Where compromise on choice has gotten us.

23 Dec 2011 09:21 pm
Posted by: Donna


I hadn’t gotten around to blogging about the recent Plan B decision because I wanted to devote the time to tie it to the larger context. I was going to post today and then I saw that Scott Lemieux drew the big picture very well in his post for The American Prospect yesterday:

“Modest” restrictions on reproductive freedom don’t ever work the way their centrist supporters intend. They always end up hurting women least capable of shouldering the burden. Two new studies underscore this point. First, Amanda Marcotte points out research in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing that the Plan B restrictions supported by the Obama administration—against the advice of its medical professionals—will have effects more far-reaching than keeping the emergency contraceptive out of the hands of 11- and 12-year-olds. The JAMA study shows that this decision not only requires 15- and 16-year-old young women to get a prescription to obtain Plan B; it makes it harder for adult women to obtain Plan B as well.

This is always the problem with “centrism” on reproductive choice. The “let’s find middle ground” people are naive for two reasons:

1. Centrists take social conservative activists at face value that it’s by and large about saving lives for them. They assume we can all come together on contraception and sex ed to reduce abortions to a negligible number. You’d think the sheer amount of hyena-like screeching about birth control, not abortion, but birth control, coming out of the right this year would disabuse them of this silly notion, but no.

2. They think these compromises impress the public and earn the pro-choice side political capital, or at least mitigate political hits.

That latter belief was clearly what drove Sec. Kathleen Sebelius to overrule FDA recommendations to make Plan B emergency contraception available over the counter to girls under age 17 and President Obama to agree with her. It’s also what drove a lot of Dems to hail the move as plain common sense. Which is maddening to those of us who pay a lot of attention to reproductive issues. It’s cowardice as a political calculation and a bad strategy overall. Why give credibility to the worst sorts of right wing lies about emergency contraception (such as that it causes abortion or leads to promiscuity, both of which are complete b.s.) when there’s nothing to be gained by it? Sec. Sebelius and the President needlessly pissed off pro-choice activists and adopted a position that puts a lot of girls and women at risk of unintended pregnancy and the need to decide whether to abort or not, which is the very thing Plan B was designed to help prevent.

And those who are supposedly “moderate” on the abortion issue, such as Democrats who favor some restrictions on abortion but also support birth control should be at the forefront of defending over the counter access to Plan B, no questions asked, to any sexually active female. But then, “moderates” never like to be at the forefront of anything, and too many of them probably believe the b.s. about Plan B causing abortions or teenage promiscuity anyway. So that leaves strong pro-choice politicians to defend common sense policies that actually reduce abortions, like making emergency contraception available. However, even they are reluctant to take on the fight:

Gwen Moore, a Democratic Rep. from Wisconsin whose statements on the House floor on the importance of reproductive choice made her a viral video star earlier this year, told the Huffington Post:

“I think that while this was huge, [the birth control decision] is really, really huge and has an impact on millions and millions of women who would not have access to birth control…I’m withholding my dragon fire for that. I think the president has not been with us 100 percent, but I don’t think he’s thrown women totally under the bus — if he says he did not intervene in this decision, I believe him.”

If our staunchest prochoice voices in Congress keep withholding their dragon fire for the “bigger battles” while we keep losing ground, eventually there will be no big battles to win.

Sarah Jaffe, writer of the Alternet piece I linked, is right about that. The upcoming battle on birth control Rep. Moore refers to is the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for insurance plans to cover contraception as preventive medicine. Exceptions have already been carved out for religious institutions but many social conservatives don’t want any coverage for contraception, period. So we can expect more unhinged rants about the dangers of birth control from Republicans on the floor of Congress and more caving to the unreasonable and unpopular demands of anti-contraception social conservatives from Democrats.

Keep in mind that birth control is one of the things the centrists tell us we can find “common ground” on in the debate. Same with sex ed. Let’s do an accounting: We’ve been told we’ll get expanded contraception, comprehensive sex ed, increased funding for adoption and childcare programs etc. if we don’t push back so hard and try to accommodate the “pro-life” movement. What we’ve actually gotten for compromising is late term abortion bans, parental notification laws, mandatory ultrasounds, numerous attempts to defund Planned Parenthood, “conscience” clauses, “personhood” initiatives, and impediments to every girl and woman attempting to access Plan B, among other things. With successes like these I’d hate to see what failed compromising would look like.


  1. Comment by Timmys Cat on December 27, 2011 12:11 pm

    Yup, not only compromise but failure to control the message. Why isn’t it pro-choice vs anti-choice? Instead the wingers have hijacked the message to become pro-life, therefore to the squishy brained our side thus must be anti-life. Rather than making the wingers defend themselves for cutting legal medical services to women, they get to honk about “speaking for those who can’t” They define what “those” are by a religious litmus test, rather than a scientific, yet they get a voice in political and MSM circles. This is an “icky” issue the Goopers are so good at using to demoniize a segment of society “wimmins!” for their own cynical gain.

    The great (and usually over my head ) PZ MEYERS” has an interesting post how the whole thing may be a biological conflict.

    P.S. The maternal-fetal conflict is also a conflict between males and females: it is in the man’s reproductive interests to have his genes propagated in any one pregnancy, while it is in the woman’s reproductive interests to bail out and try again if conditions aren’t optimal for any one pregnancy. This conflict is also played out in culture, as well as genetics — pro-choice is a pro-woman strategy, anti-abortion is a pro-man position. Sometimes, politics is a reflection of an evolutionary struggle, too

  2. Comment by Timmys Cat on December 27, 2011 12:13 pm


  3. Comment by Timmys Cat on December 27, 2011 12:36 pm

    Also too as well,and something I’ve come across I want to keep an eye on. An Ohio hard pro-life Dem who lost his re-election is suing a hard pro-life group for defamation because since he voted for Obamas health plan, they characterized him as voting for gov’t funded abortions when the plan had no such language.
    Should be Vurry Inturusting if he wins. Wingers are pooh-poohing this one nervously. Accountability?!!!

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