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Friday, April 22, 2011

Family Planning, Sex, and the Right-Wing

Disturbing and absurd logic from the right-wing.

Just when I think I know how destructive the right-wingers are and how absurd and twisted their thinking can be, I find something even more disturbing and absurd.

While researching the proposed defunding of Planned Parenthood and the effects of such defunding a couple of weeks ago, I came across the Family in America website.  A recent article, "Forty Years of Title X is Enough", discusses the negative effects of decades of family planning.  It seems that the overall birth rate in our country is going down, which "Family in America" freely admits. 

This might just reflect the fact that fewer women are having children they don't want and can't provide for financially or emotionally.  Now, most of us would find that a good thing, and a reason to make sure that safe and effective birth control continues to be available to women who want it, even poor women who can't afford such birth control without government assistance.

But no.

This group has a whole different slant on this:

One of the first statements in this article refers to government "planning":
"No longer were human behaviors governed by Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” of Providence. "
Just think about that statement.  These people from the right-wing think it is a good thing that human behaviors are governed by the "invisible hand" of Providence.  (To be fair, it is unclear whether or not this group represents the thinking of the right-wing Evangelical Christians/Tea Party folks as a whole.)   

Republicans are also at fault in the scheme to keep poor women from having children.

The article then complains about the Republicans who were complicit in this nasty scheme to keep poor women from having children they can't care for: 
 "Prominent Republicans in the late 1960s—including President Richard M. Nixon, then-Congressman George H. W. Bush, and socialite John D. Rockefeller III—began to echo their Democratic counterparts in claiming that reducing fertility among the underclass was indispensable to alleviating poverty in America. Representing a formidable convergence of Margaret Sanger’s grass roots birth-control brigades with the elite Population Council of Rockefeller, these political figures believed that the most effective way to reduce poverty was by literally reducing the number of poor people by preventing them from reproducing."
Nothing in there about women choosing or not choosing to have babies; apparently poor women were doing the bidding of the likes of Nixon, Bush, and Rockefeller by using birth control and having fewer babies. 

Did you know, poor women of America who have used birth control services, that these rich fat cat white guys were "preventing" you from having that 1st or 2nd or 3rd or 4th child?  And all along you just thought it was a good idea not to have an extra child or two if you couldn't bring up that child in a healthy environment!  You may have thought that, since low cost or free birth control is available, that you were making a choice about how many children to have.     
"George H. W. Bush, a father of six, crafted a section of the bill to require states to make contraception available to all welfare recipients. But that was only the warm up. Three years later, the future president marshaled overwhelming congressional approval for Title X, the first federal program to boldly and exclusively focus on promoting birth control and reducing fertility. The lodestar program would fund—through a new Office of Population Affairs at what is now called the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—more than 4,500 centers in 75 percent of the nation’s counties,5 dispensing birth-control paraphernalia to “low-income” women and girls, ages 15 to 44."
Sounds good to me!  Poor women can use birth control and not have babies if they don't wish to have them!  How can that possibly be a bad thing?  But then:    
"Allan C. Carlson notes the irony that President Nixon signed the bill on Christmas Eve 1970, just when the country was preparing to celebrate the “unplanned” birth of a baby born in poverty 2,000 years before."
Oh, please.  I guess if Mary had access to birth control or abortion, she would have decided against Baby Jesus?  And we know the implication...  All women, no matter how young, should allow themselves to get pregnant and carry the baby to term,  even if the woman is 14.   Because if a 14 year old uses birth control, she may not get pregnant with a baby that could turn out to be Baby Jesus.   Or something like that?  (Except that, if you believe the Christian stories, Mary got pregnant even though she was a virgin.)

Well, it doesn't make much sense to me either, so let's continue:
"HHS has since 1993 granted waivers to twenty-seven states to relax income limits for eligibility purposes in order to supply free birth control for girls and women with incomes up to 200 percent of the official poverty level."
I can't find much wrong with that....  can you?

The "Social Ideal"
"The country has not experienced any net increase in the number of families that represent the social ideal—married parents with children—but has in fact witnessed a more than tripling of single-parent households (from 3.3 million in 1970 to 10.5 million in 2008) and the near disappearance of marriage and intact families from the inner city. According to the 2000 census, the entire City of Baltimore, for example, has more households represented by single mothers with children (34,329) than married parents with children (25,717),17 as does the District of Columbia and the City of New Orleans. Another way of putting this is that, under Title X, the country has experienced less family planning but more disordering of families. 
First of all, that "social ideal":  Why do I think there are plenty of people in happy alternative families who would be extremely disturbed with the idea that they are not the "social ideal"?  

