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Lee-Anne Goodman is the White House correspondent for The Canadian Press.


As a woman living in the United States ó a mother, a sister, a daughter, a niece, an aunt and a friend to many women ó I donít know if Iíve ever missed Canada as much as I do at this moment in time.

From where Iím sitting right now, Canada glitters like a magical wonderland to the north, a place where your prescribed contraception is paid for regardless of what some Catholics might think. And no one calls you a slut for it.

The fallout from the Great Contraception Debate is raging on, brought to you initially by the Republican party as it ostensibly fought to protect religious liberties from the Obama administration, and then kicked up several million notches by conservative blowhard Rush Limbaugh.

On what planet is a private citizen testifying before Congress about a friendís need for contraception to control a painful health issue deemed a "slut" and a "prostitute" who wants to be paid to have sex? The mind boggles, but to be honest, Limbaughís slander of Sandra Fluke is simply the loudest and most audacious to be directed at women.

Itís the litany of far subtler ones, from supposedly educated and reasonable people, that are almost more disturbing. The other night, I watched Fluke get drawn into a debate with CNN political contributor Will Cain about access to birth control. Cain pointed out, correctly, that no one is seeking to outlaw contraception outright, and chided Fluke for suggesting access to birth control would be cut off if Republicans had their way in Congress.

Fluke pointed out, also correctly, that limiting access to birth control is one way to prevent women from using contraceptives, adding that making birth control prohibitively expensive for women essentially denies them access.

And Cain went there, just as Limbaugh did in his infamous non-apology to Fluke. He equated contraception to a gym membership. "But Sandra, couldnít that same logic be applied to so many other things that health care doesnít cover, such as gym memberships?" Cain said. "Exercise is important to health but thatís not covered by health care insurance."

Itís an argument Iíve seen put forth all over the place in recent weeks ó in the comment sections of newspapers, on blogs and current affairs shows, from the mouths of politicians and pundits.

Unsurprisingly, most of them have been men.Yup, itís 2012, and it appears some American men remain completely clueless about why many women opt for hormonal birth control to begin with.

My friend Catherine is a lawyer in New York who makes a good annual salary. But she needs to be on oral contraceptives for severe health issues related to her period that erode her productivity, her attendance at work and her quality of life. Her doctor wants her to try an ultra-low dose pill to combat the mood swings she suffers on higher-dosage pills. The co-payment is $85 a month.

"I can afford it," she told me, "but if itís not an inconsequential amount to me, itís certainly prohibitive if you make less or have more financial responsibilities; children, for example. Itís just insane."

In my own sphere of friends and relatives, Iíd estimate half of them are on oral contraceptives to control health problems ranging from debilitatingly painful periods to fibroids and ovarian cysts. One of them has avoided a hysterectomy at a young age thanks to the pill.

Birth control is a medical necessity for them ó not a gym membership. You canít afford to join the gym in the U.S.? You put on your Nikes and you go for a run. You canít afford the birth control pill? You have no other options if you are taking it for health reasons.

The Obama administrationís contraception policies, in fact, are even less onerous than how it works in the Canadian system. Despite the argument by Limbaugh and others that women expect taxpayers to "pay them" to have sex, no tax dollars are involved. Women and their employers pay their own money to private insurance companies, and in return, expect their medical needs to be met.

And from a purely economical standpoint, womenís health makes sense for everyone. Women make up almost half the workforce in the United States. They also bear the children. They have every right to whatever medication deemed necessary to not only prevent unwanted pregnancies ó and potential abortions, too ó but also to ensure they remain fully functioning employees who can support their families.

Itís 2012 and some Americans still donít get this or, worse, still believe any woman having sex and hoping to be responsible about it is a slut. It all makes Canada look like a wondrous utopia by comparison, robocall scandal and all.

( lgoodman@herald.ca)

Lee-Anne Goodman is the White House correspondent for The Canadian Press.
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