The Supreme Court voted 5-4 early this week that the closely-held private companies Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are not required to provide certain forms of contraception to their employees—specifically, those that the companies’ owners believe act as abortifacients.
The White House—and media sources—immediately responded to the Court’s ruling by decrying that it “jeopardizes” women’s health. Sandra Fluke at the Washington Post opined about something she called the “current reproductive rights environment,” arguing, “Opponents of reproductive rights are trying to limit access to comprehensive women’s health care from all directions.”
Amy Davidson at The New Yorker wrote that in this case, “Women’s health is treated as something troublesome—less like other kinds of health care, which a company should be asked to pay for, than as a burden for those who have to contemplate it.” President Obama’s press secretary announced that the President would work with Congress to ensure that the women employed at these companies “have the same coverage of vital health services as everyone else.”
Let’s ignore, for the moment, the fact that our highest Court is now ruling on such extremely private and morally charged issues as birth control. And let’s put aside the weirdness that is our health system, in which insurance is somehow supposed to be involved in your decisions about whether or not to have a baby.
Instead, let’s think about that phrase, “women’s health.” Because “women’s health,” as it is used in cases such as the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga decision, has about as little to do with the true physical, emotional, and spiritual wellness of women as does the Whopper.
Instead, it’s a phrase that is allied almost exclusively with a woman’s ability to shut off one entire function of her person—her procreative ability. Feminists and abortion-rights advocates have staunchly denied links between risks of cancer and both hormonal contraception and induced abortion, but some startling data out there indicate that our government’s interest in getting all women on the Pill isn’t all that good for us.
In 2005, the International Agency on Research on Cancer, an inter-governmental organization affiliated with the World Health Organization, named estrogen and progesterone oral contraceptives as well as hormonal post-menopausal therapy to be Group 1 carcinogens. Recent studies in India and China have shown remarkably high links between hormonal contraception, abortion, and breast cancer—women who took oral contraceptives in India were 9.5 times more likely to develop breast cancer, and in China, researchers found that “a single induced abortion is linked to a 44 percent rise in breast-cancer risk; a second abortion was linked to a 76 percent rise, and three or more abortions linked to a rise of 89 percent.”
The Breast Cancer Prevention Institute has identified 57 studies that report a positive correlation between induced abortion and breast cancer since 1957, compared to 16 that report no such correlation.
In spite of such evidence, groups such as Planned Parenthood and the Centers for Disease Control continue to report that there is no link between hormonal contraception, induced abortion, and breast cancer.
Even common sense, however, indicates the need for suspicion. Hormones trigger biological responses. In women, estrogen triggers breast tissue development, the onset of menarche, and a host of other dramatic changes. The way that most birth control works is by pumping the body with enough extra estrogen or progesterone to shut off ovulation.
As a culture, we are increasingly cautious about consuming hormones and other “unnatural” products. We eat eggs from free-range, hormone-free chickens. We are incensed by the existence of CAFOs. Government agencies are investigating the labeling of genetically modified foods. High-fructose corn syrup and other “artificial” products are on most people’s no-no list. And justifiably so—such things aren’t good for us.
And yet, we see nothing amiss in promoting—nay, pushing—“women’s health” in the form of encouraging girls at younger and younger ages to start dosing themselves with extra hormones, and by requiring insurance companies to provide such “medical” necessities free of charge. America’s female elite sees nothing amiss in popping their morning mini-pill before heading out to their gardens to cultivate their own vegetables or picking up the most recent edition of Backyard Poultry.
Something is wrong with this picture. Because, conversely, much research suggests that pregnancy and children are actually good for women. Breastfeeding, for example, is associated with a reduced risk in breast cancer, as is having children before the age of 30. Having children, some studies show, seems to bring about longevity and better health. And the more children a woman has, the more likely she is to have a long life. We hear none of this in government pronouncements on “women’s health.”
The Hobby Lobby decision is an encouraging one, and should be applauded. But it is also a very limited one. What the decision actually says is that a particular type of company (closely held corporations) is not required to provide a particular type of birth control (emergency or “Plan B” contraception), because insurance companies will provide it somehow or other, anyway.
A broader issue is how women have let the discussion about their health become entirely concerned with their sexual behavior and their reproductive capacity. Or how, in the name of feminism, we have turned off the thing that marks us biologically as women—our capacity to bear children. Or why we deem it so essential to make ourselves sexually available to all men at all times, thus freeing men from sexual responsibility and opening ourselves to the physical and emotional pain of repeated sexual encounters.
Let’s revisit the issue of “women’s health,” folks. And this time, let’s be honest about how a liberal ideology that hates life and wellness is dominating the discussion about women’s bodies.
Nicole M. King is the Managing Editor of The Family in America. This article was originally published in The Family in America, a MercatorNet partner site, and is republished with permission.