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Contraception: A Hill Worth Dying On!

February 20, AD2014


Is contraception “a hill worth dying on”? asks Austin Ruse, one of the Catholic Church in America’s most sage, most lucid commentators.

There is no question that the Catholic politician is duty bound to limit and then to stop legal abortion. After all, abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. Protecting the innocent from abortion is not a uniquely Catholic matter. Is contraception the same as abortion, or is it more like divorce, a fundamental Catholic teaching but one that we do not seek to impose on others[?]. We may seek to convince others but we do not seek to impose it on them through public policy.

There are good public health reasons to be against contraception. Hormonal birth control pills can cause cancer, for instance. And this is a very important point to make when we properly try to undermine public confidence in contraceptives. But this is not a Catholic reason to vote against them …. We do not see any great Catholic campaigns against smoking and smoking probably causes more cancer than the pill. [Bold font mine.—ASL]

Ruse warns us, “Abortion advocates everywhere are eager to use contraceptives as a cudgel to beat us with and they would love nothing more than for us to actually fight on that ground.” Indeed, the vast majority of Catholic Americans, both men and women, have registered dissent on this teaching, if on no other. Seemingly, to be against contraception is equivalent to being a Holocaust denier or a proponent of the flat-Earth theory. After all, according to Angela Bonavoglia anyway, “every major health organization maintains that [contraception] is crucial [to] the health of mothers and babies”; whether or not that statement is true, it’s certainly part of the mythos of the sexual revolution that women need access to birth control and abortion for their health.

(A myth, Michael F. Flynn reminds us, is “an organizing story by which a culture explains itself to itself”. In this sense, a myth is not necessarily false or fictional in its details; modern histories fulfill this function as well as did the tales of the Celtic bard or the Norse forteller. The major difference between, say, Herodotus or Suetonius — or even Homer — and the late Stephen Ambrose is footnotes: history is story at its very core … the tale we tell about us.)

Ruse’s comments come in the context of a couple of specific fights, in which open opposition to the sale of contraceptives is playing a role. However, to speak of “a hill worth dying on” is to speak of the contraception issue as if it were extractable from the rest of our fights.

Without the contraceptive mindset — without the contraceptive mythos — abortion would have little attraction. There would be no tolerant “mushy middle” willing to give abortion legal shelter. Moreover, when Senate feminists spun opposition to the HHS mandate into a “war against women”, they foreclosed any possibility that the issue could be settled on First Amendment grounds alone. Our right to make business decisions according to our religious beliefs ought not to be determined by the reasonableness of those beliefs … but, given the judiciary’s propensity to engage in social transformation at the expense of the Constitution, it very likely will be determined by how well we make the anti-contraceptive case.

In other words, Ruse’s argument is an application of the old saying, “Choose your battles wisely.” However, you don’t always have a choice. Sometimes the battle chooses you. I don’t believe the argument over contraception can be fended off for much longer.

Contraception Reality Checks

First, as Dr. Dominic Pedulla pointed out last year, contraceptive use drives the demand for and acceptance of abortion. Women who contracept are more likely to declare unintended pregnancies “unwanted”, for which an abortion rationale has long been hammered into place: “Every child a wanted child.” As transparently, stupidly facile as the rationale is (and Leila Miller has almost too much fun shredding it), some people still think death is more merciful than life.

Second, contraception is the wedge that psychologically separates sex from both reproduction and marriage. Here I’m not just thinking about abortion, but also the fight against same-sex marriage. Sex, reproduction, and marriage form a kind of iron triangle which is at the heart of the family; sex in its unitive function creating the marriage bond, while in its procreative function bringing children into being, who are then raised to adulthood within the stable framework of the marriage.

Contraception frustrates both the unitive and procreative elements of sex; because couples no longer marry for the sake of children, they no longer stay together for the sake of the children.   Like “no-fault divorce”, contraception provides a kind of “exit strategy” (divorce is easier when children aren’t involved), the very existence of which prevents full commitment to the endurance of the union. And because contraception functionally renders the marriage sterile, the argument against same-sex “marriage” loses traction in its presence: again, marriage is no longer “about” having kids, so the inability to reproduce no longer matters.

Third, contraception is not demonstrably necessary for women’s equality. It never was. Over the last fifty years, a significant body of law and jurisprudence has developed to insure that pregnant women, mothers and single mothers can’t be reasonably denied any civil or political right; none of it is predicated on “reproductive rights” save in the right of women to keep and bear children. In that time, mothers both single and married have risen to hold some of the highest posts in both the corporate and government sectors.

Contraception Is a Necessity?

Contraception as necessary to women’s equality has been the centerpiece trope of the feminist movement for most of that half-century. However, never to my knowledge has anyone notably called  for a litmus test on the assertion. It is past time we demanded evidence of this assertion. It is now time for us to put it to bed, along with all the other fake facts of the “war on women”.

