Opinion

Ellen Goodman

Assault on reproductive rights

GOP is going beyond fighting Roe v. Wade to target contraception

CHRISTOPHE VORLET FOR THE BOSTON GLOBE

MAYBE SIRI was being an alarmist. When I asked my BFF, the talking virtual assistant behind my new iPhone 4s, where I could find birth control, she answered, “I didn’t find any birth control clinics.’’

This response wasn’t nearly as chilling as the one she uttered last fall when, as a neophyte, Siri was asked to find an abortion clinic and pointed to an anti-abortion “crisis pregnancy center.’’ Nevertheless, in this charged atmosphere, she gave me a digital pause.

Tomorrow marks the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that supported a woman’s right to abortion. On Monday, the usual anti-Roe marchers will assemble in D.C., where they will measure their momentum.

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But the big news this year is that we’ve run the reel right past the 1973 Roe decision on abortion. Next up for debate is the 1965 decision of Griswold v. Connecticut. This ruling made contraception legal by overturning laws that could send you to prison for giving birth control to married couples.

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Remember when the right edge of the Republican spectrum was Barry Goldwater, a Planned Parenthood supporter, even a fanboy? Now the GOP is a wholly owned subsidiary of the right-to-life movement with the last men standing for president outbidding each other in promises to smack down Roe. And they’re even getting a little squishy on birth control.

I used to think that reproductive rights leaders were either hyperbolic or hyperventilating when they claimed that pro-life politics were targeting contraception. It was only the frayed fringe of the movement who equated birth control - “The Pill Kills’’ - with abortion or with sex run amok. But an attack that was once, um, inconceivable, is now gestating in the public square.

In politics, Rick Santorum was the test tube candidate for this anxiety. Last summer the would-be president said, “Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s OK, contraception is OK. It’s not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.’’ For this, he won over folks like the Duggar family, stars of the TLC reality show “19 Kids and Counting.’’

In Iowa, nearly all the candidates pledged to support the Personhood Amendment, which undermines IUDs, emergency contraception, and the pill. Mitt Romney stopped one waffle short of agreeing. In New Hampshire, a GOP presidential debate featured candidates weaseling away from talking about the right to privacy that undergirds Griswold. And, by the way, Romney’s platform boasts that he’ll eliminate Title X family planning programs.

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Without Title X, the Guttmacher Institute’s research says, the number of abortions would be two-thirds higher. Question to Siri: “Are these people crazy?’’ Answer: “I don’t know what you mean by ‘Are these people crazy?’ ’’

Right-wing politics is one thing, but the idea that contraception is now controversial has crept into the mainstream and even its once-liberal rivulets. Consider what happened in health care reform. There was a knock-down argument last summer about making insurers cover birth control under the Affordable Care Act. Despite the Fox commentator who compared covering contraception with covering pedicures, the administration made this mandatory. The uterus was recognized as a legitimate piece of anatomy.

But in short order, the White House got embroiled in an issue over a “conscience clause.’’ Could religious institutions - including colleges, nonprofits, even hospitals - get an exemption from paying for birth control for their employees on moral grounds? If a corporation is a person, is a hospital a worshipper? Some 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use contraception, but it was only yesterday that the Obama administration, after months of hand-wringing, said religious employers were not exempt.

Meanwhile, the FDA said it was safe to sell emergency contraception - the “morning after pill’’ - without age restrictions over the counter. But the administration overruled it on the grounds that some imaginary 11-year-old might not read the directions right. The White House redefined a socially conservative choice: Contraception as controversy.

No one is reaching into your medicine cabinet tonight to confiscate the pill case. You don’t attack this head-on. You follow the 39-year-old pro-life script: chip away at access, hack away at funding, raise anxiety about sexual morals, argue about the legal precedent, and make politicians more afraid of the angry minority than the incredulous majority. Step by step you make a certainty - family planning - into a subject for debate. What happens next?

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Question for my virtual assistant: “Siri, am I paranoid?’’ Answer: “I would prefer not to say.’’ Thanks hon. And let’s keep in touch.

Ellen Goodman is a former Globe columnist.