The Reactionaries Were Right!

When it comes to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate, progressives minimize the extent to which this is actually about a woman’s ability to have sex without pregnancy. Despite right-wing crowing about her sex life, Sandra Fluke’s congressional testimony was about the medical need for hormonal birth control—not her desire to enjoy sex without having to worry about pregnancy. The problem with this is that it obscures the extent to which recreational, non-procreative sex is as common as breathing in the United States, and reinforces the troublesome notion that there is something shameful about female sexuality.

Aside from the value that comes with affirming women’s autonomy, the upside to embracing sex in this fight is that it opens the door to stronger arguments for why the administration is right to mandate contraception coverage in insurance plans. At the New York Times, Annie Lowrey flags a study that shows contraception has been an unambiguous good for the economic advancement of women:

A study by Martha J. Bailey, Brad Hershbein and Amalia R. Miller helps assign a dollar value to those tectonic shifts. For instance, they show that young women who won access to the pill in the 1960s ended up earning an 8 percent premium on their hourly wages by age 50.

Such trends have helped narrow the earnings gap between men and women. Indeed, the paper suggests that the pill accounted for 30 percent – 30 percent! – of the convergence of men’s and women’s earnings from 1990 to 2000.

[T]he study also found that the pill had the greatest economic benefits for women with average IQ scores. “Almost all of the wage gains accrued to women in the middle of the IQ distribution,” the paper said. [Emphasis mine]

In the same way that slave owners were right to attack abolition as a direct pathway to social equality, “miscegenation,” and black political power, contemporary reactionaries are right to blame birth control for the transformation of women’s roles and the end of the traditional family. For those of us who embrace those changes, this fight is crucial. Put simply, anyone with a vested interest in the full advancement and economic participation of women should support this push to make contraception more widely available.