While the rest of the developed world has moved on, the United States languishes in a protracted, politicized debate over contraception funding. Now, anti-abortion activist David Bereit has joined a coalition of groups opposing the contraception requirement of America’s Affordable Care Act in the name of “religious freedom.” To the untrained eye, the devout Christian’s argument seems virtually unassailable, but on closer examination, it suffers point from a number of problems, as we shall see below.
Bereit attempts to boost his position by comparing contraception to abortion, but we can refute this claim almost right away. Contraception doesn’t just prevent unwanted pregnancy, he avers; it also kills innocent babies: “[t]here is evidence suggesting that certain birth control devices can have an abortifacient property. I do have opposition to those things,” he tells Sarah Posner of Salon. According to Posner, Bereit, along with others, also described the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella as abortifacients at the recent Stand Up for Religious Freedom rally on Capitol Hill.
But extensive research contradicts this view. The contraception Plan B, for example, cannot cause abortions, because it prevents fertilization in the first place, according to research by members of the Population Council’s International Committee for Contraception Research and Health Progress, the official journal of the Catholic Health Association. Meanwhile, research at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists shows that the contraceptive ella is unlikely to cause abortions, since it is used in such low doses.
If Bereit only cared about fetus deaths, he wouldn’t care about contraception that prevents fetuses from forming in the first place. No fertilization, no fetus. But he even opposes birth control methods that prevent fertilization (and hence fetal development) from taking place, so he doesn’t really seem concerned about fetus deaths–he seems more concerned about people having non-procreative sex, which diverges sharply from the moral vision of many religious conservatives. Consequently, he can’t invoke the suffering of fetuses to justify his opposition to contraception.
Bereit’s cohorts have also accused the U.S. government of controlling demographics through funding of Planned Parenthood. A project of the American Life League called Stop Planned Parenthood (STOPP), of which Bereit is the national director, describes Planned Parenthood in a 1995 essay as a “cold, calculating group intent on…reducing the population of minorities….” But how does family planning reduce minority populations? By funding family planning services through organizations like Planned Parenthood, the government is giving every woman reproductive choice, not just minority women, and most women are not seeking family planning services with ideas about racial purity in mind. So the “minority population control” theory seems utterly preposterous.
Bereit can’t cite pro-life values to attack emergency contraception, because this form of birth control doesn’t even target fertilized eggs, and the “population control” theory falls apart when we realize that the government is giving the choice to women, who aren’t rushing en masse to abortion clinics for racial purity reasons. Even then, contraception opponents will bring up tax-payer money and “religious freedom.” But it isn’t really religious freedom they stand for–it is religious tyranny. The religious freedom protected by the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment must be balanced against the reproductive freedom protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, because the former should never trump the latter.
Give us your thoughts. Is Bereit imposing his religious beliefs on other by fighting the Affordable Care Act’s contraception requirement?