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NATIONAL | spring 2006


We Deserve Some Answers
A new national effort suggests six questions to ask public officials about birth control.

Blatant opposition to birth control by right-wing extremists has sparked a new wave of activism among American women, including the recent launch of the website Birth Control Watch (www.birthcontrolwatch.org). It promises to monitor actions, policies and statements that threaten access to birth control in America.

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The website’s initial purpose was to document the tenacious efforts by some members of the U.S. Congress to get President George W. Bush to clarify his position on birth control. In May 2005, Bush’s press secretary, Scott McClellan, was first asked by a reporter whether the president was “opposed to contraception.” He refused to give a straight answer and instead pointed to Bush’s commitment to “building a culture of life.” Since then, Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and more than 30 other members of Congress have sent Bush four letters—in July, August, October and December—asking his position on birth control. To date, they’ve received no answer.

The Bush administration’s unwillingness to make a clear statement comes at a time when some pharmacists refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraceptives and other forms of birth control including the Pill, the FDA continues to delay approval of the emergency contraceptive Plan B (see Ms., Winter 2006), and the federal government has advocated investing in abstinence-only programs instead of comprehensive sex education for young people. For the first time in decades, access to birth control is in doubt.

Birth Control Watch promises to scan for future dangers on the birth-control horizon, and has joined with the nonprofit National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA) in a national grassroots initiative to put public officials on record. Birth Control Watch urges concerned citizens across the country to ask public officials the following six questions:

1. Do you believe that all Americans have the right to birth control, including access to a range of contraceptive choices, from condoms to emergency contraception?

2. Do you support insurance coverage for prescription contraceptive drugs and devices?

3. Do you support federal funding for local birth-control clinics?

4. Do you think a woman should be able to obtain emergency contraception at her local pharmacy without a prescription?

5. Do you think pharmacies should be required to fill all legal prescriptions, including birth control?

6. More than half of American teenagers have engaged in sex by the time they graduate from high school. Do you support comprehensive sex education in schools, including teaching about birth control and safe sex, as well as abstinence?

“We know Americans overwhelmingly support access to birth control. Your legislator needs to know that,” says Judith DeSarno, president of NFPRHA, which represents family-planning clinicians, administrators, researchers, educators, advocates and consumers. “Even more important, you need to know where she or he stands. “We cannot take for granted something as basic as access to birth control,” she adds. “Knowledge is important—we need to find out the answers today."

 

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