The War on Contraception

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.

There are a few things that people need to remember.

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.

  • Happiestsadist

    Amazing post.

  • niftyatheist

    Very well stated! I feel exactly the same way – exactly! Even down to not being able to listen/read about it much more because I am so enraged by these developments.
    I am past the age when it can affect me directly, but I have two daughters in their twenties and this matter very much to me for their sakes, and for the sake of every other young woman out there like yourself.

  • http://banana-slug.blogspot.com round guy

    Great post.
    I am male (and an escapee from the evangelical world).
    This issue angers me incredibly. Access to birth control should be considered a fundamental right. Without it women cannot be truly free to live their lives as they choose (which is, of course, why people are fighting so hard against it).

    That we are still having this conversation as a society is pretty depressing.

  • Caravelle

    This kind of analysis reminds me of an old post by the Prairie Muffin at Buried Treasure :

    http://buriedtreasurebooks.com/weblog/?p=2481

    “But I think that the acceptance of abortion can trace its foundations more to Rosie the Riveter than to Roe v. Wade, which was only the culmination of independent roots that finally blossomed into wholesale slaughter of innocent children.”

    At the time I’d never seen this portrayal of abortion as inextricable from women’s rights… from the other side.

  • Sean

    About your first point – “the Catholic Church is very forthcoming in its belief that sex should not be detached from procreation, ever” – that’s simply not the case. The Humanae Vitae is actually OK with sex for pleasure, with the big restriction on the whole ‘need to be married to have sex’ thing. It is specific that sex must “retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life”, however every sperm is not as sacred as Palin and Jones want you to think…

    I was unaware of this until my last roommate came back from the pre-marriage-in-the-Catholic-Church indoctrination where sex was a major topic.

    Just remember, it’s the Bishops, not the run of the mill adherents that you have to be worried about…

    • CrowsSong

      @#5 Sean

      I don’t know how you can make that assertion when you immediately contradict yourself with this:

      “It is specific that sex must “retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life”

      I don’t think anyone is claiming the the Catholic church denies that sex is pleasurable. The argument being had is that procreation needs to be tied to it at all times. If marriage was the only issue, there would be no church opposition to condoms, birth control pill, etc.

      • Sean

        But isn’t limited to… forgot to add that bit. Makes a world of difference.

      • Libby Anne

        Can you point me to where the Catholic Catechism says that? Because if you look at CC 2366 (click here), you’ll find the opposite:

        Fecundity is a gift, an end of marriage, for conjugal love naturally tends to be fruitful. A child does not come from outside as something added on to the mutual love of the spouses, but springs from the very heart of that mutual giving, as its fruit and fulfillment. So the Church, which is “on the side of life,” teaches that “it is necessary that each and every marriage act remain ordered per se to the procreation of human life.” “This particular doctrine, expounded on numerous occasions by the Magisterium, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act.”

      • CrowsSong

        Again, then where does the opposition to birth control and condoms regardless of marital status come from?

    • Libby Anne

      If you read the Catholic Catechism, it says that sex has two purposes – marital union and procreation – but that these two purposes must never be separated. This is why the are against birth control – it takes away the procreative purpose of sex, and that is a big no no. According to the Catholic Church, sex must always be open to procreation. That is why I said what I did.

      • Sean

        I’ll concede the point. Your phrasing is very precise, and I read it too quickly. My apologies.

      • Libby Anne

        No problem!

    • ‘Tis Himself, OM

      The Catholic Church, run by old, male, professional virgins, has always been anti-contraception, pro-procreation, anti-sex for pleasure. The Catholic Catechism says:

      2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

  • kevinalexander

    I was a Roman Catholic until I read Thomas Malthus. The inevitable result of unchecked population growth is catastrophic. When I asked my religion teacher if he knew of Malthus he replied, ‘Of course’

    If a rational agent with a persistent policy gets a consistent result then it’s impossible to say that the result was not the intention.
    Either the catholics and others banning birth control are not ration agents or else they are sadists who intend the misery that has to result as a consequence of their teaching.

    Hitch was right, it poisons everything.

    • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

      They believe that God will make sure there’s no overpopulation. Or that he wills overpopulation. Or that Jesus will come back so you don’t have to worry about it.

      • Makoto

        I just heard my father use this basic argument against the possibility of global warming – basically, even if humans could cause it, God wouldn’t allow it, therefore we don’t need to worry.

  • baal

    Not all of the callers are actual real people. The conservative think tanks and lobby groups intentionally target call in shows with ‘off the street’ or standard-model-person Xs which aren’t really anything of the sort. They are the RL version of net-trolls.

    The political left, oddly, doesn’t want to train up or spend time creating a counter zombie army to go out and disarm or educate the other viewpoints.

