Just as the discussion about Rush Limbaugh’s attack on Sandra Fluke was beginning to get stale, along comes Michele Bachmann with a comment that is sure to keep the birth-control conversation in the headlines.
Bachmann has a long, rich history of making claims with absolutely no basis in reality, and on Wednesday, she said on Glenn Beck’s online show Real News From the Blaze that the Obama administration’s requirement that insurance companies cover contraception could start the government down the path to a one-child policy. Citing Kathleen Sebelius’ comment that supporting contraceptive use is a good policy, since unwanted pregnancies cost much more money than preventive measures, Bachmann took Obama’s rule to its pseudo-logical conclusion:
Going with that logic, according to our own health and human services secretary, it isn’t far-fetched to think that the president of the United States could say, we need to save health care expenses—the federal government will only pay for one baby to be born in the hospital per family, or two babies to be born per family.
It’s easy to dismiss Bachmann as a wing-nut who intentionally says provocative things to stay in the limelight, just as it’s easy to dismiss Limbaugh on those same terms. But Bachmann’s statements, like Limbaugh’s, reveal underlying attitudes that are helpful for progressives to understand.
Two things strike me about Bachmann’s absurd statement that requiring insurance companies to cover contraception leads us down a slippery slope toward forced population control. The first is that (regardless of whether she actually believes this particular claim) Bachmann sees every single aspect of Obama’s health care plan as a step toward a totalitarian state that involves itself in intimate health care decisions according to arbitrary whims. What’s ironic about this belief is that our current system—one in which profit-seeking entities control who gets health care when, where, and how—is far more concerned with cost-cutting measures and far more arbitrary in its decision-making than a single-payer system would be. Conservatives like to stoke fears that Obama’s health care plan (and the universal health care system that liberals hope one day to see) will “ration” health care, but a private-insurance-based system already rations health care—only insurance companies’ primary motivating factor is the bottom line, not individuals’ well-being.
The second striking thing about the one-child-policy claim is that Bachmann—like many, many social conservatives—fundamentally misunderstands the pro-choice position. Bachmann thinks that because liberals want women to have easy, cheap access to medication and services that prevent unwanted pregnancies, they want all women to access these medications and services to prevent all pregnancies. This is why anti-choicers frequently mischaracterize the liberal position as “pro-abortion” rather than “pro-choice.” It’s projection bias: They think that because they don’t want women to have a choice about whether they carry pregnancies to term, liberals don’t want women to have that choice, either. Of course, this is bollocks: The whole point of the liberal position on abortion is that women should have the freedom to choose when and how they reproduce, and that the state should stay out of it.
And most people—with the exception of the most rabid anti-choice provocateurs—understand that, regardless of their own personal feelings about abortion. Bachmann may think she’s being politically savvy by grossly mischaracterizing liberal positions on reproductive health. But she’s really illustrating—as did Limbaugh’s “slut” kerfuffle—just how much distance there is between the far right and the mainstream.