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Posted at 07:24 PM ET, 02/16/2012

The hysterical contraception debate


Hysterical! (Pablo Martinez Monsivais - Associated Press)
One morning I woke up and everyone was yelling about contraception.

From President Obama to the GOP nominees to Congress itself, everyone suddenly had an opinion That Had to Be Acted Upon Right Now.

“What happened?” I asked, terrified. “Did we run out of economic problems?”

“No,” someone said. “It’s just mass hysteria, give or take a capital M.”

I was impressed. Generally, that level of hysteria requires you to have a womb. But the GOP and Catholic priesthood were doing pretty well for groups with so few wombs between them.

One of the recurring unnerving sights in politics is a group of men in suits or robes gathering to discuss what exactly women ought to be doing with their reproductive systems. This happens rather more often than one would like, which is to say, at all.

This started because President Obama’s rules for insurance coverage of contraception didn’t exempt religiously affiliated charities and non-profits.

That’s when the roaring began. That interfered with religious freedom, everyone could see.

His new rules shift the burden to insurers — which the president says will be cost-neutral, but which leaves open questions about religious institutions that self-insure, the general prudence of unfunded mandates to insurers, and whatever else you’d like to toss onto the bonfire.

In response, a new bill co-sponsored by Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) tries to bar government requirements for “any individual or entity to offer, provide, or purchase health insurance coverage for a contraceptive or sterilization service ... to which that individual or entity is opposed on the basis of religious belief or moral conviction.”

I think this should go a little further, so that the only services covered by health insurance are Viagra and Epsom salts for your barefoot, pregnant wife’s aching feet. If we’re going to do this, we might as well do it right.

I should disclose that thanks to years of abstinence-only education, I have no very clear idea of sex. All I know about sex is that it’s something you shouldn’t have, ever, certainly not outside marriage, unless you’re Newt Gingrich. I assume he has a waiver of some sort.

Here is how babies happen. You live, chastely. And then either an angel of the Lord or a stork of the Lord comes winging along and hands you a baby. If you don’t want to have babies, as I understand it, you have to set out an elaborate stork trap every time you copulate, a process that consists of lovingly removing lint from your spouse’s Rick Santorum sweater vest. In these economic times, that can be expensive. But I think any woman frivolous enough to want to prevent these majestic birds from going about their noble, life-bringing business deserves to bear the costs.

Still, I’m a bit puzzled how contraception and sterilization suddenly leapt onto the same level. And why is everyone running around conflating contraception and abortion, as though the past hundred-odd years of science hadn’t occurred? Maybe Congress is celebrating Return to the 1890s Theme Week, or something.

Hearing from Santorum supporters about what exactly we should be doing about contraception is less an aphrodisiac than an emetic. And meanwhile, it turns out that people like their birth control. Ninety-nine percent of American women — and 98 percent of Catholic women — have relied on contraception at one point in their lifetimes. This is yet another instance in which the 1 percent are causing problems for the 99 percent.

But this is what happens when the government decides which coverage should be standard. Government is not some mythical, benevolent entity. It is, right now, a group of men in suits with very different ideas about what standard coverage should be than President Obama may have had in mind, and nothing better to do than rant hysterically and gear up to pass bills like this, exempting everyone like-minded from doing anything, ever, under any circumstances.

And this is going to keep happening.

This whole debate reminds me of the moment when your friends attempt to give you condoms at a birthday party where your great-aunt is present. You might have appreciated them. But instead, the whole room shifts several decades back in time and you have to re-argue everything from constitutional principles.

For so many of the folks who are adamant about the issue, life begins at preconception. Naturally, the line between sterilization, contraception and abortion is rather blurry. The debate attracts people who have no idea how to get rid of a misconceived notion. When they have one, they’re stuck with it, and you have to carry the debate as far as it will go. As seems to be happening now.

By  |  07:24 PM ET, 02/16/2012

Tags:  contraception, Congress

 
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