Kansas Lawmaker Equates Contraceptives with Eugenics

So, this happened:

A member of the Kansas Senate compared long-term contraceptives to fascist eugenics during a debate Monday.

Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook, R-Shawnee, opposed an amendment that would have instructed the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to contract with family planning providers to offer long-acting reversible contraceptives, similar to a Colorado initiative that reduced teen pregnancy rates.

“I think it’s government treading on very dangerous territory,” Pilcher-Cook said. “Because government should not be in the authoritative position of being discriminatory by promoting contraception. These long-acting contraceptions are being recommended by HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services) to target the poor and minority populations. And in the ’30s and ’40s, our country firmly and finally rejected eugenics. Let’s not bring it back.”

In considering an amendment that would have offered state funding for longterm contraceptives like implants and IUDs, Mary Pilcher-Cook, an anti-abortion state senator in Kansas, argued that the program would “target the poor and minority populations” and is therefore comparable to eugenics as practiced in Nazi Germany.

Here’s a bit more background:

The Kansas Senate has rejected a proposal for encouraging the state to provide long-acting birth control to poor residents after a Republican member likened it to the discredited 20th Century eugenics movement that sought to control who could have children.

Democratic Sen. Marci Francisco of Lawrence offered the proposal Thursday as an amendment to a bill that would permanently block the state from sending federal family planning dollars for non-abortion services to Planned Parenthood. Her amendment failed on a voice vote.

In other words, the Kansas legislature is currently in the process of limiting poor women’s contraceptive access by depriving Planned Parenthood of federal money for contraceptives. The remark about eugenics came after a pro-choice lawmaker proposed an amendment that would have provided state funding for longterm birth control for poor Kansans, likely as an attempt to mitigate the effects of the bill. It was at this point that Pilcher-Cook evoked eugenics.

Pincher-Cook seems to have been arguing that because the funding for longterm contraceptives would have been for poor women only, the measure amounted to eugenics. Let’s take a moment to consider why she would think that. Is it because middle and upper class white women don’t use contraceptives? No. It’s because middle and upper class white women already have access to these contraceptives through their insurance and through their regular doctor. Poor and minority women often don’t have insurance, or have subpar insurance, or don’t have regular doctors.

Indeed, Pilcher-Cook suggested that a program to provide longterm contraceptives to poor and minority women would be “discriminatory” when in fact it would be the opposite—it would break down the barriers to longterm contraceptives currently faced by poor and minority women and not by other women. Providing poor and minority women with services other women already have is not discriminatory. And frankly, providing contraceptive access in a way that is wholly voluntary and not in any way coercive is by definition not eugenics.

And just what is the Colorado initiative that was similar? Oh look:

Over the past six years, Colorado has conducted one of the largest experiments with long-acting birth control. If teenagers and poor women were offered free intrauterine devices and implants that prevent pregnancy for years, state officials asked, would those women choose them?

They did in a big way, and the results were startling. The birthrate among teenagers across the state plunged by 40 percent from 2009 to 2013, while their rate of abortions fell by 42 percent, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

It turns out that when they have the option, many teenage girls opt for longterm contraceptives, and the results are predictable—declines in unplanned pregnancies and abortions. Note that no one is forcing these women to access the longterm contraceptives they’re being offered. It’s their free choice.

See also this article from 2014, discussing another study:

The new study, conducted at Washington University in St. Louis, involved teenagers at high risk for unintended pregnancy because they were sexually active or were planning to be within six months. About 18 percent had had an abortion, and 60 percent were using no birth control or using withdrawal or condoms — all methods with failure rates of more than 15 percent, said an author of the study, Dr. Jeffrey Peipert, an obstetrics and gynecology professor.

Dr. Peipert said that because long-acting contraceptives have failure rates of less than 1 percent, they were discussed with teenagers before enrolling and as the first options listed. As further encouragement, the clinic could usually put in the implants or IUDs right away.

The yearly pregnancy rate in the study was 34 per 1,000 teenagers, and the abortion rate was 9.7 per 1,000. Pregnancy and abortion rates for sexually experienced teenagers nationally were far higher — 158.5 and 41.5 in 2008. For all teenagers, the pregnancy and abortion rates were 57.4 and 14.7 in 2010.

Pilcher-Cook needs to be honest about what she’s opposing. She’s opposing access to contraceptives, not eugenics. If she doesn’t want poor and minority women to have access to longterm contraceptives—the most effective form we have—she needs to come out and say that. Instead, she’s cloaking her opposition to giving poor women the same access to contraceptives that other women already have in an assumed opposition to eugenics.

The best way to repudiate eugenics is to empower poor women to make their own choices. Pilcher-Cook does the opposite. She’s not opposing eugenics so much as she is using the rhetoric of opposition to eugenics to deprive women of exactly what eugenics sought to deprive them of—the freedom to make their own choices.

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