The Daily Star, Oneonta, NY - otsego county news, delaware county news, oneonta news, oneonta sports

Cary Brunswick

April 14, 2012

Let pragmatism, not politics, determine birth control debate

Since I began a career in journalism 35 years ago, a lot has changed in news, style and technology. One aspect of the news I find most irritating is that through the decades what people say is often treated just as newsworthy as events.

Years ago, you had to be quite an important person, such as a president or major official, to attract news coverage to your remarks. Nowadays, with all the social and news media outlets, it seems everybody's talking and even more are listening or reading _ in effect, paying attention.

Take the recent case of Rush Limbaugh, the ultra-conservative fundamentalist who has a radio talk show. He said some things during a show that garnered full-blown media coverage. I don't know why anybody would listen to the guy or even care what he might say, but they apparently do on both counts.

Anyway, last month, on the air, he called Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke a slut and a prostitute because a week earlier she had advocated for health-insurance coverage for contraceptives before a congressional panel.

In the weeks since then, women's contraception has become an issue that won't go away for Republicans who generally opposed required coverage for contraceptives. In fact, recent polls show leading GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney getting clobbered by President Obama in women's support, likely because of his bashing of Obama on the issue.

You would think that by now the issues of birth control and insurance coverage of contraceptives would be a matter for history books. As far back as the Old Testament, sources say, the book of Genesis suggested that men use the withdrawal method. But nothing related to religion and churches ever progresses smoothly in the United States.

Our nation has a long tradition of prosecutions related to the dissemination of birth-control information and/or products. From the arrest of Charles Knowlton on obscenity charges in 1832 for his pamphlet "The Fruits of Philosophy" to the trials of Margaret Sanger in the 20th century for her journal on birth control and for opening clinics, progress has not been without a struggle.

The idea of sex without procreation was taboo for the Catholic Church and for many with political power, so even research and development of safe contraceptives had to take place under the radar and without much financial backing. But finally, in 1960, after a decade in the making, the government approved the Pill, the first non-therapeutic oral contraceptive.

By 1965, 6.5 million women in the U.S. were on the Pill and court challenges were under way in the eight states that prohibited the sale of contraceptives. By the early 1970s, those challenges had succeeded, even in Massachusetts where it was still illegal to sell contraceptives to single women.

The government began supporting clinics for the distribution of birth control information and products to the poor in 1965, and that trend has continued for decades with the Pill being the most popular method.

But as we discovered in recent years, there was no requirement that a woman's health insurance cover contraceptives. Why? Well, the Catholic Church has continued to oppose oral contraceptives, and apparently many conservatives believe anyone who's on the Pill is a slut.

Recently, in The Daily Star, letter writer Jean Jones, a longtime local pro-life activist, basically supported Limbaugh's name-calling by suggested that the shoe fits if a woman is spending a lot of money on birth control. I guess some think it's better for a woman with low income to have several children because she can't afford birth control.

According to the 2010 Census for Otsego County, two-thirds of the unmarried women who had a birth during the previous year were now living in poverty.

Don't you think that statistic would be a bit different if they were educated about birth-control information and products were more readily available?

Many young women today can't imagine what it was like 50 years ago without safe and effective contraception. It was the Pill, and of course the Tampon, that contributed to the feminist movement and helped permit women to get out of the house and into the work force _ and otherwise lead more active lives.

Statistics have shown that because of birth control, women were able to postpone or space children, which allows them to pursue a career or higher education. By 1982, 20-some years after the Pill was approved, 60 percent of women of birthing age were employed outside the home. And that trend has continued.

People would be better off if they stopped listening to people such as Limbaugh, and took note of the gender gap that's being pushed open by his statements and those of many Republican leaders.

Cary Brunswick, of Oneonta, is a freelance writer and editor. He can be reached at

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