Information access is key to sexual and reproductive health.
The World Health Organization (WHO) affirms that sexual and reproductive health is fundamental to the overall health and well-being of individuals, couples and families. In order to achieve this type of well-being, people need to have access to “comprehensive, good-quality information about sex and sexuality,” including knowledge about risks they may face. Indeed, information — or lack thereof — is a central component in how we make decisions about our most personal choices.
However, the Religious Right fuels attacks on reproductive health through disinformation. Here are just a few examples:
• Muzzling of comprehensive sex education. Sex education is tantamount to information access about sexual and reproductive health. According to the Guttmacher Institute, this should include human development, relationships, communication, sexual behavior, sexual health, and cultural representations of sexuality and gender. Additionally, this curriculum should be medically accurate, LGBTQ inclusive and culturally and age appropriate. However, the reality of sex education in the United States is very different. For example, only 18 states require that program content be medically accurate and only three states prohibit the program from promoting religion. And despite its ineffectiveness, a whopping 28 states require that abstinence be stressed and 19 states emphasize sex after marriage.
• Limiting information on contraception and sterilization. Access to information on contraception and sterilization lets people make decisions that are best for themselves. The Religious Right has equated contraceptives to abortions. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor in a case against a contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act, in which Hobby Lobby inaccurately claimed several forms of contraception were abortifacients. Religious extremists have called birth control “immoral” and have introduced legislation that bars public funding for “destruction of, or prevents the implantation of a fertilized ovum.” This is not medically accurate and is blatant disinformation. In reality, contraceptives not only help prevent unwanted pregnancies, but also can help individuals with acne and endometriosis and alleviate menstrual cramps.
Sterilization (tubal ligations) is one of the most commonly requested birth control procedures and permanently prevents pregnancy. However, Catholic hospitals, which follow religious directives, do not permit sterilization — even in cases where it is in the patient’s best medical interest. This is a problem for people who are low-income, since Catholic hospitals are dominant in urban and rural areas. In Wisconsin, Catholic hospitals account for one-third of all hospitals, and most people are unaware of their religious directives. In fact, research has found that most Catholic hospitals don’t disclose religious care restrictions.
• Spreading disinformation via Crisis Pregnancy Centers. These fake pregnancy clinics masquerade as legitimate clinics, often using tax dollars to intimidate women into foregoing an abortion. In a new study conducted by The Alliance, a collaboration of five regional women’s rights advocacy centers, Crisis Pregnancy Centers outpace abortion providers by three to one nationally. In some states, this disproportion increases to 11 to one. In fact, The Alliance found that in 1978 there were 2,749 abortion facilities in the United States. In 2020, that number dropped to only 780, while Crisis Pregnancy Centers have risen to a horrifying 2,527.
• Escalating abortion disinformation. And as we await the Supreme Court’s ruling on the future of abortion in the United States, disinformation abounds. To begin with, 27 states require doctors to provide information about the supposed risks of abortion. Much of this is medically inaccurate with false claims, such as abortion reversal procedures or links between abortion and breast cancer. These are not backed up by science, which has repeatedly found abortion to be safe, effective and resulting in no psychological or physical harm. Furthermore, abortion reversals have not been rigorously tested. In fact, an abortion reversal study was cancelled after participants ended up in the emergency rooms.
Secularism values evidence and facts — not lies and propaganda. Reproductive rights require medical-based legislation. Freethinkers must stand up for the facts when faced with disinformation.