President Obama and the Democratic Party are reaping the benefits as well: Mr. Obama's approval rating among women has risen recently, in no small part as a result of the the sustained, misogynistic campaign against women's health. But even as the retrograde focus on an issue the rest of us considered settled decades ago makes the odds even likelier that President Obama serves another four years with a more Democratic 113th Congress, current messaging on the issue of contraceptives runs the risk of allowing future politicians with a more compromising nature to sacrifice women's interests at the altar of political expediency.
Despite Rush Limbaugh's campaign against what he possibly fantasized Sandra Fluke's personal life to be, it is very important to remember that none of her testimony centered around the primarily intended use of hormonal contraception—that is to say, pregnancy prevention. Instead, Ms. Fluke's testimony mainly centered around a friend who needed hormonal contraception as a method of controlling symptoms related to ovarian cysts. Similarly, a diarist on this blog wrote recently about a second victim of Limbaugh's hatred: her teenage daughter, who found vile notes in her locker from classmates influenced by his rantings because she was on birth control to control severe menorrhagia and dysmenorrhea. While these unfortunate examples prove the immorality and insanity of conservatism's assault on the contraceptive mandate, it is a double-edged sword.
If the defense of the contraceptive mandate, and of contraception in general, focuses heavily on its use for treatment of other medical conditions, it risks creating a bifurcation between uses that are "legitimate" for the purposes of an employer mandate—such as treatment of cysts or menorrhagia—and the use that is not: namely, allowing a woman to control her own fertility. While the comparison is not exact, it is similar to current framing on abortion: there is a distinction in the minds of the American public between abortions that are entirely elective and those that occur when the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest. Those who oppose abortion because they believe that life begins at conception should logically treat these situations equally, but a significant portion of the public believes that abortion should be legal only in those cases because the woman is not trying to escape consequences for behavior they perceive as immoral. We are at risk of a similar dichotomy regarding contraception: if this dynamic continues unabated, there could arise a narrative that use of contraception to treat conditions like those described above is tolerable because it is not the woman's fault, whereas use of contraception simply to prevent pregnancy is intended to allow a woman to get away with supposedly immoral behavior.
The only way to avoid this outcome for certain is to be unequivocal: a woman has the right to be able to control her own fertility. This is the main message. Examples of the other uses of contraception are very effective at showing the pathetic shortsightedness and tragic indifference of the right, but they cannot distract from the key prize: fighting for a woman's right to self-determination.