion, but certainly prevention of unwanted pregnancy can be a common ground goal most Americans can agree upon.
The public has only until September 25 to send comments to HHS about the proposed rule. Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. The proposed HHS rule should die a swift death and the anti-women activists should back off, allowing the rest of us to move on.
Barry is a board member of The Women Donors Network, a national network of progressive women donors, and a founding member of their Reproductive Rights Initiative.