Friday, February 23, 2024


A 2023 Heritage Society video clip on the subject of contraception was recirculating on social media in the wake of the Alabama Supreme Court's ruling on in vitro fertilization. Then Christopher Rufo entered the chat:

When Rufo publishes a fatwa, it usually means that whatever he's targeting will also be targeted by the entirety of the right. It's happened in the case of critical race theory, diversity programs at corporations and universities, and trans youth. So there's reason to worry.

But while Democratic politicians are usually too frightened to defend whatever (or whomever) Rufo and his allies are attacking, sex is an area where the public doesn't need to hear from Democratic politicans in order to recognize the threat. And it's not just young left-leaning people who think recreational sex is a good idea -- sex for pleasure has been enjoyed enthusiastically by their parents and grandparents, including many of the Republican ones. And remember, this is heterosexual sex we're talking about. Rufo and Heritage can't tap into homophobia and transphobia in this crusade.

Republicans don't have a good track record when they've tried to attack normie sexual behavior. In 1992, Vice President Dan Quayle delivered a speech in which he denounced a fictional TV character, Murphy Brown, for having a child out of wedlock. He'd said and done quite a few embarrassing things, but his laughingstock status was irreversible after that. A few years later, around the time Republicans were impeaching Bill Clinton, there was a drive to establish "covenant marriages" in the states; these marriages would be hard to terminate. The campaign foundered aftrer only three states made covenant marriages optional.

Some of the Heritage folks might be sincere about banning contraception, but I think Rufo is a cynic who doesn't really care about any of the issues on which he holds forth. If he's weighing in, I suspect he's trying to lay the groundwork for a future in which the right uses the Comstock Act to prevent the shipment of abortion pills. If they've got us talking about birth control bans, Rufo and his allies might hope that merely banning abortion pills will seem like a moderate position.

I also imagine they're planning to start blaming the real or imagined effects of abortion pills for social problems they don't want the government to address, the way right-wingers now routinely blame anti-depressants for school shootings. If there's a rise in poverty or teen pregnancy after an all-GOP government zeroes out federal funds for family planning, blame the Pill! It makes young women crazy!

And they might be trying to link this sex-should-have-consequences message to the "tradwife" movement, which denounces feminism and embraces women who stay at home and have lots of babies. This messaging also has links to the culture of incels, many of whom denounce the casual sex they're not getting to enjoy and dream of marrying virgins.

And, of course, Heritage and Rufo may see this as a long march: Maybe they'll be able to ban birth control someday, but it will take decades. (That means, of course, that it's a goal they can use in fundraising for decades.)

I think Republicans could very well manage to ban emergency contraception and IUDs, based on the argument that life begins at conception rather than implantation. But I don't see them successfully banning other forms of birth control right away -- it would be political suicide.

For the true believers, I suppose the argument that the chemicals in the Pill make women crazy can be used to attack implantable contraception, or the contraceptive foam used with diaphragms, but I don't see how it can be used to ban condoms. (We handed condoms out to GIs in World War II!)

But these folks are gearing up for a long battle. I don't think they'll win soon, but maybe they don't want to.

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