Associated Press, June 7, 2007
Political struggle intensifies in U.S. over
campaign to reduce unintended pregnancies
By DAVID CRARY
DATELINE: NEW YORK -- America's conflicted attitude toward sex
is at the heart of an intriguing political struggle unfolding
this year in Congress and many states, as liberals and conservatives
spar over bills aimed at reducing the huge number of unintended
To the liberal coalition backing the measures, the so-called
Prevention First initiative is a commonsense package that would
reduce the need for abortions by providing better information
about contraceptives and expanding access to them.
To conservatives, the initiative is an alarming effort to eliminate
abstinence-only sex education, strengthen abortion-rights groups
and encourage sex outside of marriage.
"There's a utopian view that women ought to be able to have
sex any time they want to without consequences that's the bottom
line of all these bills," said Janice Crouse of Concerned
Women for America, a conservative group which opposes the measures.
The initiative's centerpiece is a comprehensive federal bill,
the Prevention First Act, which went nowhere when first introduced
in the Republican-controlled Congress in 2005. It now has bright
prospects with the Democrats in power; Senate Majority Leader
Harry Reid is its principal Senate sponsor.
The bill would increase funding for family planning clinics,
expand Medicaid the government's insurance program for the poor
and private health insurance coverage of contraceptives, require
hospitals to make emergency contraception available to rape victims,
and allocate money for comprehensive sex education programs that
teach youths about birth control as well as abstinence.
A separate bill introduced this week would ensure that women
can access contraceptives at pharmacies regardless of whether
any employee they encounter has moral objections.
The lead House sponsor of the Prevention First Act, Democratic
Rep. Louise Slaughter, promoted the bill Thursday at the National
Press Club declaring that it would "give women the tools
they need to make the best possible decisions for themselves."
While some conservative leaders predict President George W. Bush
would veto the measure, Slaughter is unsure what he might do.
"All of us would like to see fewer abortions," she
said in a telephone interview. "The question is how we can
Statistics cited by Slaughter indicate that the United States
has one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancies among industrialized
nations roughly 3 million a year, or nearly half the total number
of pregnancies. While many women give birth to babies they did
not plan on, about 1.3 million a year have abortions.
Groups that support abortion rights, including Planned Parenthood
and NARAL Pro-Choice America, endorse Prevention First and have
pushed for similar measures at the state level. They are heartened
by numerous successes this year including several in states where
Democrats gained power from Republicans in 2006.
"We saw the opportunity to go on the offensive really aggressively,"
said NARAL's president, Nancy Keenan. "Now we're seeing the
Two states Washington and Colorado passed laws prohibiting abstinence-only
sex education at public schools. Five states Arkansas, Connecticut,
Colorado, Minnesota and Oregon enacted laws requiring hospitals
to offer emergency contraception to rape victims or provide them
with information on where to obtain the pills.
Connecticut's measure, which covers all hospitals, including
Roman Catholic ones, was signed into law by Republican Gov. M.
Jodi Rell despite opposition from Catholic bishops. The Oregon
measure also requires private insurers to cover prescription birth
control if they cover other prescription drugs.
Jackie Payne, Planned Parenthood's director of government relations,
said the state developments suggest there is strong public support
for Prevention First's goals but she is unsure how the issue will
play out in Congress.
"The Republican Party is trying to figure out what they
stand for these days," she said. "If they pay attention
to what voters want, they will want to see commonsense measures
If the measures do reach the White House, Payne said, "the
president will show himself to be extremely outside the mainstream
if he decides to veto them."
Prevention First is depicted by its backers as a quest for "common
ground" in the long-running debate over abortion. Conservative
critics reject this premise, insisting that genuine compromise
would include support for abstinence outside of marriage.
"They say they're searching for common ground, but it's
more likely they're looking for more funding for Planned Parenthood,"
said Tom McClusky, the Family Research Council's vice president
for government affairs.
Both liberals and conservatives claim their preferred style of
sex education comprehensive or abstinence-only is behind a recent
drop in the teen pregnancy rate.
But Sarah Brown, who heads the National Campaign to Prevent Teen
Pregnancy, said most Americans do not realize that women in their
20s, not teens, account for the largest number of unwanted pregnancies.
"We have an enormous public education task to help the public
understand it's not just teens," Brown said. "We are
not very good at contraception in this country."
The path to fewer unwanted pregnancies "is very simple you
either don't have sex or you use contraception carefully, every
single time," Brown said. "If we talk about personal
responsibility as well as responsible policies, we may then be
building common ground."
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