Has anyone else been thinking less about yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling, and more about the general reaction to yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling? While I (as a Catholic with a lot of Christian friends) know plenty of people happy about the outcome, I also know folks who are FURIOUS. Like F-bomb dropping, name-calling FURIOUS. How dare a bunch of conservative old guys decide that an employer doesn’t have to pay for our morning-after pill? And, why are women’s rights being trampled in a time of supposed equality and modernity? These are the questions they’re asking. Minus the profanity, because I like to keep it G-rated around here.
Now I don’t personally use artificial contraception of any sort, and while I used to take the pill, I’ve (thankfully!) been off it for over ten years–so clearly I’m not disappointed in how the whole Hobby Lobby thing turned out. I am, on the contrary, glad that religious freedom ruled the day. To those who disagree, well, for people like me–who believe that life begins at conception–something like the morning-after pill is a Really Big Deal. And employers shouldn’t have to cover it, because it has the potential to take the life of another human being. It’s what’s called an abortifacient, and it’s (part of) why any sort of hormonal birth control (IUD, pills, shots) is wrought with ethical and moral problems. It’s why I ultimately stopped taking the pill, all those years ago.
And you know? That was really scary. I’ll go right ahead and admit it, right in front of all my pious Catholic readers. It was scary to throw out my birth control. And not because I was somehow in a bad position to have children (I was married and my husband had a good job) or because I didn’t want to be a mother (I looked forward to growing our family). No, it was scary because it meant giving up control. It was scary because it meant losing my freedom. It was scary because I believed that women need birth control to be happy.
So even though I don’t believe that anymore, and now believe quite the opposite–that artificial contraception is incredibly HARMFUL to women–I can understand why so many women do consider hormonal birth control vital to a liberated womanhood. Because I’ve been there. And I also understand why, as a result, so many women are offended by the SCOTUS decision. It sounds restricting, limiting, and bound up in some really personal things like the female body and female sexual expression. And here these out-of-touch old men said NO, corporations don’t have to pay for your pills. And women and men alike are mad, not because they’re no longer able to access the drugs, but because somebody (technically five somebodies) indirectly passed moral judgment on something they either use or may want to use. And that’s intrinsically offensive.
If nothing else, I suppose the ruling has everyone talking about the moral and communal implications of birth control. I’m reading Margaret Sanger’s The Pivot of Civilization right now, and needless to say it’s fascinating! The birth control movement she founded once upon a time was actually rooted in a disturbing manifestation of Darwinism, and built upon the horrific foundation of the eugenics movement–as opposed to the more modern (and seemingly harmless) view that women should have the ability to enjoy unrestricted sex without any consequences.
No doubt a secular product of her time, Margaret viewed sexuality as an irrepressible instinct, believed that the poor, infirm, imprisoned, and “mentally defective” ought not be breeding (and therefore destroying the human race), and so believed that sterilization and contraception were integral to solving the world’s problems. (Back in 1922, when the book was published, Margaret identified some of these problems as poverty, world hunger, the public school system, moral decay, and the financial drain of the mentally and physically disabled on society.) She more or less envisioned a future where only educated and upright families of means were reproducing, and even received glowing endorsements from Martin Luther King, Jr. for her work in urban African American neighborhoods.
File that one away under “things that make you go, hmmmm.”
Sanger was, ultimately, an activist for social reform. And many of the problems she describes are at least mildly related to sex. But her solutions are all based upon the false (and terribly destructive) premises that a) one does not possess inherent dignity solely on account of being a person, and b) that it’s virtually impossible to not have sex.
It is a horrible lie that you have to be wealthy, brilliant, or in possession of all of your limbs or mental faculties to have value as a human being. Margaret Sanger’s vision for the future however was fueled by this idea that a flourishing society is one in which there are no weak members. She writes about how charitable giving and aid are intrinsically bad for a society because they sentimentalize poverty and need, and apparently make it harder to weed those people out and secure a civilization’s happy future. The historical Christian worldview, however, tells us to care for the vulnerable, sick, hurting, and broken. It tells us that a person matters NOT for what he or she gives to society, but because he or she was created by God, body and soul. With dignity.
