Battle over birth control

I have a confession: I am one of the 95 percent of Americans who has had pre-marital sex. And, like any responsible sexually active person, I use contraception.

Pregnancy is not an option for me, so I take steps to prevent it. Access to birth control determines the course of my life, my career and my future — as it does for all sexually active people, which is most of us.

It’s disturbing to discover that President George W. Bush’s latest appointment as chief of family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services, Susan Orr, has gone on record in the Washington Post as anti-contraception — and she’s in charge of dictating the terms of $283 million in annual family-planning grants. Contraception costs are going up on college campuses because of Bush’s Deficit Reduction Act, which discourages drug companies from offering birth control at a discount to university students’ health services departments, as they have in the past. Such strange moves for someone so committed to decreasing the number of abortions, as contraception prevents unintended pregnancies and thus reduces the need for abortion.

It would make sense as a political move if the act resulted from public-opinion polls, except that eight out of 10 self-identified “pro-lifers” say women should have access to contraception, and a significant majority support Title X, which funds contraceptive programs. Public funding for contraception makes sense, and it’s what people — even pro-life Republicans — want.

So why isn’t President Bush listening?

Because Bush’s anti-contraception policies aren’t about abortion. They’re about sex — the sex he and his constituents think people shouldn’t be having. Right-wing officials maintain that the only method guaranteed to prevent unintended pregnancy is abstinence.

They seem to have young teens in mind when they advocate this, which creates an air of protective benevolence to their position, because having sex before being emotionally ready has been shown to result in a host of issues. Still, the fact remains that many teens are having sex and advocating abstinence has not changed that.

Not to mention there are also plenty of teens who are perfectly capable of judging when they are ready to have sex and they deserve to have access to birth control. In fact, a teen that recognizes the need for contraception is highly likely to be the responsible, self-aware teen that is ready to have sex.

Teens should have access to birth control, regardless of whether their age and martial status falls within politicians’ range of acceptability.

Strangely, this abstinence-only stance implies that officials think only young teens and singles have sex. They simply don’t acknowledge that couples and married people are also sexually active. They maintain sex should not happen outside of marriage and then refuse to recognize married people have sex, meaning they also need access to contraception unless they want to have 20 babies. Admittedly, some couples enjoy enormous families, but a majority do not. For many, the financial cost of another child would catapult their family into poverty, making contraception crucial to the quality of life for their other children.

Despite this, politicians maintain that people who don’t want or can’t afford a child shouldn’t have sex, and thus there is no reason to provide them with means to control their fertility. Think about this for a moment: American politicians are not permitting access to contraception because they don’t believe people should be having sex unless they can afford a baby. Because, apparently, the only valid reason to have sex is to make babies.

This astonishingly simplistic, solely functional view of sexuality disregards and dismisses sex for pleasure, intimacy, self-satisfaction, stress relief and any number of reasons as invalid. It’s shockingly negative in its view on the role of sex in an individual’s life and in relationships.

What’s most irritating about this anti-contraception attitude in government is it’s blatant violation of women’s constitutional rights. These views on sex have highly religious overtones and motivations, and politicians have no right to impose their religious standards upon the people, nor do they have any legal ground to do so. Their input on sexual activities is valid in their own homes and families – not in ours.

Election season is coming up, and several Republican candidates for president have used anti-contraception rhetoric in their speeches. It’s time to let these officials know that they cannot dictate our sexual choices.

Let them know in a way they will understand: the ballot box.

Ruthie Kelly The Daily Aztec San Diego State University U-Wire>