Single-parenting is tough as many people who wound up raising their kids after a divorce know.    From these numbers, we have no idea how many single-parent families got that way because an unwed mother, not living with the father of her child, got pregnant and bore a child.  And we don't know how many single-parent families are the result of divorce, nor do we know how many single-parent families aren't in fact single parent families, but the two parents aren't married to each other even if they live together.

Somehow, however, good old Title X (access to family planning) has caused this epidemic of women who won't marry the father of their child or children?      

Title X or Financial Pressures?

In situations in which the family becomes a single-parent family due to divorce, what are some of the causes of divorce?  Financial problems are a big one.  And the financial situations of the poor and working class people have been going downhill for decades now due to wage suppression and the inability of poor and working class people to get decent jobs.       

Let's continue:
On the other hand, the architects of Title X may be pleased—and may even take credit for the fact—that U.S. birth rates continued to decline after 1970, especially among African Americans. These outcomes were, in fact, ones the rational planners had anticipated. Based on data in the charts on the next page, the General Fertility Rate declined 24.1 percent from 87.9 births per 1,000 women in 1970 to 66.7 births in 2009.
The birth rate declined 28.3 percent for married women during the same period; 40.3 percent for African-American women; and 42.8 percent for women 15 to 19 years of age. As measured by the Total Fertility Rate, the average American woman in 1970 would likely bear 2.48 children over her lifetime but only 2.01 children by 2009; for the African-American woman those numbers are 3.10 and 2.03. However, birth rates for unmarried women went in the opposite direction, nearly doubling between 1970 and 2008, another confirmation of the ironies of federal family planning. In any case, it is not clear that lower birth rates in general have been good for the country, or even an effective strategy for combating poverty.
A decline of 42% in the birth rate of teen-aged girls? 

You may have missed that line in there that mentions a decline in the birth rate for teenage girls of 42%!  Then perhaps the availability of family planning has been good for individual women?  Perhaps they actually have children that they want... even if they are unmarried?  If the birth rate for teenaged women has declined 42% over the 39 years from 1970 for now, we should give thanks to the widespread availability of low-cost and free family planning services.  
Of course, correlation does not prove causation; the fact that commonly accepted family and social indicators worsened—and the poverty rate remained largely unchanged—during the life of Title X does not mean that the latter is entirely responsible for the former. Title X is not the only federal program promoting or dispensing contraception. Yet the fact that the percentages of births to unwed mothers are highest among the vulnerable populations that Title X and Medicaid target (teenagers and minorities) does indeed suggest that federal family-planning programs are far more implicated in the decline of the family than its promoters and defenders are willing to acknowledge.
Wow, this is twisted.  First of all, the poverty rate did go down, but it has gone up recently due to economic circumstances.  Many groups of people are having less children, but people who aren't wed are having more children.  The family is declining, they say.  No, the family isn't declining, but the "social ideal" that these people espouse is declining.  Almost every child lives in a family.  One of the commonly accepted negative social indicators is the rate of teen-age pregnancy, and it has gone down appreciably.  

Having fewer children is not a good thing?

So...  using birth control and having fewer children, which most people would see as a good thing, is not seen as a good thing by the right-wing because fewer women having children are married.   And when people who aren't married have children the "family declines".   Well, the nuclear family, the "ideal" family to the right-wing, declines.  And, instead of applauding the fact that fewer children are being born to teens, the right-wing turns this around into something bad:  Title X is "implicated".
But as Anthony Esolen of Providence College points out, the whole premise is rooted not in reality but a figment of the liberal imagination:
"Except in case of rape, there are no “unintended” pregnancies, none. There are plenty of women who do not want to be pregnant, and plenty of men who do want them to be pregnant, but in all those cases the pregnancies are the results of intentional actions that have pregnancy as their perfectly natural and perfectly predictable consequences."
Women should pay the consequences of having sex.

