In 1940, a county-seat newspaper hailed the arrival of the birth-control movement in rural Kentucky.
In an editorial preserved in the Kentucky Historical Society’s “Family planning in Kentucky collection,” The Whitley Republican of Williamsburg declared “certainly there is no spot on the map of the United States more in need of such information than our mountain county, Whitley, where the capitalist’s mansion houses no or few children and where the laborer struggles with many children in his one or two room cabin.”
It’s hard to believe that in 2017 Americans must again fight for accurate information about birth control. But we’d better fight because the Trump administration is spewing propaganda in place of science.
The new 163-page case against contraception, now part of federal regulations, is being used to justify President Donald Trump’s rollback of the low-cost access to contraceptives mandated by Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Trump expanded an exemption to allow employers to cite moral, in addition to religious, reasons for refusing to pay for contraceptives in their employees’ insurance plans.
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It seems unlikely that many employers will claim the broader exemption; it’s cheaper to pay for birth control than pregnancy and birth.
But the authors of Trump’s jeremiad are just warming up to curtail reproductive options — even though medicine and science support the effectiveness and safety of modern birth control and even though this president is no Anthony Comstock.
Comstock, a Victorian moralist, was the chief advocate for an 1873 law that, until a 1936 court ruling, banned the distribution of contraceptives or information about birth control. Trump has joked that sexually transmitted diseases were his “personal Vietnam,” boasted of being sexually aggressive toward women and even engaged in a bit of vague sexual innuendo when speaking to Boy Scouts this year.
Trump is no prude. But he relentlessly panders to his shrinking base — in this case to the anti-abortion movement, which, bafflingly often conflates abortion and contraception, even though the effective use of contraception is the surest way to prevent abortions.
Pregnancy and birth rates among teens also have dropped, as more girls gain access to contraceptives.
Colorado tried a real-life experiment in expanding access to long-acting birth control. In the first five years of the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, the rate of births and pregnancy among girls ages 15-19 fell 48 percent and 35 percent respectively. Among women 20-24, the birth rate dropped by 20 percent and the abortion rate by 18 percent. Contraception reduced abortion.
Paying for contraception (or divorces) has never been a problem for Trump. But, as The Whitley Republican observed almost 80 years ago, access to contraception makes all the difference for families trying to escape poverty: “It is time that mothers are given a chance to space their children according to their health and income. … Their children then have a better chance to have the proper food, warm clothing and education, to say nothing of the self-respect that comes of being … self-sustaining and not dependent on relief or the charity of neighbors.”
That’s still worth fighting for.