I know what my life would be like without contraception. If my fertility matched that of my mother, I would spend twenty-five years of my life constantly pregnant or nursing. Some people chose that life, but I don’t think it should be forced on anyone, and I know for sure it’s not what I want.
I grew up expecting to live that life, though. I grew up in an atmosphere where my worth as a woman ended up tied to how many children I would have. It wasn’t entirely intentional, it’s just that when you grow up hearing women continually praised for the number of children they have and child count becomes a status symbol, you really can’t help it. I expected to spend my life pregnant or nursing, changing diapers and wiping noses.
And then everything changed for me. As I rethought what I believed and what I wanted from life, I discovered that I could choose how many children I wanted to have and when to have them. I mean, I’d always known I could do that, but I finally came to see that as an actual option and to appreciate what it meant. Allowed to consider anything and everything, I realized that I didn’t want the huge family, didn’t want the constant pregnancies, didn’t want to stay at home. And thankfully, I didn’t have to.
And then the abortion wars spilled over into contraception. Suddenly, national political candidates can speak out against birth control and religious groups can push back against federal rules on providing contraception. How in the world did this happen? I feel like I child who just discovered a candy shop down the street to learn that it was closing. I feel like I was handed a wonderful gift, and then asked to give it back. I feel like discovered freedom just in time to learn that it was under threat.
Now all of this is a touch overly dramatic, I realize that. No one is actually talking about banning birth control (yet). But it’s because my feelings on this issue are so intense that watching what is occurring around us has been so difficult. I feel so passionate on this issue that I almost can’t argue straight with someone who disagrees with me, and that doesn’t usually happen with me. I feel this rage building up inside of me that I’m not sure what to do with.
I caught a snippet of a call-in show of some sort on our local NPR station in the car today. These women who were calling in were explaining that it’s a matter of religious freedom, that religious groups shouldn’t be forced to offer their employees health insurance that covers birth control, that this is one more step down the path of losing our religious liberties. They explained that the statistic that only 1% of women had never used contraception must be wrong because they and lots of people they knew hadn’t, and that what makes it so hard to just pay for birth control? It’s about the government dictating to the people, they said. And I sat there wondering. Where is the rage? Where are the women who understand the importance of birth control to female freedoms and equality? I turned off the radio, and I located the rage. It was inside me. I almost had to pull over.
First, the Catholic Church is very forthcoming in its belief that sex should not be detached from procreation, ever. They may be whining about religious liberties, but they’re against birth control because they think pregnancy should be a natural consequence of sex. Always.
Second, when birth control first became more available religious conservatives were against it because they believed that women’s place was in the home. Women who chose not to get pregnant were flouting their God-given calling. While they rarely use this language today, this thinking still lies dormant in the minds of many fundamentalists and evangelicals.
Third, this is not about religious liberties, it’s about pushing your religious beliefs on other people. During the civil rights movement, there were Christians who believed that God had ordered that the races remain separate from each other, and opposed desegregation on this religious basis. Did that give them a free pass? No. You can be personally against birth control, but you can’t use that belief to get in the way of someone else’s rights.
Fourth, birth control is, or should be, a right. Without birth control, women are faced with bearing a child every other year or so whether they like it or not. Pregnancy, childbirth, nursing, and child rearing are invasive, difficult, and expensive. Birth control gives women the ability to control their own lives, their own bodies. That’s sort of a basic right. Do people not realize that? (Actually, I don’t think I want to know the answer on this one.)
I have more to say on this issue, but I can’t say it right now. It’s just too much. I can’t listen, day in and day out, to politicians, facebook friends, and people on the radio pushing back against my right to choose if and when to become pregnant and bear children. It’s my body and my life, and I only just realized that. I don’t want to lose it.