Today is World Contraception Day 2012. In recognition, I’d like to call your attention to a sample of our writings discussing the ways in which the freedom to choose whether and how to prevent conception can save and improve the lives of women and their children.

We are also participating in discussions on Twitter using the hashtags #sheparty and #WCD2012. Join us!

Because of the London Family Planning Summit, the British newspaper Financial Times has just published a special report on sexual and reproductive health.

And we get a little mention in at least the print and .pdf versions–see page 6, under the “North America” heading (although we would have preferred “Global.”) We join nearly 1300 other civil society organizations, many from the Two Thirds World, who agree that “Family Planning Saves Lives.”

You can also see the full list of endorsers here.

We are not specifically mentioned, but we are also one of the 200-plus organizational members of the Reproductive Health Supplies Coalition, whose ad appears on page 1 of the Financial Times report.

The ad mentions “unsafe abortion” as one consequence of lacking contraceptive access. All abortions are unsafe for unborn children. Some are maternally unsafe as well.

Wonder if any other endorsers of the civil society declaration would agree with us.

Next month in London, England, the British government and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will convene a global summit on family planning. All Our Lives has endorsed two important human rights declarations created in anticipation of the summit.

“Women’s Human Rights Must be at the Center of the Family Planning Summit” warns:

Our experience, built over decades of work around the world, has taught us that the failure to take actions guided by women’s human rights – to health, to life, to live free from discrimination among others – can have devastating consequences. Policies that accept or tacitly condone forced sterilization, the coercive provision of contraceptives, and the denial of essential services to the young, poor and marginalized women that need them every day have violated, and continue to violate, women’s human rights.

Nearly twenty years ago, governments at the [1994 Cairo] International Conference on Population and Development agreed that respect for women’s reproductive autonomy is the cornerstone of population policy. Any return to coercive family planning programs where quality of care and informed consent are ignored would be both shocking and retrograde.

A global letter of support for the summit emphasizes a program of action to increase family planning access to the millions of human beings who currently lack it.

We applaud the London Summit on Family Planning for its commitment to work with poor and vulnerable populations to increase individual awareness, address socio-cultural barriers, and increase community acceptability of family planning, including comprehensive sexuality education. In particular, we applaud the initiative’s emphasis on empowering women and girls, and delivery through increased service provision. We encourage you to focus on providing information and services to those who have historically faced poor access to family planning, especially young people, poor women, people with disabilities; rural, indigenous, displaced and post crisis populations. Similarly, we encourage you to make linkages to other programmes including those for economic development, education (especially for girls), environmental protection, HIV/AIDS,maternal and child health, security and youth.

We commit to working with communities and reaching poor and vulnerable women and girls with evidence-based information so that they can make informed choices regarding their fertility and choice of contraceptive method.

Yes and yes. If we are the sole prolife group signing on to these statements, well, it’s got to start somewhere.

The University of Notre Dame has filed a lawsuit against the Departments of Health and Human Serivces, Labor, and the Treasury. They object to HHS’ inclusion of contraception as one of the core preventive services that must be provided in health insurance plans without cost sharing, on the grounds that covering contraception (and, they claim, abortifacients, but we’ll get to that later) is against their religious beliefs and the exemption for religious employers isn’t broad enough. I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not going to claim that Notre Dame has zero points in its favor in this lawsuit, but its arguments have some problems.

80. “Other commenters noted that ‘preventive care’ could not reasonably be interpreted to include such practices. These groups explained that pregnancy was not a disease that needed to be ‘prevented,’ and that a contrary view would intrude on the sincerely held beliefs of many religiously affiliated organizations by requiring them to pay for services that violate their religious beliefs.”

Whether or not evidence shows a practice to be ‘preventive care’ has nothing to do with anyone’s sincerely held religious beliefs about that practice’s morality. Pregnancy is not a disease, but it is a tremendous exertion, and the ability to plan it for those times when a woman is best prepared is beneficial to both the mother’s and the child’s health.

