Opinion: Empowering women has nothing to do with ‘promiscuity’

Surfing conservative websites, it didn’t take long to find this nugget of backward thinking, courtesy of American Thinker:

“The sexual revolution that was kick-started by the advent of birth control in the early 1960s has done irreparable damage to Western civilization.”

If you had any doubt about where the renewed state-by-state arguments over abortion will creep, take heed. Women’s access to contraception, their right to determine if and when they will have children — not to mention their sexuality in general — will be swept up in the rush to see which state can send a case to the U.S. Supreme Court first with the hope of overturning Roe v. Wade.

A preliminary injunction is keeping Missouri from becoming the first state without clinical access to abortion. In Illinois, meanwhile, legislators passed a law to ensure that abortion and contraception, along with pregnancy and maternity care, would remain fundamental rights, regardless of whether Roe v. Wade is overturned.

For many on the right, the abortion issue is not merely a question of a fetus’ right to life but rather part of a larger project to undercut women’s reproductive health in general. Many of the arguments are undergirded by the twisted notion that educating and empowering women to control their own fertility is inextricably tied to promiscuity.

Data don’t support that contention. But we should expect to hear a lot of old canards about the sexual freedom of women and how they were led astray by feminism.

You hear these arguments in the debate over comprehensive sex education and whether it should include information about LGBTQ issues. You hear it from policy makers who fear providing girls the HPV vaccine, believing it will increase their sexual appetites and lure them into risky behavior.

It would be nice if Republican women who know better would rebuke such foolishness from their side of the aisle. But don’t count on it.

Regardless of where they find themselves on the political spectrum, most women grew up in a context that emphasized a fundamental inequality between male and female libidos. Boys were held to a different standard. If they had sex, they were merely fulfilling their natural urges. Girls, on the other hand, were to control theirs. That was part of a whole package of inequalities between men and women, many of which society has yet to resolve.

A few more lines from American Thinker’s illogic about birth control: “Women could almost suddenly be as sexually indiscriminate as men had long been presumed to be. No one stopped to question whether or not promiscuity was the inherent nature of women. Nevertheless, many young women leapt into the sexual revolution with ardor and abandon. For most, it did not end well.”

How did it not end well? The essay’s author, Patricia McCarthy, didn’t say. “Justifiable reasons for abortion — rape, incest or a severely damaged fetus — have always been supported by reasonable people but those cases are rare, very rare,” she continued. “But the left today demands fealty to the creed of abortion on demand no matter the consequences to civil society.”

Again, what are these bad consequences? McCarthy gave no clue in her essay, save for the typical “decline of the West” bromides so popular on the right.

Here’s the problem for McCarthy and her ilk: Women are having sex, and they are doing it in large part without having to suffer for it as they once did.

That’s it. McCarthy admitted that the “right to life,” for her anyway, has exceptions. However, inconvenience of childbearing or limiting family size are not such exceptions, because they violate “Judeo-Christian values,” another trite and vacuous catchphrase.

A few days before this piece was published, the well-regarded Guttmacher Institute released a policy paper to counter the confused thinking on the right about contraception and abortion.

The Guttmacher policy paper, “Promiscuity Propaganda: Access to Information and Services Does Not Lead to Increases in Sexual Activity,” is heavy on statistics, citing numerous studies to show the “strong scientific consensus” debunking the girls-gone-wild ideology about reproductive health.

Further, it succinctly takes on the broader dangers of such thinking: “The argument attempts to stigmatize sex outside of heterosexual marriage, seeks to shame sexually active young people and young women in particular, and intentionally ignores the fact that for most people, sex is a normal part of adolescence and adulthood.”

Many on the right, like McCarthy, bitterly lament that their religiously inflected sexual mores lack the force they once had. And so for decades they have fought to enshrine them again in law.

We have come too far as a nation to regress this way. But that won’t spare us an ugly and pointless political fight.

— Mary Sanchez is a columnist for Tribune Content Agency.

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