  • Steve

    This is simply beyond absurd. Until someone is forced to use birth control themselves, no one’s “religious freedom” is infringed. I could maybe understand exemptions for a church. Literally a church. But universities and hospitals aren’t churches. No matter who owns them, they are secular institutions with no religious function.

    Of course this wouldn’t be a problem if the US had a universal health care system like practically every other civilized country. Companies should have no say in their employee’s health insurance.

    • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

      I don’t even accept a church exception. No employer should have the right to dictate what I’m doing with my body chemistry, as long as it’s legal. If it affects my job (e.g. in the case of alcohol ingestion), they can put me on leave so I can get help or fire me.

      If I were a Catholic, it’s still up to me whether I want to break the rules and “sin”. The church-employer can’t stop me from having an affair, getting a divorce, masturbating, bearing false witness, coveting my neighbour’s car nor his wife. This shouldn’t be any different.

      • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

        Oh, and I agree completely about universal healthcare. Said pretty much the same as you in a comment over at Blag Hag.

    • Ysanne

      I don’t want to rain on anybody’s pro-universal health care parade, but after living in 4 countries that have it, I can report that contraception is not necessarily covered, e.g. in Germany (where the basic health insurance covers all kinds of expensive high-tech stuff practically without limits — it’s the “you wouldn’t expect us to pay for condoms so why should we pay for the pill” rationale, and even most poor people can afford to buy it for themselves).

      So be specific about what kind of universal health insurance you ask for! :-)

      • http://cfiottawa.com Eamon Knight

        Canadian (Ontario) data point: prescription drugs (including the Pill) are not covered by the public plan, though they usually are by employer plans (which not everyone has — I won’t, after I retire, which rather worries me). So we’re sort of half-covered up here. OTOH, sterilization procedures are covered.

        Obamacare — no public plan as such, instead requiring employers to provide X and/or individuals to purchase Y (for obvious reasons, I’m a bit vague on it) — seems to be a bizarre mess.

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Daniel Fincke

    I feel your rage and your outrage that there is not greater rage pushing back against the Church on this. It’s had me beside myself all week.

  • http://snarkyhumanist.blogspot.com MadScutter

    I actually just posted my <a href="http://snarkyhumanist.blogspot.com/2012/02/bad-white-house-no-no.html"thoughts on this topic. I share your rage.

    Oh, and welcome to FTB!

    • http://snarkyhumanist.blogspot.com MadScutter

      Well that is annoying.
      Fixed link.

  • unbound

    Very nice post. I couldn’t agree more.

    I think the sentiment Sean put out is actually pretty common. I remember pre-cana classes (former catholic here) where something very similar was stated. Members of the church (including the priests) very commonly rationalize and omit parts of doctrine that are clearly too much of an issue with the parishioners. Libby Anne is absolutely correct that actual church doctrine does not say what the priest said, but many catholics (and former catholics) will state otherwise because that is what they were told.

    Part of my path out of catholicism was because I actually have the catechism book (pre-Internet having all this stuff available) and have read good portions of it. Catholicism is full of misogyny, fear and guilt; but it is wrapped up in a fictional world of rationalizations.

  • http://www.improbablejoe.blogspot.com Improbable Joe

    All I can say is that my mom is nominally Catholic, and the oldest of 12. When I look at her life and mine, and compare it to the lives of her siblings and their children, it isn’t hard to see how her decision to have children when she was ready and stop when she was ready allowed us a level of living that none of the rest of her family enjoys. Most of her siblings have very large families, and live in or just above poverty.

  • http://florilegia.wordpress.com Ibis3, denizen of a spiteful ghetto

    I don’t see a big Catholic outrage over paying for Viagra for men whose wives are past menopausal age. Can you imagine for a second that occurring?

    This is, as usual, all about controlling women’s bodies and treating women as property instead of people.

    • ozzyosborne

      I read recently that the Red Beanie Brigade hath spoken, and they so speaketh: that v1agr4 and c141i5 aid a man in performing his marital duties. (Pointing out that if this is a good Catholic husband still married to his first wife that the missus has now gone through menopause and can’t conceive is OFFENSIVE TO GOD because OF COURSE God could make her “fruitful” if he wanted to.)

      I’m sure it doesn’t hurt to have made these drugs licit when they’re entertaining rentboys, also. Too.

      (I wonder if the sin feels more delicious when you know you’re doing it with parishioner money.)

  • Runolfr

    “Without birth control, women are faced with bearing a child every other year or so whether they like it or not.”

    The horrible, patriarchal, misogynistic response to your claim, of course, is that lack of birth control does not force women to bear a child every year or so: they can always be chaste, instead. Basically, make babies or become a nun: the Catholics will accept either of those choices.