OK, you might say, we’ll grant for the sake of argument that contraception can be considered preventive care, but making Notre Dame include it in their employee health plans still violates their right to practice their religion. Just how far does Notre Dame want to extend this ability for employers to simply not offer coverage for medical treatments they disapprove of? They’re hoary old examples, but they keep getting trotted out because they are still relevant: Should employers who are Christian Scientists be able to refuse to provide any health insurance? Should employers who are Scientologists be able to refuse to provide insurance that covers mental health care? What about employers with a sincerely held belief that vaccines are dangerous and shouldn’t be considered “preventive care”? Do all of these employers get to offer nonstandard health benefits that conform to their religious beliefs, or just the more numerous and more politically powerful anti-contraception employers? And do the conscience rights of employees with regard to how they use their own health insurance have any weight at all?

I would also argue that in most cases, employers are not paying for contraception, or for any other particular procedure or service. They are taking part of their employees’ compensation and using it to pay premiums so that the employee will have affordable access to health care. Then the employee and her doctor decide on what health care the employee needs, and then the insurance company takes money from the pool of all of its clients’ premiums and pays the claim. The employer is no more directly involved in the supposed evil of contraception than if the employee went out and bought condoms with her paycheck — and no employer gets to stipulate that wages can’t be used to buy contraception. I’ll grant that Notre Dame’s situation is a little different, because it’s self-insured for its employees’ health plans. I think that if the Administration was going to have this compromise saying that religious employees could punt responsibility for contraception coverage to the health insurance companies, it probably should have thought a little harder about what self-employed companies would do. Of course, Notre Dame also wants to make sure that its students, who are insured through Aetna, can’t access contraception with that insurance either (despite Aetna having all the responsibility of informing students of the benefit and paying for it), so the suit doesn’t exactly hinge on that distinction.

87. FDA-approved contraceptives that qualify under these guidelines include drugs that induce abortions. For example, the FDA has approved “emergency contraceptives” such as the morning-after pill (otherwise known as Plan B), which operates by preventing a fertilized embryo from implanting in the womb, and Ulipristal (otherwise known as HRP 2000 or Ella [sic]), which likewise can induce abortions of living embryos.”

As we have pointed out many times, Plan B has been shown to have no mechanism of action besides the prevention of implantation [edit: I can’t believe this was up so long before I noticed this mistake — of course it should read “no mechanism of action besides the prevention of fertilization.”]. The mechanism of action of ella has not been fully explicated, and a contragestive effect can’t be ruled out at this time, especially since large or repeated doses of ulipristal acetate can be abortifacient. However, I have been able to find no studies in which a single dose of 30mg, as used in ella, has been shown to prevent implantation or to harm embryos after implantation. This paragraph is factually incorrect with regard to Plan B and presents speculation as fact with regard to ella. Arguments relying on the information in this paragraph should be discounted accordingly.

157. Furthermore, the U.S. Government Mandate is not narrowly tailored to promoting a compelling governmental interest. Even assuming the interest was compelling, the Government has numerous alternatives to furthering that interest other than forcing Notre Dame to violate its religious beliefs.

158. For example, the Government could provide or pay for the objectionable services through expansion of its existing network of family planning clinics funded by HHS under Title X or through other programs established by a duly enacted law. Or, at a minimum, it could create a broader exemption for religious employers, such as those found in numerous state laws throughout the country and in other federal laws.

Except that creating broad exemptions undermines the government’s interest in setting a minimum standard that all insurance policies must meet. This isn’t a new concept; the government sets minimum standards for many products, to protect consumers. And not including family planning as preventive care when evidence points to its usefulness in improving women’s and children’s health undermines the government’s interest in being able to shape its health care policy according to what actually works.

184. The religious employer exemption is based on an improper Government determination that “inculcation” is the only legitimate religious purpose.

Actually, the regulation does not say that organizations with a “legitimate religious purpose” will receive an exemption and then set out to define legitimate religious purpose. The regulation, quite properly, does not have anything to say about legitimacy. The limitations on the exemption appear designed to grant exemptions in those cases where employees can reasonably be expected to share the religious views of their employers, and therefore are less likely to be deprived by the exemption of a benefit that they might otherwise take advantage of.

