Six Congressional Races Where Birth Control Is Front and Center

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Six Congressional Races Where Birth Control Is Front and Center

Cristina Page

This year candidates who formerly fell victim to a caricature of being "pro-abortion" are returning fire. Some have turned the tables by exposing their opponents as not only anti-abortion, but, more radically, anti-contraception.

During the last two election cycles, the social policy agenda was
almost solely about "abortion-on-demand-and-gay-marriage" as if it were
one key on a political reporter’s keyboard. Charts in the mainstream
media comparing the positions of the candidates in 2004 did not include
a host of women’s rights issues, as had been the case in the 1990s.
Women’s rights issue were reduced to a single topic: abortion, as if
that was all women voters cared about.

This year, the picture is
changing. Yes, abortion is being discussed but along with it other
women’s issues are getting attention, like equal pay and a broader set
of reproductive health issues including birth control. For the first
time ever, sex education has gotten attention. In the wake of Bristol
Palin’s abstinence-only outcome, even the main-er than mainstream Parade magazine asked readers whether abstinence-only programs should continue.

year candidates who formerly fell victim to a caricature of being
"pro-abortion" or more likely pro-"abortion on demand" are returning
fire. Some have countered that their opponents are the true extremists.
They have turned the tables by exposing them as not only anti-abortion,
but, more radically, anti-contraception.

According to research done by Moving Forward,
the percentage of voters who are opposed to a host of issues being
hijacked by abortion including birth control, stem cell and sex
education are only 9% of the electorate. Polls taken by the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association
found that even 80% of self-described "pro-life" voters support access
to contraception. Opposition to contraception is the mark of extremism.
Yet, to appease their fundamentalist "pro-life" base that vehemently
opposes contraception, many elected officials Members of Congress have
voted against access to contraception.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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And so in 2008 pro-choice
candidates have begun to paint those who oppose contraception as
extremists. This election cycle marks the first time since the
legalization of contraception that access to birth control has become a
campaign issue. In tight races, the issue may prove decisive.

The following is a snapshot of how contraception is being used as an issue in House, Senate and Gubernatorial races.


has become an issue in the tight Markey-Musgrave race for Colorado 4th
district House seat in part because of Amendment 48. The proposed
amendment would alter the state constitution to grant fertilized eggs
equal rights, the same as a human being, and pave the way for a ban on
birth control as well as stem cell research, IVF and abortion. Democrat
Betsy Markey opposes the amendment as do many moderate "pro-lifers"
including Democrat Governor Bill Ritter. Republican Marilyn Musgrave is
a lead supporter of the ballot measure, along with many other anti-contraception ideologues.


a woman has a right to get her prescription for birth control filled
has become a campaign issue in the Washington gubernatorial race. The Seattle Times
reports that Republican challenger Dino Rossi opposes requiring
pharmacists to fill birth control prescriptions. Incumbent Democrat
Governor Christine Gregoire followed up with this ad:

In September, reported on how access to contraception
has become an issue in the 8th Congressional District Race in
Washington as well. Democratic candidate Darcy Burner organized and
submitted over 900 comments to the Department of Health and Human
Services on the proposed regulation that will allow health care workers
to deny women birth control. reported

campaign also tried to make a campaign issue out of the move [proposed
HHS regulation], saying in an accompanying release that [Republican
Dave] Reichert is "too extreme" on abortion issues for Washington
state… "The people of this district strongly oppose these proposed
restrictions on access to birth control, which are nothing more than
the President Bush’s parting gift to his social conservative base."
said Burner campaign spokesman Sandeep Kaushik. "So where does
Congressman Reichert stand on this issue? His track record is not
encouraging. He supports giving pharmacists the right to deny ‘birth
control’ to women, voted to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, is
rigidly anti-choice, and has a zero rating from women’s reproductive
rights groups. Congressman Reichert is too extreme for Washington State
on all of these issues. That is not a record the people of this
district will support."

Here is the ad Burner’s campaign ran against Reichert:

Recognizing how damaging the label "anti-contraception" could be,
Reichert’s campaign quickly worked to bolster his pro-contraception
credentials. Amanda Halligan, Reichert’s Communications Director, went
on the defensive pointing out Reichert was a cosponsor of H.R. 4054,
the Prevention Through Affordable Access Act which corrects the
escalating birth control prices at college health centers caused by the
2005 Deficit Reduction Act. Halligan stated,

Reichert is for women’s health. He also believes that women should have
access. This is being trumped up for political reasons and it speaks
volumes about their campaign and about Darcy Burner. They want to muddy
the waters. They reference the debate, but that is a different issue.
If they are talking about birth control, then he supports women’s
health and he wants to provide access to birth control."