    • Libby Anne

      To which I say this: A woman should be able to chose when and if to become pregnant and bear children without having to sacrifice her sexuality.

    • http://loreleitracy.etsy.com LoreleiHI

      Ah, but they also believe that women must submit to their husbands. To them, marital rape doesn’t even exist. If the man wants sex, the woman must comply.

      So, if a woman is married, then yes, they believe that

      “Without birth control, women are faced with bearing a child every other year or so whether they like it or not.”

      • ozzyosborne

        That’s why, in the olden days, my German Catholic relatives spoke of “leaving your wife alone” after she gave birth so her body could recover and she didn’t have “Irish twins.”

        Despite the claims of the forced birthers, there was quite a stigma placed on boundless fecundity in the 19th century. (Women also had higher educational attainment than men, and didn’t marry until they were 19 or older, and they married for love, not for parental property arrangements. The Mormons were ostracized not only because Smith and Young were scammers and liars, but because it was looked down upon in mainline Protestant circles to have more children than you could afford (which was something the church mandated) and the plural marriage was considered offensive to the dignity of women. Women assuredly had less rights in civil society than they do today but even then women (especially white women) were not expected to be as low as a worm, which is what patriarchal Christian dominionists preach today. There’s nothing like looking at American sociological data from the 19th century to blow up stupid patriarchal lies.)

        They’re nothing but a bunch of malignant narcissists who need to destroy another human being to get their dicks hard.

    • kisekileia

      Or use natural family planning, to be fair. However, NFP severely restricts when the couple can have sex, and is a very involved process that is not easily doable for everyone. It’s pretty hard for, say, women with ADHD to keep the sorts of thorough records that are necessary to use NFP successfully.

  • Walter

    >> I would spend twenty-five years of my life constantly pregnant or nursing. Now, my mother chose that life, and that’s fine.

    That is definitely NOT fine. Overpopulation is the #1 problem facing humans at the moment.

    What you believe is one thing… what you do is another.

    • http://ms-daisy-cutter.dreamwidth.org/ Ms. Daisy Cutter, Gynofascist in a Spiffy Hugo Boss Uniform

      ^ This.

  • Blue Duck

    Y’know, what would these ‘sex is for procreation only’ types say to me. I was born with PCOS – an endocrinological condition that causes infertility (along with some other troubles). So, should women like me be forbidden from marriage? Now that I am hitched, to these extremists think we shouldn’t be having sex, cuz, y’know, the old ovaries don’t produce viable eggs? Hmmm.

    (That said, I was able to have 1 kid – with medical intervention. Which is probably forbidden in fundy world also)

    • kisekileia

      The Catholic Church would say that it’s okay for you to get married, because you’re not trying to not get pregnant. The idea is that if you’re open to procreation in your marriage, it’s okay if procreation isn’t actually possible.

      • ozzyosborne

        Unless you’re gay. Apparently like the OT story of the iron chariots, God can deal with m/f couple infertility, but f/f couples–no way. Miracles don’t work like that, or something. Somebody should inform the bishops that they’re committing the sin of pride.

    • cornbread_r2

      As I only recently learned, while infertility is not a bar to RC marriage, pre-existing and permanent impotence is. I don’t know what constitutes a state of impotence in women.

      • ozzyosborne

        Wow. So, according to the church, only men count. Got it.

  • noahsarkive

    “I realize that. No one is actually talking about banning birth control (yet).”

    Not true! The brilliant, but sometimes erratic Senator Rick “Mind Fucker” Santorum, proposes exactly that.

  • Boadinum

    Welcome to FtB. Libby Anne. I think that I am going to enjoy your stuff.

  • Ellen

    Thank-you for this post! I was worried I was going crazy with all the rage I feel about this issue. Knowing there are other people just as mad as I am makes me feel more sane again… but not less mad.

    • Libby Anne

      Nope, it’s not just you!

  • Scott Strehlow

    I think the main reason any religion forbids, or at least discourages, family planning is that more babies mean more members of that religion compared to those that don’t have the policy.

    And in the business of saving souls, it is definitely a numbers game.

  • steve oberski

    I would spend twenty-five years of my life constantly pregnant or nursing. Now, my mother chose that life, and that’s fine.

    Without informed consent and access to the same choices that you have I wonder how much “choice” your mother actually had ?

    Coming from a catlick background, there wasn’t a lot of choice for the females in my tribe in the time before reprodcutive autonomy.

    They were brood mares for jebus and that was that.

    • kristinc, ~delicate snowflake~

      I always wonder how many women freely choose to have large numbers of children. We clearly see that in areas where birth control is readily available, women have fewer kids. Veneration of large families is wound up in conservative and religious thinking.

