For those of us who came of age in the 1960s and '70s, contraception was something you might use, but rarely talked about. What method you preferred, or what happened when a method failed or you forgot to use it, were not the stuff of public conversation, particularly with men. Many men -- though certainly not all men -- were fine with that.
High numbers of unplanned pregnancies and births, shotgun weddings and abortions were one result of this silence.
Certainly, conversations about birth control between women and men are more common these days. But two recent Supreme Court rulings remind us that women, particularly women of childbearing age, must do more to engage their partners in understanding how many contraception methods there are, how they work and what they cost. Equally important, their partners need to "man up" and listen carefully. We've seen in a recent Supreme Court decision what can happen when men don't do that.
The Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that private corporations, on the basis of their owners' religious beliefs, may refuse to pay for insurance coverage of certain highly effective methods of birth control. According to Washington Post reporter Robert Barnes, this ruling was the first time the high court decided that federal law covers corporations, not just "persons" referred to in its text.
Lawyers for the plaintiffs -- Hobby Lobby, a giant arts-and-crafts retailer, and Conestoga Wood, a woodworking company -- argued that while these two businesses offer insurance plans that cover most types of contraception, the remaining methods violate the religious beliefs of the owners and should not be included. In the opinion of the owners, life begins when a woman's egg is fertilized. Intrauterine devices (IUDs) and emergency contraception can destroy a fertilized egg before it plants itself in the uterus, an action, they say, is a form of abortion.
Medical experts, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have rebutted this allegation. "Pregnancy is established only at the conclusion of implantation of a fertilized egg," ACOG said. "This scientific definition is also the legal definition of pregnancy, accepted by governmental agencies and all major U.S. medical organizations."
Five of the nine justices -- all men -- ignored the science and ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga. A number of religious organizations and conservative political leaders cheered.
But since the two plaintiffs argued their case on religious grounds, it seems appropriate to hear from another deeply religious leader, the Rev. Rich Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good. Cizik wrote in The Huffington Post that the two companies and five justices not only got the facts wrong, but weakened the pro-life movement. I quote excerpts here, but the entire column is worth reading.
If abortion is the primary concern of the plaintiffs they should be in favor of the newer, more effective varieties of birth control like the IUD and EC.
The supporters of Hobby Lobby think they are being "pro-life." They are wrong. A massive study conducted in 2012 showed that contraception coverage without a co-pay could dramatically reduce the abortion rate.
That study, conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine, of 10,000 women at-risk for unintended pregnancy found that when given their choice of birth control methods, counseled about their effectiveness, risks, and benefits, with all methods provided at no cost, about 75 percent of women in the study chose the most effective methods: IUDs or implants. Most importantly, as a result, annual abortion rates among study participants dropped up to 80 percent below the national abortion rate.
Cizik also objects to the ruling on the grounds of religious freedom:
If you are pro-religious liberty and pro-life and family, you can't support allowing a for-profit corporation to use religion to deny contraceptive coverage... A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby weakens religious freedom.
When anyone can use religion to claim an exemption on anything, religion loses meaning. Rather than a personal belief embedded in our souls, faith would become a set of arbitrary rules any corporation could choose from to skirt the law.
The five justices' decision should remind us how important it is to engage men -- young as well as old -- in conversations about contraception. And we shouldn't confine our discussions just to those close to us, says Sarah Brown, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. (The campaign speaks to men in its website Bedsider)
Says Brown: "We need to call for more men to speak out about what birth control has meant for them: fewer children to (help) support, healthier partners and babies, perhaps more sex, more sex without worry and often with, literally, no cost to them. Are they really willing to put this sweet deal at risk?"