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Birth control is, quite suddenly, the talking point of the 2012 election season, thanks (or no thanks) to Rush Limbaugh. The talk radio host’s remarks came after Congressman Darrel Issa held nearly all-male hearings on the Obama Administration’s requirement that health insurance plans cover contraceptive care for women. Limbaugh called a Georgetown Law student, Sandra Fluke, a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she testified before a democratic panel in support of the administration’s rule. He also seemed confused about how the birth control pill actually works and suggested that Fluke make sex videos for him and other citizens who would have to pay for her birth control.
Limbaugh has since lost at least nearly 100 advertisers , and the conversation continues. In fact, the battle moved to Colorado last week, when Wray’s Republican state Senator Greg Brophy tweeted support for Limbaugh’s remarks, typing to Fluke that he didn’t want to “buy your booze, pay for your spring break or your birth control. Call your Dad for that.” On the local legislative front, Personhood Colorado is moving ahead on a third “personhood” amendment for the November ballot (measures that would have created a fetus as a separate class of victim were defeated in 2008 and 2010).
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The fight landed on the steps of the state Capitol Monday as several hundred people gathered for a “Rally to Protect Women’s Health.” The protestors asked for pundits and politicians to cease attacks on birth control and urged voters to oppose anti-choice measures headed for the ballot in November. Speakers included Democratic state representatives Andy Kerr and Crisanta Duran. A Colorado State University student addressed the crowd while audience members cheered and toted signs reading, “Stop the War on Women,” “It’s 2012—are we really still debating birth control?” and “Birth control is health care, not a recreational sport!”
“You don’t have to be a doctor to know how harmful these measures are to women’s health,” said Dr. Andrew Ross, an obstetrician-gynecologist, adding that “personhood” could threaten women’s lives by prohibiting abortions when mothers’ lives are at risk, limit contraception, impede use of in vitro fertilization and even lead to coroners investigating miscarriages. Ross called the measure an attack on the privacy of the physician-patient relationship and the rights of Colorado women.
Meagan Como, president of CSU’s Students United for Reproductive Justice, said she’s one of many women who take the pill for reasons other than preventing pregnancy, having had it prescribed to treat a blood clotting disorder. “Birth control is basic preventive care,” she said, “a personal choice and a standard in medical care. Let’s keep it that way.” (Birth control pills are often prescribed for non-pregnancy related conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.)
Tapping into the idea of birth control as just one vital component of women’s overall health—a tactic analysts say may work well for Democrats, though both sides of the aisle are leveraging the issue—Jeremy Shaver, executive director of the non-profit Interfaith Alliance, sought to distinguish himself from conservative Christians pushing personhood. “I’m troubled that some faith leaders are playing politics with women’s lives,” he told the crowd. “Please do not lump me in with them. There are hundreds of faith leaders across Colorado who support reproductive rights.”
Later, after the “Women for Obama” signs and Planned Parenthood supporters had disappeared for the day, a competing pro-life, pro-religious freedom rally took their place on the Capitol steps. “The left has made this whole issue one about women’s reproductive rights, and it’s not about that at all,” Republican state Rep. Marsha Looper told the Post. “The issue is our constitutional rights, the right to practice our religious freedoms as we see fit.”
The debate—in Colorado and the nation—continues. Today, the Arizona state senate voted to allow employers to refuse to cover contraceptive care in their insurance plans on moral grounds, and more states may follow suit. As this hubris-filled election season wears on, we can count on hearing countless groups trumpeting messages featuring contraception instead of jobs or the economy. And just whom that will benefit is yet to be seen.