      I accept that there exist liberated, educated, intelligent women who deeply desire to have half a dozen kids despite having a wide range of other life choices available to them … but I think they’re rare creatures.

  • Meggie

    There are people starving in many parts of the world, people dying of easily curable diseases, unnecessary wars being fought and many other problems and the USA, one of the most powerful countries in the world, is fighting over access to and the cost of contraceptives. I read a post by Josh Duggar this morning celebrating contraception becoming a political issue. I’m not sure whether to scream or cry!

    Let me add another vote to universal healthcare. Under our system it cost me $7 for a three month supply of the birth control pill. When we finished our family, my husbands vascectomy, including doctors visits, hospital care, everything, was free. We didn’t have to worry about whether our employers, our neighbours or member of a religious group we do not belong to agreed with our decision – it’s none of their business.

    ### I have a confession – I do follow Josh Duggar. No, I don’t like the man but he is such a massive train wreck I can’t look away. Each morning I say ‘never again’ but then he does or says something even more extreme and I have to look. The truly terrifying thing is that I have a relative who could be Josh’s twin, in appearance and attitude. Scary, huh? ###

  • Anat

    To kisekileia, re: NFP.

    It’s not just how involved the method is. There is still the issue that if the husband and wife disagree on the plan he can expect to override her efforts at family planning altogether.

    • minuteye

      I don’t think it’s a coincidence that NFP and the pull-out method, the only forms of birth control that are considered acceptable in a RC marriage, both require the dedicated cooperation of the husband.

      • Petticoat Philosopher

        They don’t even allow the pull-out method–”spilling seed” and all. Ejaculating anywhere but inside a vagina is a definite no-no. It’s NFP or bust.

      • minuteye

        Seriously? Jeez. So a Catholic male is in a state of habitual sin from puberty to marriage, even if he abstains from masturbation, just based on nocturnal emissions?

  • besomyka

    I’m with ya, Libby. I’m appalled that the CCB felt brazen enough to make this a national issue. It’s a hallmark of the religious right that sees their inability to enforce their particular theology on everyone around them as religious discrimination.

    Bottom line: if, in the enterprise you’re engaging in, you’re not allowed to make hiring decisions based on race, then you can no longer appeal to your faith as a shield for complying with ANY law.

  • http://sheilacrosby.com Sheila Crosby

    I wish the religious right would follow the golden rule instead of just talking about it. If you have the right to force your religious practices on me, then the Taliban have the right to force theirs on you. I’d have thought that was pretty simple and obvious, but apparently it isn’t.

  • http://perrystreetpalace.wordpress.com irisvanderpluym

    Libby Anne:

    I feel this rage building up inside of me that I’m not sure what to do with.

    & Daniel Fincke #9:

    I feel your rage and your outrage that there is not greater rage pushing back against the Church on this. It’s had me beside myself all week.

    Writing about these issues helps me deal with that rage, and I’d guess you both find that to be true as well. However, while railing can certainly be therapeutic on one level, I find merciless, savage ridicule to be a much more deeply satisfying salve to my raging (nonexistent) soul. This is, in fact, “greater rage pushing back against the Church.” YMMV.

  • http://wonderingwanderingthoughts.blogspot.com OneSmallStep

    I just had someone on facebook this morning posting about how immoral this is, and people should just control themselves, or face the consequences of having sex. I commented — I couldn’t help myself, even though I’m sure further conversation with him is going to infuriate me.

  • Marianne

    Thank you for this post. I feel rage about this too, and my poor husband is the only person I ‘know’ who agrees with me. Of course, it doesn’t help that I don’t understand why women are so feared and hated. Some days I have to avoid the news just to let my blood pressure recover.

  • ArachneS

    Thank you for writing this. Everything you said has been boiling in my head for days and I feel just as enraged as you.

    I am an ex-catholic and from a family where my mom had 14 kids. I also had been raised to believe women should have as many as they can if they are having sex. I went to the NFP classes, which made it very clear that you weren’t supposed to use NFP to prevent pregnancy unless you had a “Very Good Reason”- basically a medical or financial emergency.

    In the past 5 years I had 2 kids, and come along on a path away from catholicism, away from anti-contraception views and finally am so glad to be in charge of whether or not I am going to have another child. I’m not afraid of my cycle every month. I’m not afraid to have sex on the wrong day. I’m not afraid of my husband not pulling out in time or not wanting to use a condom, for god sake’s.

    Just the fact that this political battle is going on over contraception, when last year is was over “abortion funding” means that this is not the only thing that patriarchal religious groups want. Contraception is a threat to them and they want it to be as hard to get as possible.

    We need to make our voices heard. This is absolutely not okay.