During the last two election cycles, the social policy agenda was almost solely about "abortion-on-demand-and-gay-marriage" as if it were one key on a political reporter's keyboard. Charts in the mainstream media comparing the positions of the candidates in 2004 did not include a host of women's rights issues, as had been the case in the 1990s. Women's rights issues were reduced to a single topic: abortion, as if that was all women voters cared about.
This year, the picture is changing. Yes, abortion is being discussed but along with it other women's issues are getting attention, like equal pay and a broader set of reproductive health issues including birth control. For the first time ever, sex education has gotten attention. In the wake of Bristol Palin's abstinence-only outcome, even the main-er than mainstream Parade magazine asked readers whether abstinence-only programs should continue.
This year candidates who formerly fell victim to a caricature of being "pro-abortion" or more likely pro-"abortion on demand" are returning fire. Some have countered that their opponents are the true extremists. They have turned the tables by exposing them as not only anti-abortion, but, more radically, anti-contraception.
According to research done by Moving Forward, the percentage of voters who are opposed to a host of issues being hijacked by abortion including birth control, stem cell and sex education are only 9% of the electorate. Polls taken by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association found that even 80% of self-described "pro-life" voters support access to contraception. Opposition to contraception is the mark of extremism. Yet, to appease their fundamentalist "pro-life" base that vehemently opposes contraception, many elected officials Members of Congress have voted against access to contraception.
And so in 2008 pro-choice candidates have begun to paint those who oppose contraception as extremists. This election cycle marks the first time since the legalization of contraception that access to birth control has become a campaign issue. In tight races, the issue may prove decisive.
The following is a snapshot of how contraception is being used as an issue in House, Senate and Gubernatorial races.
Contraception has become an issue in the tight Markey-Musgrave race for Colorado 4th district House seat in part because of Amendment 48. The proposed amendment would alter the state constitution to grant fertilized eggs equal rights, the same as a human being, and pave the way for a ban on birth control as well as stem cell research, IVF and abortion. Democrat Betsy Markey opposes the amendment as do many moderate "pro-lifers" including Democrat Governor Bill Ritter. Republican Marilyn Musgrave is a lead supporter of the ballot measure, along with many other anti-contraception ideologues.
Whether a woman has a right to get her prescription for birth control filled has become a campaign issue in the Washington gubernatorial race. The Seattle Times reports that Republican challenger Dino Rossi opposes requiring pharmacists to fill birth control prescriptions. Incumbent Democrat Governor Christine Gregoire followed up with this ad:
In September, Politickerwa.org reported on how access to contraception has become an issue in the 8th Congressional District Race in Washington as well. Democratic candidate Darcy Burner organized and submitted over 900 comments to the Department of Health and Human Services on the proposed regulation that will allow health care workers to deny women birth control.
"Burner's campaign also tried to make a campaign issue out of the move [proposed HHS regulation], saying in an accompanying release that [Republican Dave] Reichert is "too extreme" on abortion issues for Washington state... "The people of this district strongly oppose these proposed restrictions on access to birth control, which are nothing more than the President Bush's parting gift to his social conservative base." said Burner campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik. "So where does Congressman Reichert stand on this issue? His track record is not encouraging. He supports giving pharmacists the right to deny 'birth control' to women, voted to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, is rigidly anti-choice, and has a zero rating from women's reproductive rights groups. Congressman Reichert is too extreme for Washington State on all of these issues. That is not a record the people of this district will support."
Here is the ad Burner's campaign ran against Reichert:
Recognizing how damaging the label "anti-contraception" could be, Reichert's campaign quickly worked to bolster his pro-contraception credentials. Amanda Halligan, Reichert's Communications Director, went on the defensive pointing out Reichert was a cosponsor of H.R. 4054, the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act which corrects the escalating birth control prices at college health centers caused by the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act. Halligan stated,
"Dave Reichert is for women's health. He also believes that women should have access. This is being trumped up for political reasons and it speaks volumes about their campaign and about Darcy Burner. They want to muddy the waters. They reference the debate, but that is a different issue. If they are talking about birth control, then he supports women's health and he wants to provide access to birth control."
