BY FROMA HARROP
There was a time when Republicans and Democrats generally agreed that access to birth control was a public good. Most saw preventing unwanted pregnancies as key to making abortions rare. Those days are over. The Trump administration is indulging a religious hard right, helping it merge the politics of abortion and birth control into one.
There has long been a “pro-life” faction that extends its opposition to abortion to the very use of contraceptives. This is a tiny number of people. Only 4% of U.S. adults think contraception is immoral, according to Pew Research Center polling. Even among Catholics who attend Mass weekly, a mere 13% consider artificial contraception to be sinful.
Nonetheless, Donald Trump wants to divert money intended to help low-income women obtain birth control to clinics that refuse to provide birth control pills, intrauterine devices and even condoms – in other words, anything modern.
What they offer are instructions to track their periods and refrain from sex during their fertile times. They call it “natural family planning.”
The Mayo Clinic considers this method one of the least effective forms of birth control. “As many as 24 out of 100 women who use natural family planning for birth control,” it says, “become pregnant the first year.”
This is basically an effort to funnel money to a religious fringe. And it has some big enterprises to fund. Obria Medical Clinics, for one, now runs 22 clinics and is starting a $240 million campaign to open more. Obria offers only natural family planning.
“A woman needs choice,” said Obria CEO Kathleen Eaton Bravo, “but you can’t have a choice if the only clinic that a woman can go to is Planned Parenthood.”
Not true. Many clinics other than Planned Parenthood provide effective birth control but do not offer abortion services. And in any case, the law prohibits using federal funds to pay for abortion.
Bravo has this to say about hormonal birth control [the kind that really works]: Women “don’t want to live every day having to take a carcinogen.”
That’s junk science. Hormonal birth control poses a “very, very small” added risk for breast cancer, according to Dr. Nancy Keating of Harvard Medical School. It’s much less than the risk associated with drinking three glasses of wine a week, and that is very low. Calling the pill, the ring, an IUD or a contraceptive implant a carcinogen is nuts.
Medical clinics should have every right to choose which services they offer. They shouldn’t have the right to take federal tax dollars for services they fail to provide.
Then there’s the sneak factor. Obria Medical Clinics advertises what looks like a wide range of women’s health services but does not say outright that the big one, modern birth control, is missing. Thus, women wanting real birth control wander in under false pretenses.
It takes a certain level of governmental insanity to make it harder for poor women to obtain birth control. We saw the results starting in 2011, when Texas cut state funding for family planning by 66%.
Women who had their acts together obtained inexpensive contraceptives through the mail [with prescriptions by Texas providers]. Some drove to Mexico, where birth control is sold over the counter.
Less organized poor women simply got pregnant. After 2011, births by women on Medicaid rose 27%.
People may believe as they choose. But a government policy designed to make it harder for poor women to avoid having children they don’t want is off-the-wall on every level – medical, sociological and fiscal.
We in the vast majority shouldn’t have to be defending birth control in the year 2018. If you don’t want to, vote accordingly Nov. 6.
– Froma Harrop’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer