As women's health issues have dominated national media for the past few weeks, right-wing media figures have insisted that the current debate isn't about women's health, but is "a religious freedom issue," to quote Fox News' Gretchen Carlson. Carlson's comments came after the Obama administration had revised an earlier ruling that would have required some religiously affiliated schools and hospitals to cover employees' contraception costs; under the new rule, health insurers, not such religious institutions, would pay for contraception.
Now Fox figures are attacking another clarification of the rule issued on Friday, which stated that most colleges and universities must cover contraceptives, but that insurers will bear the costs for religious institutions. On the March 19 edition of Fox's America Live, Fox News contributor Sandy Rios was distraught over the ruling, shouting that it was “outrageous” for the administration to “make [universities] give these medications out to young girls.” She later called the policy “social engineering at its worst.”
Later, Rios attacked Title X, a federal program dedicated to family planning services. Rios was so “angry” about Title X that she claimed the “birth control” it provides once helped get a girl pregnant:
RIOS: For a long time, Title X has been giving birth control to minor girls without parental consent. This has been the law -- I've been angry about this for years. I know its effect. I know that there was a 14-year-old girl who got impregnated by her high school gym teacher in the Chicago suburbs because she got birth control from Title X.
Visibly baffled, Julie Roginsky, the Fox contributor opposite Rios, asked, “How did she get impregnated if she got birth control?” (Rios then walked back her comments: “No, she wasn't impregnated, I'm sorry. She was taking Depo-Provera.” )
It's not clear what Rios was referring to, but it is clear that Title X has helped provide critical health services to millions of American women.
A Guttmacher Policy Review article published in 2011 noted that “one-fourth of all poor women who obtain contraceptive services in the United States do so at a Title X-supported center.” It also noted that Title X-funded services “help[ed] almost a million low-income women to prevent unplanned births every year” and “conservatively” estimated that Title X centers “saved the federal government and the states $3.4 billion in costs that otherwise would have been borne by Medicaid for prenatal care, delivery and infant care.”
Yet provision of such health care seemed to be exactly what Rios was attacking. While guest host Martha MacCallum claimed that it's “not a question of whether or not, you know, women should use contraception ... it's whether or not it should be paid for or whether that is a personal responsibility issue,” Rios at one point said, “I do not want unlicensed, unbridled free sex foisted upon college girls at my tax dollar.”
And in response to Roginsky's assertion that one way “you prevent people from having abortion is by having them responsibly use birth control,” Rios said, “We're not so concerned about stopping abortions as we are the whole person of a girl -- her character, her mind, her physical body, the fact that she's not going to be used up by a hundred men before she gets married.”
As Roginsky pointed out, many users of birth control are “women that actually are married, in monogamous relationships” who “want to pick the time and place of their conception of their children.”
Meanwhile, MacCallum -- following her long tradition of spouting Republican talking points despite being a purported “straight news” anchor -- seemed to make it clear whose side of the debate she was on when she stated that pregnancy is “not a disease, as Sandy points out.”