Notre Dame then attemps to show that the mandate is not a neutral law of general applicability:

198. The Government has also crafted a religious exemption to the U.S. Government Mandate that favors certain religions over others. As noted, it applies only to plans sponsored by religious organizations that have, as their “purpose,” the “inculcation of religious values”; that “primarily” serve individuals that share those religious tenets; and that “primarily” employ such individuals. 45 C.F.R. § 147.130(a)(iv)(B)(1).

That does not favor particular religions over others. Notre Dame and other religiously-affiliated organizations are not, themselves, religions. Frankly, if anything the exemption favors religion over non-religion, but it does not favor any one religion over another. It distinguishes between organizations in which there is likely to be a difference of belief between the employer and the employees, and organizations in which there is less likelihood.

199. The U.S. Government Mandate, moreover, was promulgated by Government officials, and supported by non-governmental organizations, who strongly oppose Catholic teachings and beliefs regarding marriage and family. For example, on October 5, 2011, after Defendants announced the interim final rule but before they announced the final rule, Defendant Sebelius spoke at a fundraiser for NARAL Pro-Choice America. Defendant Sebelius has long been a staunch supporter of abortion rights and a vocal critic of Catholic teachings and beliefs regarding abortifacients and contraception. NARAL Pro-Choice America is a pro-abortion organization that likewise opposes many Catholic teachings. At that fundraiser, Defendant Sebelius criticized individuals and entities whose beliefs differed from those held by her and the other attendees of the NARAL Pro-Choice America fundraiser, stating: “Wouldn’t you think that people who want to reduce the number of abortions would champion the cause of widely available, widely affordable contraceptive services? Not so much.”

We live in a country in which government officials have the right to criticize the policy positions of religious organizations, especially when those policy positions have negative implications for people who do not share the beliefs of said organizations. This is not evidence of discrimination.

200. Consequently, on information and belief, Notre Dame alleges that the purpose of the U.S. Government Mandate, including the narrow exemption, is to discriminate against religious institutions and organizations that oppose contraception and abortifacients.

Notre Dame can only make this allegation because it refuses to acknowledge the validity of the evidence in favor of the health benefits of family planning, or to consider those health benefits a sufficiently compelling reason for the government to include family planning as part of its standards for health insurance plans. Notre Dame can only make this all about them by denying that their employees have any valid interest in being able to use the health insurance they earn to access health care services according to their own beliefs.

Notre Dame, not everything is about you.

Following a Supreme Court decision in February which inaccurately declared that emergency contraception is abortifacient, the Honduran Congress is poised to make distribution or use of levonorgestrel emergency contraception (LNG EC) a crime punishable by jail time. Once again, we see that misinformation about EC has severe consequences. The best available research shows that LNG EC has no mechanism of action other than the prevention of fertilization. The blog Feministas en Resistencia Honduras has more information (English translation).

 

Please sign this petition to the President of the National Congress of Honduras urging him not to criminalize the use of emergency contraception. Please also continue to educate governments, media, and pro-life or pro-choice organizations wherever you live on the facts about emergency contraception.

It wasn’t just the notorious antifeminist pundit Rush Limbaugh who said truly ugly things about the sexual character of Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke for her brave defense of women’s access to contraception.

While she did not take as nasty and perverted a turn as Limbaugh–not very hard to do, really–the actor Patricia Heaton tweeted a number of highly disrespectful, appalling things about Fluke. Heaton has since apologized. She apparently took down her Twitter feed for a while.

But All Our Lives still has some grave concerns about Heaton’s slutshaming of Sandra Fluke. After all, Heaton has long served as a celebrity spokesperson and honorary chair for Feminists for Life of America.

We hope Heaton is sincere in her apology.

We simultaneously wonder why such a public face of an organization that has feminism in its very name would go so quickly to insulting the sexual character of a woman who speaks up for affordable contraceptive coverage.

