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Birth control isn’t about sex, Gov. Huckabee

Here we go again. On Thursday, another male politician revealed his utter ignorance about women’s reproductive health.

This time it was Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor (and 2008 presidential candidate) who is now employed as a Fox News host.

“Republicans don’t have a war on women,” Huckabee said Thursday at a meeting of the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C. “We’re having a war for women. To empower them to be something other than victims of their gender.

“If the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it,” he continued. “Let us take that discussion all across America, because women are far more than the Democrats have played them to be.”

Huckabee seems to be suggesting that a government that ensures women receive easy and inexpensive access to birth control is simply telling those women that they can’t control their libido.

But birth control isn’t about sex, Gov. Huckabee. It’s about women’s health.

Let me review (yet again) why:

The health risks of pregnancy

As I’ve noted in this column before, pregnancy and childbirth pose significant health risks for women — risks that underscore why women need to be able to control if and when they get pregnant. Each year, a staggering 52,000 women in the United States experience severe pregnancy-related medical complications, including cardiac arrest, kidney failure, aneurysms and respiratory distress, and, tragically, about 650 of those women die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

These risks are heightened for women with certain pre-existing conditions, such as heart malformations or clotting or bleeding disorders.

Politicians like Huckabee often like to talk about the exceptionalism of U.S. health care, yet giving birth is more dangerous for American women than for women living in 49 other countries.

Instead of trying to pass laws that would make it more difficult and expensive for women to get access to effective contraception, our politicians and policymakers should be increasing funding for programs that make pregnancy and childbirth safer.

Other health-related reasons

But birth control is prescribed for many medical reasons other than contraception, a fact that Huckabee’s comments seem to ignore. For example:

  • The use of combination birth control pills is associated with a decreased risk of endometrial and ovarian cancer — a benefit that appears to last for up to 20 years after women stop using the pills. Some evidence suggests that birth control pills also lower the risk of colorectal cancer. Women at high risk of these cancers may, therefore, benefit from taking these medications.
  • Various combination birth control pills are sometimes used to treat endometriosis, an often painful condition in which tissue normally found in the lining of the uterus grows in other parts of the pelvic cavity.
  • Birth control pills and birth-control implants have been shown to help relieve or reduce the symptoms of severe menstrual pain (dysmenorrhea). Such pain tends to be most prevalent among women in their teens and twenties, for whom it is the leading cause of missed school and work.
  • Different kinds of hormonal birth control are used to reduce abnormally heavy menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia). If untreated, such bleeding can lead to anemia.
  • Several combination birth control pills have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of acne. The pills help control the production of sebum, a natural skin oil that can clog pores and promote the growth of acne-triggering bacteria.
  • Combination birth control pills are also used to treat hirsutism, a condition in which women develop male-pattern hair growth on their face and body. Hirsutism is caused when “male” hormones called androgens reach higher-than-normal levels in women’s bodies. Birth control pills help treat the condition by blocking the production of androgens in the women’s ovaries.

The real issue

As I’ve also reported here before, a 2011 survey from the Guttmacher Institute found that 1.5 million American women rely on birth control pills solely for non-contraceptive purposes. And 58 percent of the women surveyed said they used the pills at least in part for reasons other than preventing pregnancy.

And here’s a statistic from that survey that may stun Huckabee and others who seem to view easy access to birth control as a “moral” issue: About 800,000 women in the United States who take oral contraceptives have never had sex. They’re using the pill mostly to treat acne or to control their menstrual periods and pain associated with those periods.

Government should ensure that women have easy and inexpensive access to birth control. It’s not about believing that women can’t control their libidos. It’s about believing that women deserve quality health care.

As I’ve said here many times before, it’s getting exceedingly tiresome to have to keep pointing this out.

