The XX Factor

Anti-Choice Activists Protest on 47th Anniversary of Legalized Contraception

Anti-contraception protesters.
Demonstrators protest a requirement that most employers provide health care insurance coverage for contraception and sterilization at Federal Hall National Memorial in New York on March 23, 2012

Photograph by Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images.

At RH Reality Check yesterday, I had a column up about the growing prominence of leaders in the anti-choice movement who are less afraid of making a direct argument to the public about the evils of contraception than activists have been in the past, though by and large the anti-choice movement has always disliked contraception. The column was in response to this past weekend’s nationwide anti-contraception protests, which were advertised disingenuously as being about “religious freedom,” even though the protesters were demanding that employers be given the right to infringe on their employees’ basic right to use earned insurance benefits as they see fit based on their own religious views. So really, they were anti-religious freedom protests, especially considering the long American tradition of disallowing employers to discriminate against employees based on religious beliefs.

But what most of the media especially failed to understand was that these protests were about much more than conservatives demanding the right to give women’s employers a vote in private family planning issues. Protesters weren’t just opposed to insurance benefits that cover contraception, but have issues with contraception generally. The scheduling of the protests alone should have tipped off reporters to the fact that this is about more than insurance coverage; the protests aligned with the anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut, which is the 1965 Supreme Court decision where the court ruled in favor of Planned Parenthood’s right to offer contraceptive services to married women, which had the effect of invalidating any bans on contraception sales nationwide.

I’d imagine some folks would like to pretend that’s a coincidence, but that would require a massive leap of faith to believe that anti-choice activists somehow forgot an anniversary that pro-choice organizations celebrate every year. These protests are an extension of what’s been a multi-year protest project from the American Life League, which holds annual anti-Griswold protests under the banner The Pill Kills. Additionally, the protests featured speakers who are unafraid to talk about the “tragedy” of women being able to choose nonprocreative sex. Sarah Posner at Salon interviewed one of the major speakers at the Capitol Hill protest, David Bereit, and while he was cagey with the liberal press about his views on legalized contraception, she found that it didn’t take much digging to discover he’s against it. In 2005, he directly stated that he felt Griswold created “a tragic moral breakdown in our culture,” echoing common Catholic dogma about how sex should always be about procreation, even though Bereit himself isn’t Catholic. He and many other speakers at the rally claimed that emergency contraception is abortion, despite the definitive disproof offered recently in the New York Times, which I argued would not be enough to shame anti-choice activists into scientific accuracy. You know, because they don’t really like contraception.

I get why the anti-contraception sentiment of the anti-choice movement is often hard to see. Part of it is that activists are pretty good about being careful what they say to whom, keeping the anti-contraception screeds for their own websites and forums while playing look-over-there with reporters. The other problem with it is that while anti-choice activists talk a big game about abstinence, it seems implausible that they’re all using it as their primary form of birth control, making it easy to believe they’re “soft” on this in a way they might not be on abortion. But after the umpteenth right wing sex scandal—and after four times-married Viagra fan Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke a “slut” for using birth control—I think the media and the public are ready to grasp that hypocrisy is the beating heart of the conservative movement. It really shouldn’t be that hard to imagine that despite their own use of contraception, anti-choice activists can be riled up to protest it by images of those other, dirty people that are using it.