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When They Say "It's Not About Birth Control," You Know... It's About Birth Control

Written by Christine Adams for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post. In his comments to the Senate during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial, Dale Bumpers noted that “H.L. Mencken said one time, ‘When you hear somebody say, 'This is not about money,' it's about money.’ And when you hear somebody say, ‘This is not about sex,’ it's about sex.” The recent controversy over insurance coverage for contraception has vividly made the point that feminists have argued for years. The culture wars over reproductive rights never have been primarily about "fetal person-hood," the right to life, or now, religious freedom: they have always been about the control of women’s bodies and sexuality. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when numerous states, and most western countries passed and more aggressively enforced laws against birth control and abortion, male legislators felt no need to pretend these laws were about anything other than controlling women’s sexuality, or harnessing their wombs in the service of the state. The Comstock Act of 1873 took the issue to the federal level, and defined any information about contraception or abortion as “obscene” and “illicit”—it was this law that Margaret Sanger put to the test by disseminating information on birth control. In1920, French legislators criminalized birth control, prohibited all distribution, advertisement, and promotion of female contraceptives, and stiffened penalties for abortion. The French pro-natalist campaign had emerged in the wake of France’s defeat in the 1870-71 Franco-Prussian war. Consequently, politicians linked the issue of birth control with those of morality, national strength, economic growth, and protection of the family. Feminists such as Nelly Roussel, who tried to decouple sexuality from maternity, could not persuade the public that “voluntary motherhood” was preferable to coerced motherhood. Historian Elinor Accampo quotes a conservative newspaper editor who denounced Roussel in tones reminiscent of Rush Limbaugh’s recent attack on Sandra Fluke, writing that “these sorts of viragos, unsexed women who saturate literature and modern politics . . . mount their pens like they would mount a broom to go to a midnight orgy. Sterile or scorned, they avenge their disgrace by insulting Nature.” In the American context, until Roe vs. Wade, restrictions on both birth control and abortion were most often linked to arguments about the selfishness of women, the danger of rewarding the wages of sin, eugenics, and the need to control female sexuality. Continue reading....