Contraception foes share bizarre theories, intimate lives at House hearing

(Photo/SarahConsolacion, Flickr)
(Photo/SarahConsolacion, Flickr)

During a hearing Monday on the Birth Control Protection Act, five anti-contraception witnesses spoke out as state House Health and Human Services Committee Chairman Jim Reisberg (D-Greeley) tried in vain to keep the hearing room focused on the bill at hand.

Eventually and apologetically, Reisburg succumbed to the committee members’ subtle urging to shut down rambling filibusters and indelicate public disclosures about their personal sexual histories.

State Rep. Anne McGihon and State Sen. Betty Boyd, both Denver Democrats, crafted SB 225 to thwart future legal or constitutional challenges similar to Amendment 48 — the failed 2008 ballot measure that sought to grant constitutional rights to fertilized eggs. The bill would codify “contraception or a contraceptive device as a medically acceptable drug, device, or procedure used to prevent pregnancy.” The duo reasons that having a clear-cut definition that complements current state law defining pregnancy will eliminate a debate over whether contraception induces abortions.

McGihon set the tone, stating straightaway that “this bill is not about abortion” to hearing-room skeptics who believe contraception causes the miscarriage of fertilized eggs.

And, apparently, not only human eggs.

Secondary-school student Samantha Cole urged that oral contraceptives be banned entirely because women taking birth control pills excrete hormones into the wastewater system, which pollutes the watershed, creating intersex fish that are unable to reproduce.

The teenager contrasted the estrogen and progestin found in birth control pills (among many other U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs and products) with the risks of known-carcinogens and neurotoxins such as dioxin, DDT-based pesticides, asbestos, secondhand smoke, and mercury-based vaccines, among other hair-raising health threats.

Cole warned the committee to work toward “getting rid of the poisons in birth control pills or we can all just stop eating fish and drinking water.”

Fort Collins emergency physician Dr. Matt Lutrell rejects the standard medical and scientific determinations of pregnancy at implantation as “a false premise.” Instead, he echoed the conservative Christian interpretation that pregnancy begins at conception — arguments also made in the previous Senate debate that birth control pills are abortifacient.

But what stood out was his off-kilter phrasing of a pre-implantation zygote in terms more reminiscent of a fund-raising plea for a homeless shelter: “All that this new human life needs is a place to live and food to eat.”

Denver lawyer and Catholic antiabortion activist Rebecca Messall, an associate with the GOP power firm Hackstaff Gessler LLC, launched into the abortifacient argument, as well, despite the earlier admonishment of Lutrell by Reisberg for straying off-topic. Messall claimed that pharmaceutical lobbyists conspired with lawmakers to set the “arbitrary date of implantation” as the definition of pregnancy as a defensive tactic to avoid lawsuits for causing abortions in the years before the landmark Roe v. Wade case decriminalized the procedure.

Yet, Reisberg would later have his biggest challenge of the afternoon with the remaining opposition witnesses, who shared highly intimate details of their lives to the obvious discomfort of the committee and gallery.

One witness questioned why the bill didn’t emphasize sexual abstinence after relating her experience on birth control pills and injectable contraceptives beginning at age 11. The young woman told of a difficult home life marred by early sexual activity and teen pregnancy as she sought out “male approval” to replace an absent father.

Vivian Cole also lambasted the committee over the lack of support for abstinence-only education until Reisberg warned her to stick to the bill’s topic. She chose to end her testimony.

Natural family-planning advocates Pete and Marguerite Gormley went into deep detail about their fertility issues and how contraception could have destroyed their marriage. Marguerite Gormley, who counts Archbishop Charles J. Chaput as her hero on Facebook, told the committee, “I had been duped into believing that the pill was helping me [for painful menstrual cycles] for close to 10 years. … Being on birth control never triggered those discussions in our marriage,” she said blaming the convenience of the pill for the delay in starting her family.

Pete Gormley claimed, without any substantiation, that family-planning classes taught him that birth control is not healthy for women and doesn’t constitute medicine. “I never once even considered looking into it and learning what the drug was doing to my wife’s body and potentially to her fertility,” said Gormley, a pharmaceutical chemist by trade and the father of four boys.

Only Evergreen Rep. Cheri Gerou attempted to mount serious opposition by the committee by asking clarifying questions of the witnesses to draw out alternative arguments about contraception conscience clauses and abstinence as a legally defined contraception method. Unlike her GOP Senate colleagues Kevin Lundberg and Ted Harvey, she didn’t mention abortion or conception.

The committee broke on a 6-4 party line vote after McGihon amended the bill to reflect the updated Senate version to exclude emergency contraception from the definition, since it is addressed elsewhere in the state revised code. Affirming the bill was McGihon and Democratic Reps. Reisberg, Sara Gagliardi of Arvada, Gwyn Green of Golden, John Kefalas of Fort Collins and Dianne Primavera of Broomfield. The panel’s Republicans — Reps. Gerou, Jim Kerr of Littleton, B. J. Nikkel of Berthoud, and Spencer Swalm of Centennial — voted no. Aurora Republican Cindy Acree was absent.

The bill moves to the full House for a first reading debate.

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