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Abstinence and Insanity

by David Kaner | University of Chicago

F Posted in: News and Politics, Voices P Posted on: January 11, 2012
headshot david kaner David Kaner

As pointed out by a Salon.com article that ignited a bit of a media firestorm last week, in October Rick Santorum told Caffeinatedthoughts.com that “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country.” He goes on to call contraception “not okay.”

It would be worrisome to hear merely one presidential candidate voice this opinion. Yet four other politicians currently or formerly in the race-Michelle Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul and Rick Perry- joined Santorum in signing the “Personhood Republican Presidential Candidate Pledge” from Personhood USA. The pledge declares that “every human being at every stage of development must be recognized as a person possessing the right to life in federal and state laws without exception and without compromise.”

This goes beyond just attacking a woman’s access to a safe and legal abortion (although that right, too, is under heavy assault). Personhood USA was one of the driving forces behind a push last year to make Mississippi the first state to recognize a fertilized egg as a person. If the measure was put into effect, critics warned it “could have criminalized birth control, affected in vitro fertilization practices and even forced doctors to decline to provide pregnant cancer patients with chemotherapy for fear of legal repercussions.”

In fairness to the Republican Party, many of its members realize that banning contraception is, if not wrong, then at least politically untenable. After all, even Mississippi, no great bastion of liberalism, resoundingly rejected the personhood amendment 58%-42%. Yet it continues to be party dogma that, if contraception is to be legal, you at least should be prevented from learning anything about it. As a consequence, many conservative states mandate ignorance with abstinence-only sex ed programs, which during the Bush Administration were heavily favored with federal money. This is despite research that shows that teens given comprehensive sex education, which includes information about contraception and safe sex, are 50% less likely to report a pregnancy.

It’s bad enough that a narrow, theologically-based view of sexuality has influenced policymaking in our own country. It’s arguably even more disastrous that religious conservatives have used government policy to export it to developing nations around the globe. Under the Bush administration, funding by the US of the UN Population Fund, which works to make universal the right to sexual and reproductive health services, was halted.  The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, touted as a foreign policy success of the Bush years, mandated that a third of prevention funding go to ineffectual abstinence-only education instead of contraceptive services and actual information. Bush also, like every Republican president since Reagan, imposed the “Global Gag Rule,” cutting off support to NGOs that performed, or even provided information about, abortion, which had the entirely foreseeable effect of slashing funds to organizations providing a host of other family planning services.

More recently, the House of Representatives voted to cease federal funding of Planned Parenthood, a decision which several of the Republican candidates have spoken approvingly of. This is despite the fact that abortion procedures made up only 3% of services provided. Contraception services, by contrast, made up 35% of total services provided, impacting the health and wellbeing of more than 4 million men and women around the country.

Whether completely intentionally, or as a side effect of their opposition to abortion, Republican politicians have had a poor track record over the last several decades on protecting access to contraception. With the most recent rhetoric from Santorum and others, the newest crop of GOP leaders appear to be moving even further backwards on this issue. Although 82% of Americans support expanded access to birth control and 78% want to see comprehensive sexual education in schools, an entire political party seems increasingly to be turning its back on both popular opinion and sound reason by becoming ever more hostile to access to and information about contraception. It doesn’t matter where you fall on the political spectrum. Have you or anyone you know had sex or ever plan to? Then you, too, should be concerned about where a segment of the Republican Party looks like it’s heading on this issue.

David Kaner David Kaner Originally from New York City, David Kaner is a Law, Letters and Society and Political Science major at the University of Chicago. He also writes for the Chicago Maroon.

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