|"Only dull people are brilliant at breakfast"
|"The liberal soul shall be made fat, and he that watereth, shall be watered also himself."
-- Proverbs 11:25
The federal government has a national breast and cervical cancer early detection program, run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It provides screening and other important services to low-income women who do not have health insurance, or are underinsured.
There is agreement across the board that the program is a success. It saves lives and it saves money. Its biggest problem is that it doesn't reach enough women. At the moment there is only enough funding to screen one in five eligible women.
A sensible policy position for the Bush administration would be to expand funding for the program so that it reached everyone who was eligible. It terms of overall federal spending, the result would be a net decrease. Preventing cancer, or treating it early, is a lot less expensive than treating advanced cancer.
So what did this president do? He proposed a cut in the program of $1.4 million (a minuscule amount when you're talking about the national budget), which would mean that 4,000 fewer women would have access to early detection.
This makes no sense. In human terms, it is cruel. From a budget standpoint, it's self-defeating.
"The program is really designed to help working women," said Dan Smith, a senior vice president at the American Cancer Society. "They may be working at a job that doesn't provide health insurance, but they're not the poorest of the poor who would qualify for Medicaid."
In many cases, these are women who do not have family doctors who might encourage them to be screened. The program offers free mammograms, Pap tests and other early detection services. "If they're diagnosed," said Mr. Smith, "there's a complementary program that allows them to be immediately insured so they can actually have the coverage for their treatment. That's a great program, as well."
"The early detection program is a good program because it has saved lives," said Dr. Harold Freeman, a senior adviser to the Cancer Society. "The women who are served come from a population that has a proven higher death rate from cervical and breast cancer."
Still, the anti-birth-control movement's efforts are making a significant political impact: Supporters have pressured insurance companies to refuse coverage of contraception, lobbied for "conscience clause" laws to protect pharmacists from having to dispense birth control, and are redefining the very meaning of pregnancy to classify certain contraceptive methods as abortion.
Nor is the fight against birth control only the province of a few zealots. While sites like Worthington's may be new, many antiabortion activists have always been bitterly opposed to contraception. "After Roe v. Wade was decided," says Feldt, "the debate focused on abortion instead of birth control. But [for anti-choicers] they are not separate issues." She points out that what we're seeing today is more of a revival of an old movement than a shift to something new. "It's been there from the beginning. If you go back and look at the rhetoric against birth control from 1916, it's exactly the same as the rhetoric now."
And when you look closely, there is evidence to suggest that even the mainstream anti-choice groups are ready to make the battle against contraception part of their agendas. Many of the National Right to Life Committee state affiliates have opposed legislation that would provide insurance coverage for contraception. Iowa Right to Life even lists a host of birth control methods -- including the pill, the IUD, Norplant and Depo-Provera -- as abortifacients. And NRLC itself parses its language very carefully when it comes to contraception. A call to the organization resulted in an e-mailed statement on the group's position that read in part, "NRLC takes no position on the prevention of the uniting of sperm and egg. Once fertilization, i.e., the uniting of sperm and egg, has occurred, a new life has begun and NRLC is opposed to the destruction of that new human life." Such a position leaves the group plenty of wiggle room to argue, when it is are ready to do so, that contraceptives prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg and are thus a form of abortion. (NRLC wouldn't comment further, because, according to a media relations assistant, contraception lies outside of its purview. For the same reason, Feminists for Life refused interview requests. And at Concerned Women for America, a group that has been openly anti-contraception, a spokesperson told Salon twice that none of its experts were available for interviews.)
"The anti-choice movement," says Feldt, "completely ignoring scientific fact, is attempting to redefine pregnancy as the moment of conception, the moment when sperm and egg meet. At the root of that is the attempt to get the fertilized egg more status than a woman."
And as Page points out, once a fertilized egg is considered a human life, it's just a hop from there to concluding that the standard birth-control pill is an abortifacient, too. "Basically, it's the same pharmacology," she says, "so if you're against emergency contraception and you're lending validity to the argument that it's abortion, you're saying exactly the same thing about the birth-control pill. If somebody out there thinks Plan B is abortion, they think the birth-control pill is abortion." And there's proof that this argument is working: Some pharmacists and even physicians are not just denying patients E.C., they're also refusing to dispense the pill.
Page also notes that the anti-choice movement has succeeded in pushing legislation that, though seemingly unrelated to contraception, helps support its cause. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 15 states have fetal homicide laws that apply to "'any state of gestation,' 'conception,' 'fertilization' or post-fertilization" -- meaning that one can be convicted of manslaughter or murder for destroying a fertilized egg, even if it hasn't implanted itself in a woman's uterus.
Ultimately, Worthington and Obregon's fight isn't about birth control or abortion then, but about changing the way people live. Worthington admitted that she thought "sexuality is a gift from god," and that she believes in "abstinence until marriage"; asked why she didn't state that explicitly on the site, she hesitated before replying that it was "something we didn't feel was important to mention, because what we felt was important to point out was the dangers of contraceptive use."
According to Page, there's no way to distinguish the anti-choice and religious arguments anymore. "The anti-choice movement has become a religious movement, and because of that, their interest isn't in reducing abortion. In fact, reducing abortion has become problematic for them, because they want to strip Americans of using birth control, in effect to change the entire family structure."
Page says she has noticed, too, that some anti-choice groups tend not only to oppose birth control, they also oppose child care. In her book she points to some troubling statistics and anecdotes: Ninety percent of senators who opposed the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act are anti-choice; in the 2004 Children's Defense Fund ranking of the legislators best and worst for children, the 113 worst senators and Congress members are all anti-choice; Web sites like Lifesite and that of the Illinois Right to Life Committee post reports linking child care and aggression; Focus on the Family, the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America stress the damage that day care can have on a child. (Most of their information comes from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development's Early Child Care Report, which has been debunked again and again and again.) "The trifecta is ban contraception, ban abortion, make child care impossible," says Page.
Frances Kissling agrees that the ultimate message is that "mommy should stay home and take care of the kiddies. This is bound up in this notion of men at the head of a family, of women's identity as linked to their biological capacity, that men and women are complementary and different, that a woman's primary function is motherhood."
The site's inconsistencies and seemingly pro-feminist viewpoint support that view. "If this was 1885, people reading this site would see it as very internally consistent," says Chip Berlet. "It's implicitly patriarchical, but it's the Victorian patriarchical position -- it's not just pre-Vatican II, it's pre- the last century: Put women on a pedestal; protect them from the dangers of the outside world."