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Comments (20)

  1. Submitted by Tom Christensen on 01/24/2014 - 10:38 am.

    Way to go GOP

    Stack all the GOP committees that are discussing women’s issues, with men. Then go about proving that you are totally ignorant on the subject. You can deny the war on women all you want, but that is exactly what you are waging, a war on women. You are definitely on the right track if you want to alienate women from the GOP. It you ever want to find out what the GOP is up to, just listen to them deny what they are doing, and that is exactly what they are doing. There is absolutely no reason for politicians to be guiding women’s issues. That is strictly between them and their doctors. You are doing nothing more than to try and get your personal beliefs to be their personal beliefs. Refer to Todd Akins if you want to know what the GOP knows about women’s issues. Alienate half the US population with your war on women and then hope to win elections. Another failed GOP project!

  2. Submitted by John Reinan on 01/24/2014 - 11:24 am.

    Sex is a normal, healthy part of adult life

    Your points on medical, non-sex-related uses for contraception are valid and of course should be part of the discussion. But let’s be real: Opposition to contraception largely stems from a fundamental belief that sex is only about procreation. In this view, if you have sex, you must be ready to have a child be the outcome.

    I think the vast majority of U.S. adults are very happy for the means to have sex without introducing a child into the world.

  3. Submitted by James Hamilton on 01/24/2014 - 12:07 pm.

    Rational arguments

    are of little use against irrational beliefs.

    So long as there are those who believe in the existence of a soul and the connection of that soul to a single cell, there will be those who believe contraception is evil. There also will always be those who will seize upon such beliefs for political gain.

  4. Submitted by Elsa Mack on 01/24/2014 - 12:11 pm.


    While I understand the spirit of articles like this which attempt to argue that contraceptive medicines are about non-sex-related health issues, the truth is, for many if not most women who take birth control, it is about sex. But there is absolutely nothing wrong with having sex. Many women who use birth control to prevent pregnancy are married or in stable relationships. They’re not out-of-control sluts, but normal, practical people who want to have normal romantic relationships without becoming pregnant. And I have a feeling–granted, I haven’t researched the question–most people would agree that a sexless marriage (at least for most couples young enough for pregnancy) is not a good or stable one.

    Huckabee’s statement implies that the only moral way to prevent pregnancy is to refrain from sex, and that women who do have sex are women who can’t control themselves. That’s what’s so enormously offensive about it.

  5. Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/24/2014 - 01:35 pm.


    Ms. Mack, you say I’m a slut like it’s a bad thing.

    Jokes aside, we need to get away from words that define women having sex as being bad. “She’s a slut,” “they can’t control their libido,” and “good girls don’t do that sort of thing.”

    And of course there’s the double standard that if a man goes out and gets a little tail then he’s a stud. Women instead get slut shamed for having a little fun in the sun.

    Let’s just all agree that sex is fun–we evolved that way and should enjoy it. What goes on between two consenting adults shouldn’t be of any concern to anyone else, let alone politicians and TV pundits.

    • Submitted by Elsa Mack on 01/24/2014 - 09:03 pm.


      Yes–I should clarify that actually, IMO, if a woman wants to have a fling or play the field a little, that’s her prerogative and nobody’s business but her own. The “out-of-control slut” phrase was more how I perceive Huckabee to portray women who have sex.

  6. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 01/24/2014 - 01:36 pm.


    Mr. Huckabee’s comments don’t just *seem* to ignore the non-sexual reasons for taking contraceptives, they *do* ignore them. That’s because Mr. Huckabee and his ideological cohorts have a difficult time thinking of women in non-sexual-object terms. It’s a common mind set among religious fundamentalists. Further – as Elsa Mack points out – sexual relations are generally a part of a normal, healthy relationship, and Mr. Huckabee, along with people in his ideological camp, are terrified of female sexuality. In that regard, Mr. Huckabee and his ideological allies have much in common with other patriarchal individuals and societies. Even a cursory glance at the Middle East will show some of the less-savory ways by which some individuals and societies respond to the very idea that women might even *have* a libido that’s not dependent upon a husband.

    Birth control is not exclusively about sex, but it often is about sex nonetheless, and Mr. Huckabee’s inability to deal with the notion that it might have something to do with *both* sexuality *and* women’s health doesn’t for a minute negate its importance to women. Mostly, Mr. Huckabee has provided us with yet another example of the “conservative” fear of women controlling their own bodies, including their own sexuality as well as reproductive health.

