N.Y. Times Magazine Unloads on Conservative 'War on Contraceptives'

The liberal media are nothing if not militantly in favor of sex, and everything that enables it to be more frequent and fearless. Sunday’s cover story in the New York Times Magazine was a panicked take on "The War on Contraception." The title inside was "Contra-Contraception." The cover showed an enlarged picture of a mocked-up condom wrapper, which said:

If used properly, this latex condom (or for that matter, any other form of birth control, especially the morning-after pill) will anger a great many people – people who believe that having sex without the intent to procreate is a very, very bad thing. Any contraceptive highly effective against pregnancy – that is, unwanted pregnancy, otherwise, why use it? – is precisely the problem, even though there might be fewer abortions if those having sex with no intention to procreate used a contraceptive.

Underneath that, a white warning label, all in capital letters:

CAUTION: THESE AFOREMENTIONED PEOPLE ARE FIGHTING QUIETLY BUT FORCEFULLY TO MAKE A NUMBER OF FORMS OF BIRTH CONTROL HARDER AND HARDER TO OBTAIN. EVERYWHERE.

(Already, the Times magazine is mischaracterizing Catholic teaching on birth control – its teaching on natural family planning obviously allows married couples the option of "sex without the intent to procreate.")

With this editorial firmly in place on the cover, could the article be this relentlessly biased? In some ways, yes. Contributing writer Russell Shorto can be most quickly assessed by a rundown of the 21 ideological labels used in the piece for conservatives:

Conservative 9

Social conservative 7

Christian right/Christian conservative/conservative Christian 3

On the right 2

Reactionaries 1

It should be noted that the last label was sort of attributed, as in the Democrats hoped to propose legislation designed to "brand" conservatives as "reactionaries." But the word did not appear in quotes. Shorto had no liberal labels in the piece, despite the mention of the following liberal/leftist political actors:

American Civil Liberties Union

United Nations HIV-AIDS program in Africa

Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)

Alan Guttmacher Institute (an arm of Planned Parenthood)

Sen. Hillary Clinton

Sen. Patty Murray

Sen. Olympia Snowe

Rep. Henry Waxman

Rep. Carolyn Maloney

Sen. Harry Reid (overgenerously described as an "anti-abortion Democrat")

Pollsters for NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government

It should be noted an L-word surfaces once: Shorto, in one passage allowing that "those who work in the public health field acknowledge that the social conservatives have a point," quotes Sarah Brown, president of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, saying, "I think the left missed something in the last couple of decades...With the advent of oral contraception, I think there was this great sense that we had a solution to problem of unintended pregnancy." (Italics mine.) Oddly, Shorto, despite Brown identifying herself with the left, says Brown’s group "positions itself as a moderate voice in the heated world of reproductive politics."

Isn’t it funny that Shorto describes the debate as "heated," but only one side is seen as ideological? He clearly projects secular liberal arrogance in that one side is religious, conservative, emotional, and anti-sex. The other is projected as serious, scientific, modern, and pro-sex. In one passage on the Food and Drug Administration’s delaying approval of the "emergency contraceptive" Plan B, Shorto explained: "Democrats in Congress asked for an investigation into what they felt was politics – the anti-birth-control agenda of the politically powerful Christian right – trumping science."

Another typical way Shorto telegraphed the usual New York Times sympathies was in his predictably application of the "antis." There were four uses of "anti-birth-control," one "anti-contraceptive," three "anti-abortion," and one generic "against," as in:

"As with other efforts – against gay marriage, stem cell research, cloning, assisted suicide – the anti-birth-control campaign isn’t centralized: it seems rather to be part of the evolution of the conservative movement."

That’s not counting the one mention of "abortion foes" and the credit line for Shorto in the magazine, in which the editors explain he has "written for the magazine about the anti-gay-marriage movement and religion in the workplace."

The other way Shorto telegraphs the worldview of the distasteful side of the debate are the many routine references to the Roman Catholic Church and "biblically-based" evangelical Christians, without any mention of the religious/anti-religious beliefs of the opposing side. Instead, Shorto used terms for the liberals like these:

-- Important international health experts

-- a group that supports abortion rights

-- an advocate for birth control and sex education for decades

-- Reproductive and women’s health professionals

-- one of the world’s leading experts on contraception

And so on, and so on. Religious people were almost murderous in their sexually repressive urges: "Important international health experts say the Bush administration has used the government’s program for AIDS relief to transmit its abstinence message overseas, de-emphasizing condoms and jeopardizing the health of large numbers of people, especially in Africa."

One final quibble with the editors of the Times magazine: this article is a sprawling mess in its meandering topics, from contraceptives to "emergency contraceptives" to abstinence programs to the RU-486 abortion drug-cocktail (is this "birth control"?)

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis