Is Contraception (necessarily) Good for Women?
As I was on the NYTimes reading about the new data on Plan B (in brief, use is way up), I came across this comment:
Curly: The President should make the IUD free to females.
The President should mandate that all girls who reach puberty should be given an IUD (no cost to them) who are receiving an unearned entitlement. This requirement should also be for the boys starting at puberty when a method is developed for them.
Also all women in the service should be required to have the IUD until a service woman wants to have a child and obtains the permission to do so. This would greatly reduce the loss to the military caused by UNPLANNED pregnancies. But it would also allow these women to have a family.
Really? Every pubescent girl should be given an invasive form of contraception? Every women serving our country too until she is given permission to do otherwise? This is what feminist women fought for?
Now, Curly’s position is an extreme one, but I think his (or her) comments reflect an attitude that a lot of people have in a less extreme form, that is, a view that pregnancy (or its avoidance) is a woman’s responsibility and women have no excuse to not be using contraception.
In the midst of the battle between the Catholic bishops and the Obama administration over providing free coverage for contraception and sterilization, I have heard a lot about religious liberty and very little challenging the idea that more widely available contraception is actually good for women. It seems to be obvious that women will clearly benefit from the ACA mandate. The language used to support the mandate also indicates that it gives women more control, as Obama made clear upon the initial passing of the mandate:
“Let me tell you something, Virginia,” Obama said, “I don’t think your boss should control the care you get. I don’t think insurance companies should control the care you get. I definitely don’t think politicians on Capitol Hill should control the care you get. We’ve seen some of their attitudes, we’ve read about those.
“I think there is one person who gets to make decisions about your health care, that’s you,” said Obama.
Why is contraception at the center of the argument about women’s well-being and freedom? We got the answer from the US Supreme Court in Planned Parenthood v. Casey back in 1994 when the Court argued that Roe v. Wade could not be overturned because abortion was necessary if contraception failed:
The Roe rule’s limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. The Constitution serves human values, and while the effect of reliance on Roe cannot be exactly measured, neither can the certain costs of overruling Roe for people who have ordered their thinking and living around that case be dismissed.
In the Casey quote, we see that both abortion and contraception are justified for the same reason: The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. Ah!
Participation (a principle of Catholic social teaching, mind you) is not facilitated by pro-family policies that make it possible for women to be active both as moms and as employees, but rather on policies that make it very possible and very reasonable to not have children, and in doing so implicitly encourage women not to have children if they are going to have sex.
This attitude of seeing sex and procreation as distinct is what is sometimes referred to as the contraceptive mentality. This mentality obviously says that there is a right to not have children if one chooses, but it also means that sexually active women will be seen as having the responsibility to not have children as well if they want to participate in society as something other than a mother.
The contraceptive mentality is so pervasive in our country that is is seen as completely unreasonable to oppose contraception. The new data on the use of artificial contraception shows that 98.6% of sexually active Catholic women had used contraception at some point (which is often reported with a sneer at the hypocrisy of Catholics, though there is some question about the veracity of the data), but this data reveals less about hypocrisy to me (though that is obviously a factor) and more about a society which sees contraception as a given. We live in a world which requires two wage earners to support a middle class lifestyle, which sees children largely as a commodity, and which does not provide social support for women to integrate being mothers and wives with being participants in the work force. It is no wonder so many Catholics are using contraception!
Last week, Meg Clark wrote a post on pro-life feminism where she noted that New York’s governor Andrew Cuomo’s 10 point plan called the “Women’s Equity Act” undermines itself by making abortion rights the first point. Meg quotes Sidney Callahan’s classic essay “Abortion and the Sexual Agenda: The Case for Prolife Feminism”:
For that matter, why should the state provide a system of day care or child support, or require workplaces to accommodate women’s maternity and the needs of child rearing? Permissive abortion, granted in the name of women’s privacy and reproductive freedom, ratifies the view that pregnancies and children are a woman’s private individual responsibility. More and more frequently, we hear some version of this old rationalization: if she refuses to get rid of it, it’s her problem. A child becomes a product of the individual woman’s freely chosen investment, a form of private property resulting from her own cost-benefit calculation. The larger community is relieved of moral responsibility.
In the comments, I asked whether this same argument could be made for widespread and free contraception. Why should a state or employer provide day care, child care, comprehensive pre-natal and post-natal health care, or other more pro-family policies when pregnancy is a private choice, and when women have no other excuse besides their own decision to have a child? By holding up free contraception, Plan B, and sterilization, society is effectively washing its hands of the need to provide more equity for women who are mothers in the work force.
Let’s be clear: I am not suggesting here that contraception is inherently evil or sinful. But I would like to have a conversation on whether widespread use of contraception in our society, and the way in which women are encouraged to use contraception if they want to be “responsible” has actually been good for women. Has it made women more free to achieve integral flourishing? Or, have women thrown in the towel too early and given up too much for the sake of society treating us with equity?