No to Birth Control: A Bitter Pill to Swallow
The introduction of the topic of birth control into the current Republican presidential debates has been called a ‘gift’ to Obama and the Democrats. Interestingly, it was the Obama administration which moved the issue of birth control to the forefront by stipulating that Catholic institutions would have to offer contraception coverage in their health plans for employees. Reacting to the ensuing outrage from Catholic leaders, the Obama administration has shifted the requirements from the Catholic employers to the health care insurers themselves. Far from placated, opponents of the law say that the real issue is not contraception but, rather, the freedom to follow one’s conscience in matters pertaining to religion.
While the law does indeed challenge religious freedom, it also brings to light the glaring disconnect between the Vatican’s stance on birth control and the practices of American Catholics. Despite the fact that there is no Scriptural support for banning contraception, the Roman Catholic Church in 1930 officially rejected the use of artificial birth control, even by married couples, charging that it interfered with God’s will and therefore constituted a mortal sin. In 1968, eight years after the arrival of “the Pill,” Pope Paul VI issued his Humanae Vitae encyclical, which again proscribed all forms of artificial contraception. In 2008, Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed that ban. Recent surveys reveal, however, that from 90 – 98% of American Catholic women have used artificial birth control at some point in their lives.
USpresidential candidate Rick Santorum, a Catholic, has described birth control as “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” It is not the Pill or any other form of artificial birth control, however, that is responsible for society’s ills. “Doing things in the sexual realm that run counter to how things are supposed to be” is evidence of moral failure. Whether one chooses to live a promiscuous lifestyle, or to engage in sexual activity that makes the Pill necessary, or to remain “childfree” rather than raise a family—these are personal, lifestyle decisions. Having access to birth control, whether paid for by one’s church-affiliated employer, or by a secular health insurance company, does not determine one’s behaviour, ultimately.
Instead of viewing the introduction of birth control into theUSpresidential debates as a negative, American Catholics should look upon it as a unique opportunity to re-examine the role of artificial birth control in this the twenty-first century. It is time for a prominent American Catholic, whether political or ecclesiastical, to talk about the great blessing that artificial birth control has been in the lives of women in committed relationships, many of them Catholic women, women who have been freed from the worry of unplanned pregnancies and liberated from an interminable cycle of pregnancy, childbirth, and infant care.