Contraception takes step back

February 26, 2012


"Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees ...” - Foster Friess, Feb. 16, 2012

Do you watch “Mad Men”?

If so, you know that one of the things that drama about a 1960s advertising agency does best is transport you back to the days when women still were “gals.” We think we remember what that was like. We use words like “sexist” and “paternalistic” to describe it.

But that is jargon and no amount of jargon can deliver the same visceral jolt of “Oh, my Lord” as a “Mad Men” scene where one of the “gals” in the office seeks a prescription for those new birth-control pills, but first must endure a humiliating lecture from her doctor. “I see from your chart that you’re not married,” he says. “And yet, you’re interested in the contraceptive pills.” He warns her that if he thinks she is becoming “easy” or a “strumpet,” he will take the pills away.

When a Foster Friess describes how things were “back in my days,” it is worth remembering that those are the days he is referring to.

Friess, a major financial supporter of presidential wannabe Rick Santorum, made his comment in an interview with MSNBC. Santorum quickly disavowed it. “A stupid joke,” he called it.

We seem to be talking an awful lot about women’s reproductive health lately. Not just the usual zero sum battles about abortion, but a wholly new battle about contraception, something most us would have thought utterly uncontroversial just a few short weeks ago.

But since then, we’ve seen President Obama forced to compromise on an ill-considered mandate requiring religious institutions to provide contraception to their employees. We’ve seen the GOP convene an all-male panel to testify on women’s reproductive concerns. We’ve seen debate over Title X, a 1970 law providing free contraception to indigent women. We’ve been treated to Rick Santorum’s bizarre views on contraception, which he opposes because he says it doesn’t work (!) and is dangerous and harmful to women, to boot.

And we’ve seen Foster Friess attempt to make a funny.

You might let it go as just that, save for a nagging certainty that in a few ill-chosen words, Friess managed to capture something telling and important about the way he and other social conservatives see this country.

It has been argued that they seek to forestall the future, to interdict social and demographic trends suggesting tomorrow’s America will be gayer, browner and more Islamic than today’s.

But that’s only half the story, isn’t it? Friess’ “joke” suggests they seek not just to challenge tomorrow’s changes, but also yesterday’s. They seek to re-impose what they regard as “the good old days,” as in a time when women were “gals” to be lectured by doctors on their sexual morality.

That should be an eye-opener for those who feel yesterday’s victories are impervious to challenge or change. Maybe it is time to wonder if that assurance is not misplaced. The very fact that we are debating contraception in 2012 suggests that it is — and that those who are sanguine about battles won 40 years ago might do well to reconsider.

One is reminded of the old axiom that says, the future is not promised to us.

Well, neither, apparently, is the past.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CST each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.


FalseHopeNoChange 6 years, 3 months ago

Nice try Pitts. Is this what you tell the girls over a drink?

An "asprin" between the knees does work. I used to hear it was a "dime" though. Of course, People with your "Cultural Prowess" do not have sayings like this. It's quite obvious.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

And I bet you and Friess and others of your ilk made it practice collect as many dimes and aspirins as you could.

Kathy Theis-Getto 6 years, 3 months ago


Sound's like you suffer from White Man's Dread.

tomatogrower 6 years, 3 months ago

We all know conservatives never have affairs or get pregnant out of wedlock. They only have sex to create babies, so after menopause the women stop having sex. And of course they never divorce. Except when they do they are forgiven by god and get on a reality TV dance show or run for president.

George Lippencott 6 years, 3 months ago

I have been following the issue of women’s reproductive rights. I must admit that I have apparently missed something. I do not watch CNN, MSNBC or FOX frequently so it is probably my fault. Just exactly what are we arguing about?

I do not know who is actually attacking Title X and what the attack is about. I don’t know who the character that made the joke is or exactly his/her significances. I am unaware of a Republican panel on women’s reproductive rights. I am perplexed at the notion of a “war on women”?

I am aware that Mr. Obama, bless his soul, faced one of those quintessential moments when he had to balance a women’s right to control her own medical needs and the moral obligations of an organized religion to stand behind their belief structure. Somebody had to lose and it looks to me as if the President compromised – a long standing American trait that has avoided a lot of grief in the past.

I am also confused about exactly what rights we are debating. Are we concerned about a women’s right to access to these services or are we concerned that some women might have to pay for them?

From the argument presented it seems like much ado about very little. No one that I am aware of is denying women the right to such services. There are issues over who should pay but I fail to see how that is denying anybody access as such services are readily available to low income women if they but seek them out.

Is this just another argument by the Democrats to discredit the Republicans or is their substance behind it?

Ragingbear 6 years, 3 months ago

First of all, if you don't watch the news, then you shouldn't be commenting on it. That being said, the issue at stake here is that one of Santorum's super PAC supporters got on Faux-News and said that contraception was stupid, as "gals used to put asprin between their legs for contraception" and that we needed to return to that system. Stupidity begets stupidity as old men have no idea how mysterious lady-parts work.

