All right, so I’m not a woman. But I do have a wife and three daughters. That’s three daughters, not eight. In an earlier time, I’d have more kids than I want. My wife would have had little control over her body. (Boys will be boys). It would have been worse for my friend’s wife. She was so sick during two of her pregnancies she would have died. As it was, she had to have an IV drip twenty-four hours a day to make up for the extreme vomiting she tolerated during pregnancy. Without birth control, she and her husband would had to choose between a Platonic relationship and death.
Until the condom, the diaphragm, the Pill, the IUD, and all the subsequent variants of hormonal fertility control came along, anatomy really was destiny — and all of the world’s societies were organized around that central fact. Women were born to bear children; they had no other life options. With a few rebellious or well-born exceptions (and a few outlier cultures that somehow found their way to a more equal footing), the vast majority of women who’ve ever lived on this planet were tied to home, dependent on men, and subject to all kinds of religious and cultural restrictions designed to guarantee that they bore the right kids to the right man at the right time — even if that meant effectively jailing them at home.
Birth control ended needless deaths, and it freed women from the roles social conservatives like Rick Santorum would re-impose on them, if given opportunity. With birth control, Robinson, says
came the possibility, for the first time, to make a vast range of other choices for ourselves that were simply never within reach before. We could choose to delay childbearing and limit the number of children we raise; and that, in turn, freed up time and energy to explore the world beyond the home. We could refuse to marry or have babies at all, and pursue our other passions instead. Contraception was the single necessary key that opened the door to the whole new universe of activities that had always been zealously monopolized by the men—education, the trades, the arts, government, travel, spiritual and cultural leadership, and even (eventually) war making.
Personally, I’m sick of treating the episcopacy of the Roman Catholic church with kid gloves. The pedophile scandals of the last 20 years was enough to deprive them of any moral authority they once claimed. But the stupidity, yeah, stupidity of the Catholic hierarchy deserves no quarter. The Council of American Bishops picked this birth control fight:
American bishops at first opposed having hospitals and schools connected with them pay employee health costs for contraceptives. But when the President backed off from that requirement, saying insurance companies can pay the costs, the bishops doubled down and said no one should have to pay for anything so evil as contraception.
Wills is one of the few well-known, liberal intellectuals who has written about about Catholicism. He left the seminary before entering the priesthood, but remained a staunch Catholic. In his blog at the New York Review of Books, he takes apart the current controversy.
The bishops’ opposition to contraception is not an argument for a “conscience exemption.” It is a way of imposing Catholic requirements on non-Catholics. This is religious dictatorship, not religious freedom… what matters here is that contraception is legal, ordinary, and accepted even by most Catholics. To say that others must accept what Catholics themselves do not is bad enough. To say that President Obama is “trying to destroy the Catholic Church” if he does not accept it is much, much worse.
Catholics who do not accept the phony argument over contraception are said to be “going against the teachings of their church.” That is nonsense. They are their church. The Second Vatican Council defines the church as “the people of God.” Thinking that the pope is the church is a relic of the days when a monarch was said to be his realm.
Requiring Catholic organizations to provide health insurance that covers free birth control, in other words, offends only a minority of the Roman Catholic Church, not the Church itself. It doesn’t go against Catholicism.
For the last 30 years, we’ve been on the defensive in the culture wars. It’s time we go on the offense.