Birth Control Pills

Arguments against mandated access to birth control have no legal (or ethical) standing.

As part of the struggle to prevent women from using the health-care benefits they earn, six state attorneys general—who clearly need something better to do with their time—launched a suit to give employers the right to deny employees coverage of birth control as part of their health policies. Now, those attorneys general are giving up the lawsuit, for now at least, in no small part because a federal judge earlier ruled they have no standing to sue. What other people do with their own insurance coverage does not, it turns out, cause any actual damage to strangers, making it really hard for these conservative attorneys to argue that they have standing. Ian Millhiser at ThinkProgress explains:

“Standing” is the requirement that a plaintiff show that they have actually been injured by a law before they are allowed to sue to challenge it in federal court. No one, not even a state attorney general acting on behalf of his or her state, is allowed to bring a case to federal court simply because they do not like the law, or because they are able to offer some speculative reason why the law might somehow injure them at some point in the future.

This problem that these attorneys general were facing is a fundamental problem for the anti-choice movement generally: All their beliefs go back to the conviction that what other people, even perfect strangers, are doing in bed somehow affects them and so needs to be stopped by any means necessary. (Sadly, as family planning clinics and abortion clinics can tell you, this sometimes means that criminal and even violent behavior is often a part of the arsenal that anti-choicers use in attacking other people for having sex without their permission.) The problem with this belief is self-evident. What other people are doing with their bodies does not actually affect anti-choicers, and so their standing—not just legally, but morally—is always hard to impossible to establish. Thus, the never-ending parade of bad faith arguments and outright lies that come from anti-choicers.

With their support of abortion bans, there’s at least a mild plausibility to their claim to be concerned over fetal life, though of course it crumbles the second you start looking more deeply at the evidence, particularly when it comes to the fact that anti-choicers consistently resist every realistic policy known to reduce the abortion rate because those policies don’t actually satisfy their real desire to punish women for having sex. Beyond that, though, they lose the ability to come up with arguments that don’t nakedly expose their belief that they are the proper owners of your body.

The contraception mandate battle is a perfect example of this. Unable to come right out and say that they don’t want it to be too easy for women to have non-procreative sex, anti-choicers have instead latched onto this “religious freedom for employers” argument. Unfortunately, the argument doesn’t work without the assumption that your employer has some ownership over his employee’s private life, including her own religious beliefs. The argument rests on the assumption that because your employer has a right to control your compensation after he’s released it to you, that even though the insurance plan actually belongs to you and not your employer—because you earned it, alongside your paycheck—he has a right to dictate how you use it. It really is no different than trying to control how you spend your paycheck, but anti-choicers hope the public, confused by the heavily bureaucratic insurance system, won’t see that. But if you spend even a few moments thinking about it, it becomes clear that the objection to the contraception mandate is rooted in the belief that your employer has a right to try to impose his religious views on you in the bedroom.

Another favored tactic is to focus excessively on young women under the age of 18, exaggerating how much control parents have over the bodies of teenage girls and appointing themselves substitute parents in order to gain control. But inevitably, these kinds of arguments always end up giving them the control over adult women they quietly believe they are entitled to. Laws requiring Plan B to be put behind the pharmacy counter were justified as ways to keep teenagers from defying their parents’ supposed right to force them to ovulate, but the result was that adult women also had incredibly restricted access.

You see that attempt to use “young girls” as a battering ram to attack adult women (as well as teenage girls) in the conservative freakout over Miley Cyrus’ randy performance at the Video Music Awards. While there are legitimate criticisms about Cyrus as a cultural appropriater, the right-wing response was, unsurprisingly, all about trying to establish their right to control what grown women do with their bodies, even though it does not affect them. Invoking their supposed “right” to control the bodies of the under-18 set was a popular tactic. Rush Limbaugh blamed feminism, saying, “they’re the ones who told us, ‘Little girls are gonna have sex. You can’t stop it.’” Reminder: Cyrus is 20, not a “little girl” by any stretch of the imagination.

Of course, then there’s always the threat that someone—someone else, no doubt—will punish you with rape and violence if you don’t accede to the right wing authority to control your body. Glenn Reynolds wrote this little threat on his blog in response to Cyrus rejecting his authority to tell her when and how her ass is to be shook: “Chivalry was a system, in which obligations fell on women as well as men. If you wish for men to behave as they did in past times, you may have to live with women behaving as they did in past times, too. In the age of Miley Cyrus and Sandra Fluke, that doesn’t seem especially likely.” The implication being, of course, that men were somehow better behaved toward women back when sexual harassment was just considered “life,” when marital rape was legal, when a man could pat you on the head and tell you to get married instead when you applied for a job, and when domestic violence was so normalized that it was a regular joke on television.

It always goes back to this tension: At the end of the day, conservatives really don’t have a good argument for why what you do with your body supposedly hurts them. Our political system, our health-care system, and now even the basic right of an employee to clock out and not have to deal with employers nosing around their bedrooms are all being threatened because conservatives refuse to learn the basic rule of minding their own business.

Written by Amanda Marcotte for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Photo by Sarah C released under a Creative Commons license.