Fear Of The Pill

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney

December 15, 2005

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat, represents the 14th district in New York City. As the former co-chair of the Women’s Caucus, Maloney is a nationally recognized advocate for women’s and family issues, with special emphasis on funding for women’s health needs, reproductive freedom, and international family planning.

In the face of an alarming movement across the country to prevent women from getting birth control, White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan has been repeatedly asked at press briefings if the president is opposed to contraception. In response, McClellan has been evasive, ambiguous and unable to give a straight answer.

And to think, this question has nothing to do with Karl Rove.

Here we are in the 21st century, and not only is the leader of the free world’s support for birth control uncertain, but apparently the topic is so difficult for the White House that it won’t even publicly comment.  Instead, McClellan’s latest response to this seemingly simple question is that the president supports abstinence programs for teens.  It appears that abstinence is at the heart of his birth control policy. But in my fourth letter to the president, in which I was joined by 37 other members of Congress, we wonder about married women, college women, working women, women in the military, divorced women and women who don’t want more children—not to mention various “types” of men.  Does this president think that promoting abstinence should be their birth control method as well?  If that’s the case, this position is a radical departure from previous administrations, and it undermines women’s constitutional right to birth control—which has been respected in this country ever since the landmark 1965 Supreme Court case Griswold v. Connecticut

For the 43 million women who are sexually active, many of whom are married and do not want to become pregnant, it would be a shocking revelation to learn that this president believes that the preferred method of birth control should be abstinence.  Of course, without a direct answer, it’s difficult to know how he really feels.  What we do know is that the issue of birth control underlies a disturbing trend that threatens women’s access to the best available reproductive health care.

The president has nominated Judge Samuel Alito to serve on the Supreme Court. Alito is not just an opponent of a woman’s right to choose, but is enthusiastically and fervently anti-choice.  Now, depending on who he is speaking to, Judge Alito may or may not support the 40-year-old Supreme Court decision guaranteeing the right to access birth control.

But the threat to access to birth control doesn’t end at the Supreme Court nominee. In a pattern that hits too close to home for many women, pharmacists across the country are refusing to fill prescriptions for birth control because of their “personal” objections.

Birth control prescription denial has happened not only all over the map but also to all kinds of women. Some pharmacists have refused to transfer the prescription; others have refused to give the prescription slip back to the customer. Some women leave the pharmacy without their pills and without their dignity, having been ridiculed and lectured about their reproductive choice.  And yet, we still have not heard a word from this president or his administration on their position.

Some organizations understand the threat to birth control, and are helping women get access to contraception. Planned Parenthood, for instance, has set up a website  that rates the national pharmacy chains’ policies on birth control.  Another website,, was recently launched to inform women about whether, how, and when the Bush administration explains its position on birth control.

Somehow, we have gotten to a place in this country—in the year 2005, no less—where women still have to fight for their right to make their own health decisions. Access to birth control is a women’s health issue, a private matter and a constitutional right. It shouldn’t be tampered with by pharmacists, but it should be openly supported by our president.

It’s sadly ironic that we are facing so many attacks on reproductive choice just after we celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision that affirmed a constitutional right to use birth control. The radical right is still feverishly fighting a battle that was settled 40 years ago in Griswold v. Connecticut . Frighteningly, their fight is gaining some ground.

It is clear that the campaign against birth control does not represent the values of most American women, 95 percent of whom will use birth control at some point in their lives. Guaranteeing access to contraception would uphold women’s health, uphold the Constitution and, yes Mr. President, even reduce abortions.

In the end, maybe what the president is saying by not answering that one simple question is that he supports the pharmacists who refuse to fill birth control prescriptions.  Wouldn’t you like to know?