The XX Factor

“Contraception” Has Only One More Syllable Than “Abortion”

The anti-choice movement lost another battle in its war on contraception access yesterday, when the Senate voted to keep funding everything but abortion at Planned Parenthood.  (Abortion funding to the organization has been banned since 1976.)  That was an expected pro-choice victory, though it’s still shocking to see that the bill to defund Planned Parenthood passed the House with the support of 10 Democrats.  Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t really think it’s seemly for Democrats to be to the right of Richard Nixon on these kinds of issues.

That was an expected victory for pro-choicers in the light of Harry Reid’s stubborn resistance on this issue, but what was more unexpected but also incredibly important was that the New York Times broke the abortion barrier yesterday, when Gail Collins explained that defunding contraception is about defunding contraception, and rejected the pressure to pretend that this is about abortion.  Prior to yesterday, the newspaper had a maddening tendency to call money for all reproductive health services but abortion “abortion funding,” but Collins actually bothered to look at the words of anti-choice leaders and conclude, correctly, that they’ve got a larger agenda that hews closely to the Vatican’s opposition to both contraception and abortion.  It’s unclear whether Collins will be locked in a room with hundreds of rats until she agrees to call contraception “abortion,” but for now, it’s a victory for common sense.

Of course, as Collins notes, contraception is wildly popular in America.  It’s arguably more popular with straight women ( 99 percent of whom use it ) than cute cat videos .  And even though the most vocal opponents of contraception thump the Bible hard in their arguments, religious women use it at the same rates .  Yes, even Catholics. No wonder social conservatives launching assaults on contraception access drop the word abortion frequently, hoping (with reason) that confusing the issue will work in their favor.  But really, the major coup in this particular war on contraception was making this only about contraception and other sexual health care for low-income people.  By associating Planned Parenthood with welfare, Republicans have been able to quickly form a large base of support for what would otherwise be considered a capitulation to the radical fringe of the Christian right.