To paraphrase Pastor Niemöller, first they came for our abortion rights. Now they’re coming for our birth control.
— Fundamentalist religions fear sexual pleasure, which birth control facilitates
— Contraception effectively limits family size, empowering women
— Contraception promotes personal autonomy [making women more likely to challenge male authority]
— Birth control may make abortion more acceptable to society
As of last week, Republican efforts to ban birth control in America have officially started, and teenagers in Texas are its first victims.
When Clarence Thomas wrote in his Dobbs concurring opinion that the Supreme Court should next overturn the right to birth control in the United States, a lawyer and a judge in Texas were apparently listening.
Most Americans have no idea this high-stakes drama — heading toward the Supreme Court but already now law in Texas — is even going on.
Lost in the Christmas holiday chatter, a Trump-appointed federal district judge in Texas just a week ago put a stop to teenagers getting confidential access to birth control pills and devices in that state.
He did it based on a lawsuit filed by attorney Jonathan Mitchell, the same man who co-authored the Texas “abortion vigilante” law. Everybody ridiculed that effort at first, you’ll recall, but the Supreme Court upheld it and today it’s Texas law and spreading across Red states like a fungus.
Mitchell is also known as the guy who supported the Mississippi abortion ban before the Supreme Court that led to the Dobbs decision overturning Roe v Wade.
Perhaps anticipating Clarence Thomas’ later call to overturn Supreme Court decisions legalizing birth control, homosexual behavior, and gay marriage (Griswold v Connecticut, Lawrence v Texas, Obergefell v Hodges), Mitchell even wrote in his amicus brief for the Dobbs case an originalist reference similar to the argument the Texas judge would later make against birth control:
“The right to marry an opposite-sex spouse is ‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition’; the right to marry a same-sex spouse obviously is not.”
In the Texas federal lawsuit Mitchell brought, Deanda v. Becerra, Trump-appointed Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk ruled that teens between 15 and 18 shouldn’t be able to make birth control decisions independent of their parents because, he ruled, that had always been the law in the early years of America:
“For centuries, the common law held minors were incapable of giving consent to make important life decisions.”
Somehow, he managed to overlook the fact that the age of sexual consent “for centuries” was, in every American state from the founding of this nation in 1789, 10 to 12 years old. It wasn’t raised to 14, 15, or 16 in any US state until the 1930s.
But don’t try to argue facts with people running on religious or male-power arguments.
Although the fight for women’s bodily autonomy is as old as time, this part of the story begins in 1970.
Richard Nixon had a reputation as an awkward, bumbling prude when it came to sex, but even he knew that teenagers should be able to get birth control without their parents’ consent.
A teenage pregnancy could destroy a young woman’s life, and, at that time, over one-in-ten girls became pregnant between 15 and 19 years old. Fully 92 percent of those teenage pregnancies, according to research published in the following decade, were unintended and could have been prevented with access to birth control.
So, in 1970, President Nixon signed into law Title X, a federal grant program that included funds for confidential access to birth control for people across the nation regardless of their age.
Nonprofit agencies were formed in each state to receive the federal money and provide birth control (among other services): in Texas “Every Body Texas” is the group that administers Title X statewide through 32 agencies and 156 clinics.
The week of Christmas, because of Kacsmaryk’s Deanda v. Becerra ruling, Texas agencies affiliated with Every Body Texas learned they had to start turning away teenagers, virtually all of them girls and women, who were seeking confidential birth control.
This is now the law in Texas.
Picking up the beat, Republican legislators in Missouri, Idaho, and Louisiana have introduced or are proposing birth control bans in those states, according to the Pew Trust. Expect Republicans in your state to soon try the same.
Lest you think that hyperbolic, consider how Republicans in the US House and Senate voted when Democrats introduced the Right to Contraception Act immediatelyafter Clarence Thomas suggested the Court should overturn that right.
Fully 195 Republicans voted against the legislation in the House; only 8 supported it. And when it reached the Senate, it was killed by a Republican filibuster.
The Deanda v. Becerra decision in Texas banning confidential dispensing of contraception to teenagers will be appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, known across the nation as the place most likely to uphold crackpot rightwing rulings. From there it goes to the six crackpot rightwingers on the Supreme Court.
Republicans appear quite fixated on banning both abortion and birth control nationwide.
Authoritarian societies have a long history of trying to regulate women’s bodies.
The first books the Nazis burned in May of 1933 were birth control guides by Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger, shortly before Hitler banned birth control in that nation (soldiers were allowed to possess condoms “to maintain their good health”).
Birth control was similarly banned in Romania by Nicolae Ceaușescu, bringing that nation Europe’s highest infant mortality rate and lowest life expectancy (particularly for women), a legacy which continues to this day even though Ceaușescu was overthrown and killed in 1989.
And now the GOP wants to ban birth control in the United States, starting with the youngest and most vulnerable among us. Authoritarians, after all, always first attack those least able to defend themselves before they climb the ladder of the society they intend to conquer.
This opening shot — coming out of Texas, just like the first ban on abortion (and from the same lawyer) — should make all Americans sit up and take notice.
Written by Thom Hartmann. Cross-posted from the Thom Hartmann Report.