Especially an organization that names itself as feminist in its reasons for opposing abortion and creating postconception alternatives to it.

And it’s not just Heaton we are questioning. *Anyone* who identifies as pro both pregnant women’s and unborn children’s lives needs to speak up strongly, publicly, and unequivocally against slutshaming.

Many prochoicers have spoken up against slutshaming. Some abortion opponents, such as Abby Johnson, have spoken up–but where are the rest of the voices?

Slutshaming is a profound form of disrespect for women’s lives, in and of itself.

And it is a major cause of abortion in the US and worldwide, in history and in the present. Slutshaming heightens certain risk factors that female human beings and the children they conceive have for unintended pregnancies and abortions. It:

–Prevents girls and women from learning everything they need to know about their bodies and accepting and loving themselves as human beings with sexual and reproductive rights.
–Inhibits access to the full range of family planning methods and sabotages women’s ability to use their chosen contraception.
–Makes girls and women more vulnerable to all forms of gender-based violence.
–Puts intense pressure on those who have conceived in nonmarital relationships especially to have abortions rather than run the gauntlet of judgmentality, ostracism, and assault they will face if evidence of their sex lives becomes public.

If respect for life means anything: it doesn’t mean slutshaming. It means the very opposite!

So, according to Misogynist Logic, any discussion of contraception using the pronoun "we" is automatically a discussion of one's personal sex life, and makes that person's sex life fair game for public debate and ugly, crude speculation. Why? Because "in the real world, contraception involves sexual activity." Leaving aside that it doesn't always, because there are other uses for common contraceptives — you know what else usually involves sex? Marriage. And childbearing. By this standard, anyone who uses the term "we" when discussing public policy issues concerning marriage or children is making their sexual activity a matter of public debate. Who among the people who most often discuss "family" policy would accept being subjected to the Sandra Fluke treatment?

(h/t: Balloon Juice)

All Our Lives, a pro *every* life nonprofit, does *not* stand with the anti-contraception Stand Up for Religious Freedom.

We support religious freedom, but that does not include employers' restriction of workers' family planning freedom. Instead we support and applaud the Coalition to Protect Women's Health Care in its defense of contraceptive access.

Family planning freedom is a human right in its own right, and indispensable to reducing unintended pregnancies and abortions.

All people, whether prolife or prochoice on abortion, should join together in the defense of family planning freedom, so that it becomes a reality for all women, especially women whose exercise of it is hindered by discrimination on the basis of gender, religion, socioeconomic class, race/ethnicity, disability, national origin, and/or sexual orientation.

There seem to be some misconceptions going around about birth control, so let's get a few things straight:

  • For the majority of birth control methods, there is no correlation between the amount of sex a person has and how much birth control she uses or what it costs.
  • Shaming a person for using birth control says a lot about you and nothing about them.
  • Birth control is often used for reasons other than pregnancy prevention, such as to treat ovarian cysts (Sandra Fluke, the woman being slammed on the right as a "slut" and a "prostitute" for her pro-contraception testimony, was telling the story of a friend of hers who lost an ovary because she couldn't afford the treatment for a cyst). I'm not saying those uses are more legitimate than preventing pregnancy, just pointing out that they do exist.

Got any others? Please feel free to share in the comments or on our Facebook page.

I love my country, the United States. And that’s why I am so embarassed about the current cavalcade of birth control follies now overtaking our public life.

We have so many material resources, why can’t we share them to help all who need help covering the full range of family planning choices, without all this uproar? Poor Americans, immigrants, people of color, women, people with disabilities…why why why are these the groups that always get lost in the shuffle?

Exhibit A of said cavalcade: The all male panel that was convened before Congress to explain why the recent Department of Health and Human Services ruling on family planning coverage intrudes upon religious freedom.

When pressed, apparently, some of the panel members conceded that maybe contraception was OK in cases of “medical necessity.”

In an animated conversation with people I know, I submitted that this concession might stem from a belief that women with disabilities/health impairments have no business reproducing. Someone said that I was prejudicial, leaping to conclusions.

