OP-ED: Conservatives should push for access to contraceptives

Photo courtesy GabiSanda on Pixabay.

This opinion-editorial was written by Evan Steckler, a senior in architectural engineering. If you would like to write an op-ed with the Collegian, send us an email at opinion@kstatecollegian.com to get started.

“I know the influence of womanhood will guard the home, which is the citadel of the nation. I know it will be a protector of childhood, I know it will be on the side of humanity. I welcome it as a great instrument of mercy and a mighty agency of peace. I want every woman to vote.”

President Calvin Coolidge, the often-overlooked, soft-spoken Bay Stater who presided over the roaring twenties, spoke those words in his acceptance speech for the 1924 Republican presidential nomination. Four years after congressional Republicans pushed through the 19th Amendment, which expanded suffrage to women, Coolidge was still tooting the same horn he had been since 1907: Women had always played an irreplaceable role in the formation and maintenance of our republic. It was past time for them to gain access to the ballot box.

While Coolidge’s decades-long campaign for expanded rights for women came amid a national movement for the cause, his public views were an exciting change of pace from the White House. Indeed, vehement support for women’s suffrage wasn’t the only issue on which Coolidge stood out. He also held progressive opinions on black Americans, Japanese Americans and Native Americans.

Like every president, Coolidge had his flaws, including his advocacy for a protectionist trade policy and his anti-immigration stances. However, his record on what at the time would’ve been considered progressive issues is impeccable. Indeed, when a group of women’s rights supporters asked him for more action, Coolidge responded with his famous brevity:

“Why not?”

What motivates a Republican man of Coolidge’s era to hold such values? I’ve even used the term “progressive” to describe his positions. But, progress toward what? Calvin Coolidge was a staunch advocate for lower taxes, decreased economic regulation and tighter federal budgets. He was indeed a conservative. I argue that Coolidge sought progress toward a fuller realization of America’s founding ideals.

Quite famously, the Founding Fathers professed the equality of humankind while the government they ultimately established severely limited the right to vote and allowed slavery. These more-than-unfortunate realities are likely attributable to the political circumstances of the colonies – it’s unlikely that a constitution which explicitly prohibited slavery would’ve been ratified. Consequently, the American experiment has largely been an exercise in slowly but surely marching toward a concrete realization of the high-flying rhetoric of equality and liberty espoused by the Founders. Sometimes this march requires radical progressivism. Other times it requires restraint. It always requires conservatism.

We must conserve those things which are good about our republic, and our policy must aim to fulfill and conserve the bold idea that “all men are created equal,” as proposed in the Declaration of Independence 242 years ago. Calvin Coolidge expressed this sentiment well in saying that “American ideals do not require to be changed so much as they require to be understood and applied.”

So, what’s the lesson for us? In the spirit of Calvin Coolidge, I’d like to see the Republican Party and the conservative movement embrace those seemingly progressive measures that advance our society and conserve liberty. Why?

“Why not?”

Take contraception, for example. In most states, including Kansas, women seeking hormonal birth control pills must first see a physician, who must prescribe the medication. Then, you must head to a pharmacy and pick it up. This is unnecessary, and conservatives ought to fight for a better option: over-the-counter hormonal birth control medication.

Several states, including the conservative strongholds of Utah, Idaho and Tennessee, have already taken such action. Beyond that, more than 100 countries already allow pharmacists to prescribe contraceptives over the counter. This is not to say that what’s popular is always best, however. There are several benefits to over-the-counter birth control.

Firstly, doctors visits take time and cost money. While everyone should, of their own volition, visit a physician on a regular basis, removing one step in the process of obtaining contraceptives, and the fees associated with it, will improve accessibility for working women.

Secondly, improving birth control accessibility is a promising, if small, step toward ending the practice of abortion in the United States. Although many Americans have no moral qualm with abortion, few honestly believe that abortion is an inherently good thing. It’s not ridiculous to assume that nearly all women who choose abortion would have rather not been confronted with the choice in the first place. In a perilously and seemingly irreversibly over-sexualized society, making it easier to prevent the circumstances that lead to abortion with birth control may even be more effective than touting the very real merits of abstinence when no one seems to be listening.

Thirdly, hormonal birth control medication has, time and time again, been proven to be safe. Most pills threaten fewer dangerous side effects than aspirin or acetaminophen, and the pharmaceutical industry is continuously improving the pills’ effectiveness and safety. Six years ago, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists officially endorsed over-the-counter birth control pills.

Finally, and most basically, women deserve access to safe contraception that more closely matches the access men have to condoms. It’s true that pills and condoms are vastly different, and they should certainly be treated differently. I’m not proposing that birth control pills be available for purchase at coin-operated machines mounted on the walls of dirty gas station restrooms, but we have a very real opportunity to safely and smartly let women make more of their own health care decisions. “Why not” make the most of it?

In Coolidge’s words, “What men owe to the love and help of good women can never be told.” In the era of the “war on women,” it’s time for the Republican Party, especially in Kansas, to embrace its rich history of waging the war for women and their rights. It’s time for conservatives to get back to the basics and push forward in earnest as America, God willing, continues its march towards liberty and equality. To accomplish this, women need men. Even more than that, men need women. I think Calvin Coolidge would agree.

Evan Steckler is a senior in architectural engineering and president of the College Republicans at Kansas State. The views and opinions expressed in this letter are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Collegian. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.