And as to Sanger’s idea that we operate only off of instinct and therefore have no choice but to engage in indiscriminate sex, well, if we were but mere animals I suppose that would be true. Except we’re not. We’re people. With free will and the ability to make choices and exercise self-control. Not that we always do nor are we all necessarily equally culpable for those choices, which are not made in a vacuum but shaped through family upbringing and religious background and past traumas and experiences. But we CAN. Therefore a poor, single, uneducated woman laboring in a workhouse, with five small children at home, does not have to be sterilized to avoid further pregnancy. She can choose to be abstinent. She can choose to practice NFP. She can choose to have sex and become pregnant. No matter what, there is some sort of choice.
The thing I keep coming back to as I read Sanger’s cold and calculated words (and desire to see much of the population wiped off the map), with the sounds of my many happy kids splashing in the pool in the background (you don’t read Margaret Sanger at the pool?), is that so very many of the world’s problems boil down to the oppression of women and, more specifically, the oppression of women at the hands of men. We see it over and over again, this burden that women carry, particularly when it comes to procreation. Margaret Sanger actually isn’t wrong to point out that many problems do find their origin in sexual expression and the unequal footing of women in this regard.
And I suspect this is why so many women have bristled at the recent Supreme Court decision. Women feel like they’re being told what they can’t do or have by men, and that it somehow condemns us to a life of bearing the consequences of men, and so we’re angry. We want freedom. And equality. And the ability to choose for ourselves.
But the thing is, we HAVE a choice! We really, truly do. That was of course what I didn’t quite understand when I first heard that hormonal birth control was not in keeping with the pro-life worldview I held, and so I recoiled in disgust because THAT CAN’T BE TRUE! and WELL WHAT DO THESE ANTI-HORMONAL-BIRTH-CONTROL CHRISTIANS THINK WOMEN ARE SUPPOSED TO DO?!
I didn’t yet see how God created procreation to go right along with sexual expression, or how children are actually the tangible result and sign of married love and commitment. However once I began to accept the reality of these incredible mysteries–and it was an incremental process to be sure–I saw that it actually all makes perfect sense. And we women do have a choice, because a choice to participate in the act that brings forth children is the conscious assent to potential motherhood that Margaret Sanger writes about. Karol Wojtyla describes it in Love and Responsibility as “I may become a mother” or “I may become a father.” Choice. Freedom. To co-create a human person, with God.
It’s sad that the founder of what is now called Planned Parenthood (a name Sanger herself resisted because she felt it “too euphemistic”) so clearly saw what she referred to as ”the power of procreation”, yet failed to grasp its intrinsic connection to sexuality. It is also curious that Margaret Sanger was personally anti-abortion–oh yes, she was–and I wonder how she might respond to the knowledge that today’s hormonal contraception bears an abortifacient effect. Obviously we’ll never know, but what I do know is that these justices who yesterday upheld the concept of religious freedom, and Hobby Lobby’s right to refuse payment for the morning-after pill? They are not the problem. They are not the oppressors. They are not the ones hurting women or destroying freedoms.
The secular, utilitarian culture; the thoughtless men who use women for supposed sex without the babies; trusted Christian leaders who promote hormonal birth control as safe and effective when it is, in reality, neither: THESE ARE THE PROBLEM.
My hope is that women will continue to rethink their options and have the courage to choose dignity and life–for themselves, their relationships, their children, and their communities. In the meantime I, as a woman who believes strongly in women’s rights and freedoms, applaud Hobby Lobby’s tenacity and commitment to positive values. May it embolden other individuals and corporations to stand by their own moral convictions, especially those convictions that are undeniably good for women.