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May 7, 2006



(slightly more legible view)

It’s a clever photo-illustration on the cover of this morning’s NYT Mag.  But is the magazine lending inordinate visual — as well as political and intellectual — weight to the radical fundies?

The thesis of the article, Contra-Contraception, is that the conservative tide has become so swollen (the author’s metaphor) that basic contraception itself could be legally at-risk.  Does fashioning an argument against condom use on its package, however, basically reinforce the idea the product is on its last line of defense?

The article offers up more images of contraceptives, as well, including a supply of birth control pills, a diaphragm and the morning-after pill (here indelicately captioned “The Abortion Pill.”).  Remote in presentation, these items look like artifacts noted in textbooks.  (Hopefully, not history books.)

These days, when life meets “culture of life” in the media sphere, there seems no end to the reframing of visual language in the name of Victorian fundamentalist hysteria.  Although less noticeable somehow, the same can also be applied to visual objects.

However, does the “swell” have that much influence now that it can subject the most common contraception methods to ideological review, and convert the most basic articles of birth control into cultural red flags and abstracted political specimens?

(photomontqge: Tom Schierlitz.  lettering: Project Projects.  NYT Magazine.  May 7, 2006.  Cover)

  • hauksdottir

    Hurrah for the red, white, and blue!
    Soon, making babies will be regarded as patriotic because we will need the cannon fodder for the New American Century’s endless WAR. Not making babies will be regarded as putting self before country, and a childless woman will be shamed if not forcibly impregnated by warriors for the glorious Fatherland.
    Hysteria? Right. A woman’s weakness. Men can’t get hysterical. They can’t get pregnant, either, which entitles them to sit in judgement upon a woman’s prone body.
    If you look at the survey of states, the last bastion of Bush supporters is Utah… land of the baby-makers.

  • itwasnt me

    Well, I have to disagree with you here, BAG. I like the “sterility” of these images. They are the plain items that people (most often women BTW) deal with every day. The images are practical, factual, as is the person buying and using them. I like that the images aren’t softened by showing a lovely young woman (never over 25 and perhaps with tits emphasized) or by showing us some coy couple. I agree that the images are forcing the issue, but I think that is the point, visually asking “Here it is. Where do you stand?”

  • JRH

    I don’t understand the criticism at all, although it is a smart essay. I just don’t see the complaint.

  • crikkett

    itwasntme said, ‘tits’

  • crikkett

    Seriously, though. I agree w/ itwasnt me.
    The condom’s warning label especially begs the question, “Here it is, where do you stand?”
    One can be sure when this item is implemented, the parties involved aren’t thinking first about their civil rights. I think it’s clever for the artist to link the two so intimately.
    Perhaps the sterility of the other images begs the viewer to consider the issue objectively.
    Criminalizing these toiletries is like criminalizing razor blades or tampons to dissuade me from wanting to wear revealing clothing.
    Thanks, Mr. Bag, for yet another provocative post.

  • bg

    New proposed legislation headed through the US Senate will permit insurance companies to decide whether or if to cover the cost of contraceptives for women.
    This was a battle that was fought and won in the past, these companies had to be FORCED by law to provide contraceptives to women as part of their coverage.
    I am not sure how many people are aware of this movement, but I hope entirely in line with what I suppose this article is doing: that is educating lots of people about the current insurance changes proposed by the right.
    More information:
    You may have heard about this “Lose Your Benefits Bill” before,
    but now it has passed out of committee and the full Senate will
    vote on it. It’s an insidious attempt by hardline senators to
    chip away at our basic rights. These lawmakers have tried before
    to restrict access to birth control and other health care you
    need. Their latest strategy? Force women to pay for these
    benefits out of pocket.
    We’ve worked for decades to pass state laws that require
    insurance companies to cover birth control just like other
    medicines. This bill would trample those laws, but it doesn’t
    stop there. Besides fair coverage for contraception, here are
    some of the other benefits that women could lose:
    <> cancer screenings
    <> mammograms
    <> maternity care
    <> the ability to go straight to your OB/GYN when you have a
    <> the ability to stay with the same doctor throughout a
    <> infertility treatment
    <> osteoporosis screenings
    And it’s not just women who will be affected — the bill guts
    state protections for coverage for prostate cancer screenings,
    ambulatory surgery, emergency services, and more. To make
    matters worse, it will likely also increase the costs of health
    insurance for older and sicker people who need health insurance
    Please take two minutes to speak out against this dangerous bill
    – the Senate could vote as early as this week.
    Contact your senator now:

  • black dog barking

    (Didn’t read the article but …) I see this not as a sign of strength but as raw desperation, panic as the perception of strength drains away. If the argument is that the Religious Right have been so successful they can now take on fundamental biology, stop. What success? Iraq? Schiavo? Clean government? Competent government? Safe hunting practice?
    This is Change The Subject. The South Dakota abortion law is the Massachusetts gay marriage of 2006. A distraction from the ubiquity of failure, an attempt to divert attention to an area where (lack of) competence is not a factor (at least not obviously). Note they stake out a position contra a force as powerful to human bodies as gravity to celestial bodies. Consistent.