In September, The Washington Post
reported that contraception had become an issue in Virginia’s 11th
House race between Democrat Gerry Connolly and Republican Keith Fimian.
The Post article quotes Connolly accusing his opponent of having
extreme views on birth control because he serves on the board of
Legatus, a foundation for Catholic Businessmen founded by Domino’s
Pizza mogul Tom Monaghan, a staunch opponent of contraception. In the
article Connolly is quoted as saying,

"Mr. Fimian’s
views on social issues are relevant because he has pretended in this
campaign to be a moderate in the mold of Tom Davis. Tom Davis is
pro-choice. Tom Davis is pro-stem cell research. And Tom Davis
certainly supports the availability of contraception in the United
States. My opponent belongs to an organization that opposes these
things. I assume when you belong to an organization, you subscribe to
the tenets of this organization. If he wants to disavow the tenets of
this organization, now’s the time to do it."

The Legatus mission
is to find "what ways can we as Apostles bring Christ into our
businesses." Political bloggers in Virginia picked up on the issue. The
blogger Left of the Hill
added a new wrinkle to the anti-contraception charges made against
Fimian, focusing on his days as a CEO. Left of the Hill wrote,

the health care plan offered to employees from the mid 1990’s to about
2003 of US Inspect and InVision Technologies (the companies that Keith
Fimian was CEO and Chairman of), it explicitly says that "oral
contraceptive[s] used for birth control" were not covered. This is
despite the fact that over twenty states have laws that basically say
oral contraceptives have to be covered if the plan covers other
prescriptions or outpatient procedures."

Connolly’s "Too Extreme" ad:

New Hampshire

In the New
Hampshire U.S. Senate race between Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and
Republican John Sununu, contraception has become a campaign issue as
well. NARAL Pro-Choice New Hampshire
has highlighted Sununu’s votes against contraception including voting
against funding international family planning programs and
contraceptive coverage for federal employees. Shaheen has used the
issue to portray Sununu as extreme.

(scroll forward to 1:24 to hear Candidate Jeanne Shaheen compare
herself and her opponent, John Sununu, on the issue of birth control.)


the OH-15 open House seat between Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy and
Republican Steve Stivers. Emily’s List, the national group that
supports pro-choice women candidates, highlighted Stivers’s opposition
to requiring insurers to cover contraception when he served as a state

Emily’s List writes,

true swing seat. This Columbus-area seat has been in GOP hands since
1967, and they won’t give it up without a fierce fight — especially in
a presidential year, when Ohio’s 20 electoral votes are up for grabs.
Republicans have coalesced behind Steve Stivers, a right-wing state
senator and former lobbyist for the banking industry. Stivers has
repeatedly opposed legislation to protect consumers, including efforts
to curb predatory lending. He has consistently earned "0" ratings from
Ohio NARAL and even worked against an amendment requiring insurance
companies to cover contraception."

New Jersey

race for NJ’s District 7 open House seat has also taken on the issue of
pharmacy refusals. Democrat Linda Stender has hit challenger Republican
Leonard Lance on voting against a bill, that Stender sponsored, that
would ensure women can fill birth control prescriptions at any pharmacy
in the state.

Democrat Josh Zeitz, the Democratic candidate in NJ’s 4th district is
challenging incumbent Republican Chris Smith, well-known for his
anti-contraception activities. In a campaign ad, Zeitz focused on
Smith’s opposition to contraception.

In a blog on the Huffington Post entitled "Rep. Chris Smith Wants to Criminalize the Birth Control Pill" Zeitz wrote,

twenty-two separate occasions, Chris Smith has introduced legislation
to criminalize the common, everyday birth control pill and IUD… I
believe that access to basic birth control and family planning services
is a fundamental right. By attempting to criminalize the pill, Chris
Smith’s policies increase the number of unintended pregnancies."

anti-contraception movement is well-funded and very active, as Birth
Control Watch documents. In the races reviewed above, the discussion of
social issues has expanded to include birth control, sex education,
stem cell and more; all the issues that get stalled in Congress once
the "abortion" label is applied. This is the first election year that a
candidate’s anti-contraception position has come under public scrutiny.
If birth control gets on the radar of our very pro-contraception
electorate, and some of the more extreme anti-abortion,
anti-contraception legislators are edited from Congress, "Prevention First"
policies should find a spot on the first 100 days agenda. Maybe it is
time to move from being just pro-choice to being pro-choices.