Limbaugh aside, contraception remains a hot topic

Elaine Salisbury is appalled.

“These are things we marched for in the 1960s and ’70s,” the 65-year-old Everett woman said Monday.

Susan Ronken is surprised.

“I keep thinking, what year is it?” said the Stanwood woman, who is 30. “This debate makes you feel like you’re not a person. It’s backwards.”

Ken Dammand is unnerved.

“I’m worried about my country,” said Dammand, 63, a retired Everett fire captain. “They talk about small government, yet here they’re talking about controlling what goes on in people’s bedrooms. There are so many real problems that are very pressing.”

And U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen is amazed.

“It’s pretty amazing to me that it’s 2012 and we’re having this talk at all,” said Larsen, a Democrat who represents Washington’s 2nd Congressional District. “I’m amazed by it. My wife is amazed by it — more shocked,” Larsen said Monday during an informal meeting at Firewheel Books and Beans, an Everett coffee shop.

The topic? It was contraception — rather, attempts in Congress and in state legislatures to limit access to contraception.

From my fly-on-the-wall perspective Monday, it wasn’t hard to see that this debate goes way beyond Rush Limbaugh’s misogynistic slurs.

The bombastic radio personality recently called law student Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute” after she testified before Democrats in Congress in support of President Barack Obama’s mandate that would require private health insurance companies — not taxpayers — to pay for women’s birth control medicine.

It’s a hot-button subject here in Snohomish County, too, with women and men, adults of all ages.

“People who need these kinds of services are real people. I’m not some promiscuous woman,” said Christina Corvin, 24, of Marysville. “I save for six months so I can go to school. I’m a real person.”

The issue of birth control coverage arose in Congress with the so-called Blunt amendment.

According to The Washington Post, the amendment to a highway funding bill was proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, a Missouri Republican. The measure would have allowed not only religious groups but any employer with moral objections to opt out of the coverage requirement. It would have allowed employers to opt out not only for contraception, but for any health service required by the 2010 health-care law.

Larsen vowed Monday to “fight for the rights of everybody to preventative health care.”

While the Senate voted March 1 to kill the Blunt amendment, Larsen said it remains in the House as a resolution, H.R. 1179, which was introduced in 2011.

“There’s a lot of talk that the House will be taking that up in the next two weeks,” Larsen said. “Ideally, people should get the message to Congress not to bring it up at all.”

This year’s GOP presidential hopefuls are certainly bringing up the subject of birth control coverage. Rick Santorum has said he personally opposes contraception — which in a 2006 interview he called “harmful to women” and “harmful to our society” — but that birth control should be legal and available.

Still, the Pennsylvania Republican opposes government insurance mandates for contraception, calling his stance a matter of religious freedom. He and Mitt Romney, the front-runner in GOP primaries, have sparred over the issue.

At the Everett coffee shop, one person after another gave Larsen a piece of their mind on the matter.

Ronken, vice chairwoman of the Stanwood Democrats organization, said when she was in her 20s she was prescribed oral contraceptives for medical reasons, not for birth control. “You do what the doctor says. I didn’t have health insurance at the time. I found it at Planned Parenthood,” Ronken said.

“It’s mind-boggling to me that I should have to talk to anyone about this. It should be between me and my doctor,” said Amanda Reykdal, 25, of Everett.

Salisbury, who is old enough to be Reykdal’s grandmother, was active in the 1970s in the Zero Population Growth movement and with Planned Parenthood.

“It was about freedom of choice, whether people wanted to be parents or not,” Salisbury said. “It was nice to be involved in something that progressed to the point where we thought, ‘Oh, that cause has been successful.’ I equate what’s happening now with taking away people’s rights.”

Larsen listened.

“This is about the right for a woman to make decisions about her own self,” he said. “I’ll do what I can to stop the backsliding.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, muhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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