Finally.  Here we go.  This is the crux of the matter:  It's not about abortion; it's about people having sex.  The right-wing assumption is that people having sex should be prepared to have children, to get pregnant and carry those babies to term, whether or not they are emotionally or financially prepared to have them. The underlying assumption is that a woman who is having sex should pay the consequences.  The article then goes on to explain that, as the pregnancy goes on, the parents will want the child.
the “wantedness” of a pregnancy increases in the course of nine months so that once the baby is born, the parents are far less conflicted
But.... we're not talking about abortion in terms of Title X; we're talking about preventing pregnancies.  Preventing pregnancies means that a woman won't get pregnant to begin with.  This article mixes preventing pregnancy with abortions as it makes its arguments, but are we surprised?

My feeling is simple:  Nobody should have to bear a child that they are not willing or able to parent, emotionally, physically, or psychologically.  If a person doesn't have the means to attain effective birth control, some agency, governmental, federal, state or local, or private agency should provide that person wtih effective birth control.

I'm going to skirt the issue of abortion, but isn't Step 1 the availability of effective birth control?
Americans need to wake up to the disingenuousness of the public-health/family-planning complex. After forty years of federal birth control that has helped to significantly increase contraceptive use to the point at which contraception is nearly universal among American women,38 it is not at all clear why “unintended pregnancies” remain a problem that requires federal intervention. 
This one is a head-shaker:   The federal government is prohibited by law from doing anything about "unintended pregnancies":  Using federal funds for abortions is illegal.  So "unintended pregnancies" are not a problem that "requires" federal intervention.   Now, if we contend that contraception is nearly universal among American women, and we assume that American women continue to have sex without wanting to get pregnant, then "unintended pregnancies" are continuing to be avoided, and many poor women can thank federal intervention for that.

Fascinating:  The author then quotes George Orwell who was a "democratically socialist".  
 The fact that the nation’s fertility rates have struggled to rise to replacement levels since the mid-1970s, that inexpensive birth-control is available at every neighborhood grocery store without a prescription, and that young women—relative to 1970—face significantly greater risks of sexually transmitted diseases, unwed childbearing, and infertility make it clear that this component of the War on Poverty is not really about “family planning,” serving “low-income populations,” reducing “unintended pregnancies,” or the latest euphemism, “increasing access to sexual and reproductive health-care services.” The policy rhetoric, as George Orwell warned about political language, “is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind
I've read this paragraph a few times now, and I still don't understand it.   I think the author is trying to say that the family planning portion of the War on Poverty is a bad thing because sexually transmitted diseases, infertility, and unwed child-bearing have increased.  But I don't think there are any statistics included with the article that talk about the rates of sexually transmitted diseases among women who are getting family planning services through Title X.  What lies?  And murder?  Abortion is not funded by the federal government, if that is what you mean.  
If the public-health establishment were genuinely concerned about promoting women’s and children’s health, it would be upholding monogamy and the institutional framework that best achieves that: life-long marriage.
Good heavens.

How, pray tell, does the public health establishment uphold monogamy and life-long marriage?  Should they give women lectures about marriage and monogamy and not having sex before they hand out contraceptives?  Should they refuse to give contraceptives to women who are not in a "life long, monogamous marriage"?  Should they cluck-cluck like old hens when women not in these ideal situations get birth control?

I personally agree that the ideal way to raise children is with a loving family, the mother and father or a step-mother or step-father, or two people of the same sex.  I think that two adults raising children is easier than one adult raising children because raising children is hard work, but that doesn't mean that a single person can't love and raise a well-adjusted child.  

But what the "ideal family" really needs is health care coverage, good and adequate food, a stable place in which to live, and money to provide these things.  Ideally, that money is going to come from one or both parents working decent jobs with decent wages and benefits.  If the "ideal family" is breaking down and if there is a reason for it, the reason is no jobs, lousy jobs, or not enough money for the family to function reasonably, not Title X family planning.

What becomes more and more evident as I reflect on this article is that the Christian right-wing doesn't believe that poor women can make choices for themselves.  

Let's force women to have children, but cut any program that helps those kids after birth.

Finally, the argument from the extreme right-wing seems to be that the country needs more children!  Even poor people should have these children, but let's cut any program that will help them to survive and thrive.

The really sad thing about this is that I remember reading these same kinds of arguments, writing these same kinds of things forty years ago.  

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