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Contraception: A Hill Worth Dying On!

February 20, AD2014 14 Comments


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 as an insurance agent and in-home caregiver, participates in his parish's Knights of Columbus council and as a Minister to the Sick, 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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