In September, The Washington Post reported that contraception had become an issue in Virginia's 11th House race between Democrat Gerry Connolly and Republican Keith Fimian. The Post article quotes Connolly accusing his opponent of having extreme views on birth control because he serves on the board of Legatus, a foundation for Catholic Businessmen founded by Domino's Pizza mogul Tom Monaghan, a staunch opponent of contraception. In the article Connolly is quoted as saying,
"Mr. Fimian's views on social issues are relevant because he has pretended in this campaign to be a moderate in the mold of Tom Davis. Tom Davis is pro-choice. Tom Davis is pro-stem cell research. And Tom Davis certainly supports the availability of contraception in the United States. My opponent belongs to an organization that opposes these things. I assume when you belong to an organization, you subscribe to the tenets of this organization. If he wants to disavow the tenets of this organization, now's the time to do it."
The Legatus mission is to find "what ways can we as Apostles bring Christ into our businesses." Political bloggers in Virginia picked up on the issue. The blogger Left of the Hill added a new wrinkle to the anti-contraception charges made against Fimian, focusing on his days as a CEO. Left of the Hill wrote,
"In the health care plan offered to employees from the mid 1990's to about 2003 of US Inspect and InVision Technologies (the companies that Keith Fimian was CEO and Chairman of), it explicitly says that "oral contraceptive[s] used for birth control" were not covered. This is despite the fact that over twenty states have laws that basically say oral contraceptives have to be covered if the plan covers other prescriptions or outpatient procedures."
Connolly's "Too Extreme" ad:
In the New Hampshire U.S. Senate race between Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican John Sununu, contraception has become a campaign issue as well. NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire has highlighted Sununu's votes against contraception including voting against funding international family planning programs and contraceptive coverage for federal employees. Shaheen has used the issue to portray Sununu as extreme.
(scroll forward to 1:24 to hear Candidate Jeanne Shaheen compare herself and her opponent, John Sununu, on the issue of birth control.) Ohio
In the OH-15 open House seat between Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy and Republican Steve Stivers. Emily's List, the national group that supports pro-choice women candidates, highlighted Stivers's opposition to requiring insurers to cover contraception when he served as a state senator.
Emily's List writes,
"A true swing seat. This Columbus-area seat has been in GOP hands since 1967, and they won't give it up without a fierce fight -- especially in a presidential year, when Ohio's 20 electoral votes are up for grabs. Republicans have coalesced behind Steve Stivers, a right-wing state senator and former lobbyist for the banking industry. Stivers has repeatedly opposed legislation to protect consumers, including efforts to curb predatory lending. He has consistently earned "0" ratings from Ohio NARAL and even worked against an amendment requiring insurance companies to cover contraception."
The race for NJ's District 7 open House seat has also taken on the issue of pharmacy refusals. Democrat Linda Stender has hit challenger Republican Leonard Lance on voting against a bill, that Stender sponsored, that would ensure women can fill birth control prescriptions at any pharmacy in the state.
Democrat Josh Zeitz, the Democratic candidate in NJ's 4th district is challenging incumbent Republican Chris Smith, well-known for his anti-contraception activities. In a campaign ad, Zeitz focused on Smith's opposition to contraception.
In a blog on the Huffington Post entitled "Rep. Chris Smith Wants to Criminalize the Birth Control Pill" Zeitz wrote,
"On twenty-two separate occasions, Chris Smith has introduced legislation to criminalize the common, everyday birth control pill and IUD... I believe that access to basic birth control and family planning services is a fundamental right. By attempting to criminalize the pill, Chris Smith's policies increase the number of unintended pregnancies."
The anti-contraception movement is well-funded and very active, as Birth Control Watch documents. In the races reviewed above, the discussion of social issues has expanded to include birth control, sex education, stem cell and more; all the issues that get stalled in Congress once the "abortion" label is applied. This is the first election year that a candidate's anti-contraception position has come under public scrutiny. If birth control gets on the radar of our very pro-contraception electorate, and some of the more extreme anti-abortion, anti-contraception legislators are edited from Congress, "Prevention First" policies should find a spot on the first 100 days agenda. Maybe it is time to move from being just pro-choice to being pro-choices.
To learn more about of current anti-contraception activities visit www.birthcontrolwatch.org