There are more reasons why contraception needs to be questioned in the public square. (If I haven’t mentioned them, it’s because I have a 1,200 word limit to observe.) You don’t have to look far to find information on the health risks associated with most contraceptive aids; and I’m almost sure someone will have commented on it vis-à-vis women’s traditional “gatekeeper” role in sexual relations.

My point here is that the Obama Administration’s attempt to force people to subsidize free contraceptives against their beliefs through the HHS mandate has put us in the position where we must defend those beliefs. The best defense, of course, is a good offense. The limelight gives us an unprecedented opportunity to expose the fallacies and lies of the contraceptive mythos.

Is contraception a hill worth dying on?

I’m sure no one in the 101st Airborne thought the little town of Bastogne was worth dying at for its own sake. However, Bastogne was the town the Germans had to take, and therefore, Bastogne was the town the Screaming Eagles had to hold. And hold it they did – against all reasonable odds.

Whether or not we can win the fight, that’s where the fight is. So let us march to the sound of the guns without hesitation.

© 2014. Anthony S. Layne. All rights reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Born in Albuquerque, N. Mex., and raised in Omaha, Nebr., Anthony S. Layne served briefly in the U.S. Marine Corps, and attended the University of Nebraska at Omaha as a sociology major while holding a variety of jobs. Tony was a "C-and-E Catholic" until, while defending the Faith during the scandals of 2002, he discovered the beauty of Catholic orthodoxy. He currently lives in Denton, Texas, works in the home-mortgage industry in Dallas, participates in his parish's Knights of Columbus council, and bowls poorly on Sunday nights. Along with Catholic Stand, he also contributes to New Evangelization Monthly and occasionally writes for his own blogs, Outside the Asylum and The Impractical Catholic.

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  • Christian LeBlanc

    Contraception undergirds the entire malaise of the West.

    • james

      Adam and Eve’s fig leaves belie all sexual dysfunction.

  • Camila

    Interesting article.

  • BobL

    Anthony, there is a difference between the 101st defending Bastogne and the contraction debate. For the Screaming Eagles, as soon as the objective was defined, they defended it at all costs. With regard to contraception, the battle for the hearts and minds of the American politicians was lost many years ago when the Catholic bishops made a political decision to separate it from the abortion debate. We can’t turn back the clock and undo it. So many times taking no stand on a particular policy issue is, in fact, taking a stand. The silence on the contraceptive issue for many years was a loud and clear statement that cannot be undone regardless of what is truly right and wrong.

    • The funny thing about politicians is that they die or retire and a new generation replaces them. Really, Bob, this is almost the flip side of the argument that crops up as “wrong side of history”, “can’t put the clock back”, “putting the toothpaste back in the tube” and so forth — the assumption that history only goes in one direction, that its course can’t be changed and therefore there’s no reason to try. No, you can’t “undo” the past; but that fact by itself doesn’t mean you can’t influence the shape of the future. Finally, I tend to agree with G. K. Chesterton’s paradox that hope is most necessary when there appears to be no rational grounds for hope.

  • james

    Unfortunately, once you win the contraception battle you will run into the immovable
    object / irresistible force wall of pre marital sex – and that is one hill you probably will
    never take especially when science creates a non invasive 100% safe way to determine fertility. Just ‘don’t do it’ can never work because there are too many success stories.

    • One battle at a time.

    • james

      It’s the war that can’t be won.

    • In that case, I don’t know what war you’re thinking of. If you’re thinking the war against evil, the war doesn’t end until the world ends … at which point, my faith informs me, it becomes clear that it was already won with Christ’s victory over death; we’re just involved in a very, very long mopup.

    • james

      The war against pre marital sex ( If this is the evil you are refering to ) can not be won. Not enough ammunition,
      needless collateral damage all over a Genesis guilt trip
      over sex.

    • “A Genesis guilt trip over sex”? Boy, you really need to junk whatever “fact sheet” you’re using. It’s horribly outdated and badly misinformed.

      The issue of premarital sex is a complex one and deserves more space than I can give it in a combox thread that’s already too long with quick quips. For now I’ll content myself with saying that the modern sexual ethic has traded old wives’ tales for pop psychology and science of dubious rigor. Yes, some people will continue to have premarital sex, just as some people will continue to do hard drugs and some people will continue to commit murder. And it will always be a question of prudential judgment as to just how far we want to go to limit it — do we really want to create THAT intrusive a government? But it doesn’t follow that we’ll never change some hearts and minds into refraining from sin voluntarily. Wherever that happens, that’s a victory for Christ. Pax tecum.

    • james

      Well stated Anthony

    • David

      thing should be to focus on “married Catholics” attending Mass. They should be
      hearing about why the Church Teaches what it does, and why, and they’re not. My
      wife and I went off contraception over 18 years ago, never had heard a sermon
      then, and we still have not heard one. Widespread divorce, abortion,
      pre-marital sex and now same sex marriage. What is it going to take to get
      Bishops, Priests and Deacons to be willing to die to themselves and tell the truth?