  • ummabdulla

    First of all, it never ceases to amaze me that so any Americans don’t have health coverage, and that it’s never really become an issue. Certainly a woman should be allowed to go straight to her OB/GYN, since many women have no other doctor anyway, and certainly she should be able to stay with her doctor thoughout her pregnancy.
    I was surprised to find out that in Kuwait, anyone can walk into a pharmacy and buy birth control pills, no questions asked. It’s a society where sex outside of marriage is prohibited, and couples want to have children, but most of the women I know use the pill to plan their pregnancies. (I don’t have statistics, but most of the women I know have 4 or 5 children, and typically like to have a child every 3 years or so. Their mothers had many more children). As far as I know, even the strict Saudi scholars consider contraception to be allowed; it’s not something associated with sexual promiscuity. Abortion is illegal unless the mother’s life is in danger, in which case her life takes priority over the unborn baby’s; I’ve never herad anyone who wants to make it legal otherwise.
    I don’t understand the intricacies of what these contraceptives do, but it seems clear that the morning-after pill is meant to be an “abortifacent” – that’s what women want it for, isn’t it?

  • jenny

    michael — that photo is of the abortion pill — mifepristone. the “morning after pill” is something entirely different (levonorgestrel). mife induces an abortion; the morning after pill prevents pregnancy, if taken as directed.

  • Cactus

    ummabdulla, you are correct about RU-486, but (while the ‘morning after’ pill’ has to be taken within 3 days) it can be taken up to 49 days. For which I can see two advantages. It takes some women time to deal with a rape and still take action. And, why take such a high dose of chemicals if one is not pregnant? While I can’t vouch for the numbers (heard this on c-span) about 25,000 babies are born each year in this country as a result of a rape. One wonders what happens when these babies start to grow up and look like the rapist.
    Another scandal is the vaccine for cervical cancer, which is deliberately being held up at the FDA by fundamentalists because this cancer is frequently caused by HPV, a sexually transmitted disease. This religiosity is causing the deaths of a lot of women, the sterility of many young women, but at least they are preventing girls from having sex. Whew! One wonders when women will wake up and realize that a war is being fought using their bodies as the fodder.
    The BAG correctly called this attitude victorian (please don’t blame the puritans for this). The victorian “naughty-naughty/sneaky-peeky” neocons are on the attack against healthy human sexuality, not just contraception. That’s just the first step. Meanwhile, if one investigates the personal lives of these wingnuts you will find some truly twisted and bizarre stuff. For a good take on what they’re up to, go to Hullabaloo and scroll down to the post dated: tristero 5/06/2006 06:28:00 AM (the title is too scatological to post here).
    Apparently these victorian neocons have the same disdain for children as the victorians, too. “No child left behind” is honored only by the jokes about it, which turn out not to be so funny for the children left to fall out of school into the military. Are they so busy protecting the fetus that they can’t be bothered with the child?
    Okay, rant over.
    I don’t see NYT entirely at fault, here. While I didn’t read the entire, lengthy, article, it seemed fairly straight-forward and the photos were pretty clinical. In fact, it seemed to be a warning to those who care and the red condom package was a good way to get someone’s attention. Especially, I would think, the young folk who will be around to pay the price of this folly.

  • Marysz

    The photographs fetishize the birth control aids, the same way the evangelicals seem to fetishize any sex not intended for procreation. I guess that’s how they can so easily embrace high-tech fertility treatments, despite being so weirdly reactionary in most other ways. I was struck by the photo of the condom. Usually, it seems that the evangelicals go after birth control that women use, while leaving men free to buy a condom if they need one. The movement to ban birth control really is about demonizing and trying to “control’ women’s sexuality.
    Speaking of fetishism, the NYTimes Magazine seems to be developing its own fetishistic relationship with the far right (I’m thinking of their grovelling Santorum article). I wish they’d get over it.

  • fidelio

    Just picking on the Yin-Yang like presentation of the medicine seen in the morning after pill picture? Is the narrative established by the pic trying to counter the religious right by raising the notion of birth control as a non-Western, and therefore “other” therapy?

  • momly

    Digby at Hullabaloo has a must read article about this very topic. WARNING: frequent use of the f word! For those of you who object to the word, you’ve been warned. But go over there anyway!

  • Jolyon

    HPV and cervical cancer. This is screened for all women in UK, however we now know that 100% is caused by certain HPV strains and incidence is related to number and variety of sexual partners. Yet if the smear shows presence of veneral diseases the patient is not told. Why?
    Medics say the screen is for Cervical cancer. Practically no medic wants to tell Mrs Jones who has only had one sexual partner and she has chlamydia / clap etc.,
    Recent surveys showed that UK women undertaking the test had never heard of HPV never mind knowing it is a sexually transmitted infection .. even female to female.
    As for the morning after pill … yes it is an abortifacient, that is why women self dose it. They don’t take it to ensure pregnancy. Let’s be plain about it.

  • readytoblowagasket

    Jolyon said: “As for the morning after pill . . . yes it is an abortifacient, that is why women self dose it. They don’t take it to ensure pregnancy. Let’s be plain about it.”
    Actually, you’re wrong. The morning after pill is not an abortifacient according to the scientific and medical community. That’s because fertilization of an egg alone is not “pregnancy.”
    “Physicians conclude that the morning after pill and the IUD are not abortifacients. They do not induce abortions, but rather prevent pregnancy from developing.”
    You can read more at and

  • Dayv

    Pharyngula has an excellent post about the “morning after pill” and why it is absolutely *not* abortion here:

  • readytoblowagasket

    Cactus said: “One wonders when women will wake up and realize that a war is being fought using their bodies as the fodder.”
    I’m wondering when *men* are going wake up and take action on behalf of their lovers, partners, mistresses, wives, and especially, daughters, nieces, granddaughters, and unrelated strangers. Or, like birth control itself, is it ultimately up to the women to handle?
    Both sexes need to read this article beginning to end and stop thinking of it as someone else’s problem.

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