So I read through each of the panelists’ testimonies. If anyone can provide substantive evidence that any of these men have good disability and/or women’s rights records, then pleasantly surprise me, would you please?

Reading the testimonies just made me even more skeptical that any of them get the reproductive rights of women with disabilities–let alone *all* women’s family planning rights. Below are my notes on each testimony. If you want to read the testimonies yourself, please go here.

William Lori, US Conference of Catholic Bishops: Compares the proposed contraceptive coverage regulations to the government forcing Orthodox Jewish delis to serve pork, when that pork eaters can easily, cheaply, and freely get their chosen meat elsewhere.

This analogy does not hold (and it offends me as someone whose vision of reverence for life encompasses being a vegetarian, and an anti-anti-Semite). Pork is death-dealing, first of all to pigs, and second of all to humans who develop serious health problems from eating it. Access to free/affordable voluntary contraception, on the other hand, is often life- and health-giving for women, especially women with disabilities.

The analogy also suggests that contraception is somehow an optional luxury, one already easily, freely, cheaply available through many other venues. Yet the reality is that family planning access is far from a given for millions of US women, including and especially women with disabilities.

Women with disabilities are far more likely than nondisabled to live in poverty, rely on government benefit programs, be unemployed or underemployed, and thus to have constricted access, if any, to health care of all kinds, including voluntary family planning services and supplies. Any HHS ruling that expands voluntary family planning access, whether through government programs, private health plans, or some combination of the two, thus promotes the interests and needs of women with disabilities. Does Lori know this?

 

Matthew C. Harrison, President, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod: “We object to the use of drugs and procedures used to take the lives of unborn children. We oppose this mandate since it requires religious organizations to pay for and otherwise facilitate the use of such drugs by their employees.”

As All Our Lives asserts every day, just about, according to the best, most current scientific evidence, IUDs and hormonal birth control methods such as the pill and Plan B emergency contraception work *before* conception and not at any point after. Thus the contraceptive coverage ruling is in fact solely about pregnancy *prevention*, by *anyone’s* definition of when life or pregnancy begins.

If Harrison believes this misinformation about such a critical health issue impacting so many women, with or without disabilities: then why should I be optimistic that he is amply informed about, let alone eager to promote and defend the family planning concerns of women with disabilities, a frequently overlooked and neglected minority population?

 

C. Ben Mitchell, Union University: “I am here to decry the contraception, abortifacient, and sterilization mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services on January 20, 2012…” , See my objections to Harrison’s testimony.

 

Meir Soloveichick, Yeshiva University: “The administration denies people of faith the ability to define their religious activity.” This definition of “people of faith” does not include or side with disabled women who make prayerful, conscientious, lifegiving, and lifesaving decisions about which family planning method(s) to use and when and whether to pursue conception.

 

Craig Mitchell, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary: “This rule…takes away the freedom of the citizens while emboldening the federal government to do whatever it wants.”

Whoa….Just about every discriminated-against group in the US has heard such an argument leveled against its own struggle for justice.

Mitchell’s definition here of “citizens” who are deprived of freedom sides with powerful religious institutions whose policy on birth control, especially when intruded into the public sphere, infringes upon the freedoms of many women with disabilities (not to mention women in general, but let’s stay focused on this doubly discriminated against minority for the time being.)

In effect it forces a “choice” between lifelong celibacy and a single method of family planning, natural family planning that may be right for some women. But for many women with disabilities, NFP is quite ineffective and illfitting, even as pregnancy may be quite risky for them, and they wish *themselves* to conceive sparingly, or not at all.

Mitchell’s notion here of “citizens” deprived of their freedom in regard to family planning does not appear to recognize women with disabilities and their children’s and their own rights to health and life.

 

I treasure religious freedom, especially as someone affiliated with a distinctly minority, other than Christian faith. Some of my ancestors were forcibly deprived of their religious freedom. Never again! But these testimonies…so awry…so unaware, it seems, of who they are excluding, and why, and how. In the name of prolife, even though their unwillingness to meet the administration halfway could end up costing lives, unborn, already born.