In other news, I like waffles.

verity 6 years, 3 months ago

If you were paying any attention at all to what is going on, you would know the answers to the questions you asked.

George Lippencott 6 years, 3 months ago


The offender is a super PAC and that is the furor?

Sorry, but I read the papers and have not encountered the issues posted above by Mr. P. I was hoping you all who apparently see a big problem would share. Guess not.

I might also point out that what is important to you may not be important to me until you tell me it should.

Better to rant??

verity 6 years, 3 months ago


You posted this same comment on the above blog. I think Cait has pretty well covered the bases, so I'm not going to spend the time trying to re-expain them. What she said and her links should answer your questions.

George Lippencott 6 years, 3 months ago

Thank you verity but I am still trying to find a link I can get to.

So far all I have found is references to who pays and not availability. Is that the issue?

George Lippencott 6 years, 3 months ago

Thank you verity but I am still trying to find a link I can get to.

So far all I have found is references to who pays and not availability. Is that the issue?

gatekeeper 6 years, 3 months ago

Google the personhood bills being proposed in many states. Republicans are trying their hardest to ban birth control also.

And if guys can get hard on pills paid for by insurance, then I can damn well get my BC pills covered as well.

deec 6 years, 3 months ago

If the concern were truly about the harm caused by Big Pharm products, why isn't there an equally loud clamor about all drugs? They all have potentially harmful side effects. 58% of women take the pill primarily for reasons other than birth control. I know a woman in her mid-20's who is a virgin. She takes the pill so she only has one period a month, not two, and so she isn't constantly anemic.

tomatogrower 6 years, 3 months ago

Pregnancy is also hard on many women. It used to be that women's life expectancy was shorter that men's, because so many women died in childbirth or from having too many babies.

And you know that little blue pill for a man is paid for by insurance, and it has potential bad side effects too.

Pitt's didn't even quote the stupid conservative woman who said that the pill is linked to men's prostrate cancer. That's a real hoot.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

Wow, that was a truly impressive misstatement of what Pitts said merely so you could knock that straw man down.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

So, you boil down his entire column to a quote from Santorum?

There should be embarrassment here, but not from me.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

Every medication that exists has potentially harmful side effects-- but for you and Santorum, it's OK to keep women barefoot and pregnant because birth control can be "harmful."

BTW, there are other therapeutic uses for the pill than just contraception.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

"God you are simple. Do you really think you are telling me something I don't know?"

No, merely noting that your inane Pavlovian frothing at the mere appearance of a column by Pitts does not constitute a reasonable or well-supported comment.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

"You make these claims"

What claims are you referring to?

"I bet you're an old, old lonely man"

Is this your idea of posting with substance?

deec 6 years, 3 months ago

That there's a lot obfuscation. Show me where Santorum explains/expounds on how he believes birth control causes physical harm to a woman. The only info I found was this long transcribed quote detailing what he meant. The page I linked to is a conservative blog.

Katara 6 years, 3 months ago

Santorum believes that the states should be able to decide whether or not women have the right to birth control & if the states choose to ban birth control, so be it.

So, no, Santorum does not believe, from a governmental position, that women should have the right to birth control.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

I believe Mrs. Santorum uses an orange-flavored chastity belt. (OK, that may just be a rumor I'm starting.)

Kirk Larson 6 years, 3 months ago

Some of you guys need to read "The Way We Never Were". There were more teen pregnancies in the 50's than in the 80's. Do really want to go backwards?

Katara 6 years, 3 months ago

Well, that's because it was concerned normal for high school girls to get married straight out of high school. Most women had their first baby before they turned 20.

Katara 6 years, 3 months ago

Contraceptives are not abortificants.

Contraceptives (such as the Pill) are also used to treat other medical conditions.

Should those women be denied affordable proper medical treatment?

The Church has no issue with insurance covering men using Viagra to treat ED. Why should they have an issue with insurance covering women using birth control pills to treat something such as PCOS?

The Church would have no idea whether women are using contraceptives for medical conditions or for pregnancy prevention. Your non-religious employer doesn't know. Why should the Church be an exception on this?

Katara 6 years, 3 months ago

The morning after pill is not an abortificant. The morning after pill (or Plan B) is a large dose of birth control pills. It does nothing if you are already pregnant.

You are referring to RU486, which is an abortificant.

Katara 6 years, 3 months ago

And actually, Plan B is now an OTC medication for women 18 years or older so it wouldn't be covered by this decision.

booyalab 6 years, 3 months ago

There are two types of people in this country: those who think they're better than people from the 1950s and those who think that the only thing separating us from cavemen is a few laws and maybe a smartphone.

usnsnp 6 years, 3 months ago

There should be one questioned asked of the people that are against using the pill and other birth control methods. Question, Has your wife ever used the pill or other birth control methods.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 3 months ago

So, you're saying that you're merely a parody of a conservative blogger? (if so, that explains a lot.)

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