  7. Submitted by Don Berryman on 01/24/2014 - 04:21 pm.

    If you are “pro-life” …

    You should also be pro sex education and contracetive health care.
    The best way to cut down on the number of abortions is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

  8. Submitted by Lorraine Dame on 01/24/2014 - 04:06 pm.

    Mike Huckabee “We’re having a war for women..”

    Will the war be televised on CNN? Which women are they fighting over, those without much libido? That doesn’t bode well for the future of the GoP. It’s a good thing, as he indicates, that there is government help for women to control their libido. Perhaps when the war is won, those women can get some government help for their low libidos.

  9. Submitted by jody rooney on 01/24/2014 - 04:32 pm.

    How about making it simple

    women get to vote on the men that should be sterilized.

    I suppose I might be premature saying that Mr. Huckabee might win that election.

  10. Submitted by jason myron on 01/24/2014 - 05:30 pm.

    If Ol’ Huck were smart…

    he’d arrange to have his picture placed on condom packages. The scourge of unwanted pregnancies and sex for fun might be wiped out overnight. In fact…now I can’t get that libido-killing image out of my head. Sorry everyone….forget I was even here.

  11. Submitted by Moira Heffron on 01/24/2014 - 09:43 pm.


    has gone ’round the bend. Others here have pointed out the problems with his statement on access to contraception. However, “To empower them to be something other than victims of their gender” is sticking in my craw…a lot. I infer that women are victims of our gender unless the GOP empowers us. Really?! To turn the inclusion of contraception in ordinary healthcare into Uncle Sugar is offensive. To state that women are “victims of their gender” is beyond offensive and is delusional.

  12. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 01/27/2014 - 08:25 am.

    The health risks of pregnancy

    “… including cardiac arrest, kidney failure, aneurysms and respiratory distress, and, tragically, about 650 of those women die.” “… risks are heightened for women with certain pre-existing conditions, such as heart malformations or clotting or bleeding disorders.”

    It seems to me that faced with such risks from engaging in a purely voluntary activity, the prudent woman would simply abstain from sex. I know that’s considered impossible in this dysfunctional society, but it is possible if a person really believed their life was in danger. Men do it all the time.

    • Submitted by Bruce Johnson on 01/27/2014 - 12:10 pm.

      Wow. Zero Population Growth advocate?

    • Submitted by jason myron on 01/27/2014 - 09:54 pm.

      “the prudent woman would simply abstain from sex.”

      or, that same prudent woman could just go ahead, live her own life and protect herself from pregnancy while ignoring the judgement and antiquated morality of old men…many of which have had a hard time themselves keeping their own pants zipped.

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/29/2014 - 04:56 pm.


      With that logic we should all just stop driving because it entails an increased risk of being injured or killed in an auto accident.

      And conservatives wonder why people think they’re around the bend batty.

  13. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 01/27/2014 - 08:37 am.


    Those silly conservatives…when will they learn that birth control isn’t about sex, and if you do get pregnant, the thing growing in you isn’t a baby, right?

    • Submitted by Todd Hintz on 01/30/2014 - 07:20 pm.


      Your snarky comment assumes that birth control is only about sex and has no other applications.

      In the future please make an effort to increase your level of logic and civil discourse.

  14. Submitted by Jim Boulay on 01/27/2014 - 10:17 am.

    Would love a follow up with Huck

    Susan, I would love to hear a follow up with Huck outlining the points you make here about all the other medical reasons for using birth control. I have a feeling the Huck would take all of your examples and say that birth control is still not the answer because all of these other medical conditions are God’s punishment for Eve eating the apple in the garden of Eden. I’m guessing that he wouldn’t have compassion for women with any of these conditions and that women should just suck it up and accept the pain that God has leveled on them for being descendants of Eve!

    That is where this whole argument starts. Biblical literalists blame women for dragging men down from their former role as immortal equals with God. I think Huck will have a lot to answer when he goes to meet God and SHE will ask him to explain himself and his lack of compassion for women!

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