THERE ARE so many misspoken moments within the Republican Party these days, you’d be forgiven for missing one or two. So, here’s an update on the latest. Russell Pearce has retired from his role as the Republican state senator for Arizona after he told a radio show host, “You put me in charge of Medicaid, the first thing I’d do is get (female recipients) Norplant, birth-control implants, or tubal ligations. Then, we’ll test recipients for drugs and alcohol, and if you want to (reproduce) or use drugs or alcohol, then get a job.” He was replaced this week with Parralee Schneider, a woman.
Other Republican Party candidates quickly distanced themselves from Pearce’s remarks, calling his statement “cruel,” “revolting,” “insulting,” “ignorant,” and “hateful.”
In the same week Slate published a piece entitled “A No Brainer Approach To Fighting Poverty: Better Birth Control.” Writer Jordan Weissman makes the case for IUDs being “the next great weapon in the battle against poverty.” In the New York Times Isabel Sawhill claimed “long-acting contraceptives could transform this landscape” – she’s talking unplanned pregnancies and poverty. Her argument: make LARCs “available” to all women, and poverty rates will lower and the need for welfare will lessen.
Although the perspectives of Pearce, Weissman and Sawhill are presented with varying styles of persuasion, the thrust is the same – women are to blame for poverty and women are responsible for fixing poverty. Poverty is caused by women not using contraceptive drugs and devices to avoid unplanned pregnancy. The solution to poverty is upping use of those drugs and devices and making sure less future-poor babies are conceived. When we’re talking about child poverty – one in five US children live in poverty – are we happy with saying that the child’s best bet is not being born? Even to someone who’s pro-choice, that seems harsh. For the world’s richest country, lack of access to LARCs is a pretty poor excuse for 22% of its children going hungry on a daily basis.
Pearce is a nasty piece of work and good riddance, but it’s interesting that this was the statement that lost him his job. Perhaps it was because women make up more than half of the potential voting population. It’s an opinion we see voiced, to varying degrees, across the political spectrum.
News of Vasalgel, a non-hormonal reversible sterilization technique for men, suggests that the method might be available within the next few years. There is a current method of sterilization available to men and usually covered by insurance, not that we hear much about it, even though it is more effective than the sterilization methods available to women. It’s actually more effective than the IUD, too. Why wasn’t Pearce calling for male recipients of Medicaid to be coerced into sterilization?
Currently 26% of contraception users opt for female sterilization. Only 10% opt for vasectomy.
One method of sterilization available to women – Essure – has shown to cause serious health problems. Erin Brockovitch has taken up the cause of the thousands of women for whom the procedure has meant hysterectomy, endometriosis, cysts, incontinence, and pelvic inflammatory disease. Essure is marketed as the non-surgical and therefore quicker and easier route to sterilization, in comparison to tubal ligation. Less time in the hospital, less time out of work. That is, unless one of the many things that can go wrong, does go wrong. All of the drugs and devices women are expected to equip themselves with in the war against poverty can pose plenty of unpleasant health problems.
That’s not to say that we should not be making these methods “available” to all women. But right now, we’re doing that instead of, rather than as well as, working on improving our society to the benefit of all, instead of the few. An impoverished woman’s children are not the only reason for her not becoming the next Melinda Gates. The liberal might optimistically view increasing availability of LARCs as being about reproductive rights. However, it’s really, at its core, about advancing the agenda of the 1%, and we know this because it’s backed by economists, politicians, and businessmen. We rarely see promotion of LARCs that is not paired with a discussion of the benefits to the economy.
A program implemented in Colorado that made LARCs free to thousands of young women was celebrated for reducing teen pregnancies. Not one story covering this news has failed to mention how teen pregnancy “costs millions of dollars annually.” Was the initiative about reproductive rights or was it about saving money on food stamps? Despite its significant impact on teen pregnancy rates, there are still many Colorado teens who will see having a baby as the most fulfilling choice available to them, when they can’t afford college and they’re heading for minimum-wage work.
As Frank Furedi writes in Population and Development – when we focus on policies to tackle the numbers of people being born (whether we’re looking to get more born, or less), it is “essentially an admission of the failure of existing social arrangements.” These social arrangements disproportionately cause suffering for women, over men. Furedi concludes, “In (current, popular) imagination, the containment of numbers appears more plausible than socio-economic reform and advance.”
And when it comes to containment of numbers, everyone looks to women.