Why Republicans can't shut up about contraception
By staking an extreme position on the biology of abortion, the GOP has made itself ridiculous
Sometimes I think the GOP must be working toward the long-term goal of ensuring that not a single American woman votes for the party.
How else to explain the behavior of one Kevin Lundberg, the Republican chair of the Senate Health Committee in the Colorado legislature? Over the past six years, a program has provided more than 30,000 women in the state with free intrauterine devices (IUDs), which has helped contribute to a 40 percent drop in the teen birth rate and a 34 percent decline in teen abortions. Now the program is up for renewal, and Lundberg opposes it. Why? Because, he believes, IUDs prevent pregnancies by causing abortions.
It's unfair to say that Lundberg has taken this position because he actively wants to drive women out of the party. That will merely be its effect. The real reason that he and lots of other Republicans can't seem to shut up about contraception is that the party has embraced the pro-life movement — and the pro-life movement has embraced the extreme view that "life," including complete human dignity and rights, begins at conception.
If the Republicans aren't careful, they will be led by principled consistency to start opposing a whole lot more than artificial birth control.
Adopting such a stringent view isn't the only or even the most obvious position for an abortion opponent to take. One could follow the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists in declaring, instead, that pregnancy starts not with the fertilization of an egg by a sperm, but with the fertilized egg (or blastocyst) attaching to the uterine wall, where it first begins to receive nourishment from the woman's body (usually seven to 10 days after ovulation).
That's the point at which it becomes possible for a woman to receive a positive result on a pregnancy test — and after which it makes sense to speak of her suffering a miscarriage. So why not accept that this is also the point at which it becomes possible for her to have — or to restrict her from having — an abortion? To insist that one can abort before implantation places pro-lifers in the bizarre position of claiming that it's possible to terminate a pregnancy before there even is a pregnancy.
Yet this is precisely what anti-abortion activists — and their Republican champions — claim. And it's what leads them to conclude that several of the most widely used forms of female contraception are actually abortifacients. The classic "pill," the so-called "morning after pill," and some IUDs all produce similar effects. They work to prevent fertilization of an egg — and then prevent implantation in the uterine lining of any eggs that do happen to become fertilized. Those unimplanted fertilized eggs then slough off with menstruation — which is what happens to roughly one-half of all fertilized eggs anyway, without the intervention of artificial contraceptive methods.
But for pro-life activists and their Republican cheerleaders, every unimplanted blastocyst is a life possessing dignity and rights. Which means that every starving and then sloughed-off blastocyst is a death. And every death that results from human intent is a murder.
Is that a radical position? You bet it is.
But it's not radical enough. Because, you see, artificial forms of contraception aren't the only things that can increase the likelihood that fertilized eggs will fail to implant in the uterine lining. Breastfeeding can do it, too, which is why nursing can function as a form of natural family planning.
So I ask, in all seriousness: Shouldn't any pro-lifer extreme enough to oppose the use of IUDs also oppose breastfeeding on the grounds that it's an abortifacient?
And what about caffeine? One study has shown that a pregnant woman who ingests as much as 10 ounces of coffee a day while pregnant may double her risk of miscarriage. Isn't any sexually active woman in her childbearing years who drinks a couple of cups a coffee a day running a substantial risk of killing any babies she might, knowingly or unknowingly, be carrying?
And then there's exercise, which yet another study has shown can likewise lead to a greater risk of miscarriage.
Looks like Republicans have some planks to add to their party platform in 2016. Down with breastfeeding! Away with caffeine and exercise for women!
It's one thing for activists to stake out a position so radical that it seems to demand the pursuit of absurd policies. Narrow, sectarian parties — like New York State's Right to Life Party — exist to push such narrow, sectarian agendas.
But why on Earth would one of the country's two major parties, with ambition to represent the views of a majority of Americans, choose to associate itself with and champion such extremism?
I think that would make an excellent lead-off question in the first Republican primary debate.
Editor's note: This column was slightly revised after it was originally published.