In Defense of Birth Control

When I was a young girl, I remember a day when my mother was comforting one of our neighbors.

This neighbor was a Roman Catholic. She already had seven children, and I heard her say to my mother, between sniffles and tears, that she was pregnant once again.

“I don’t want another baby,” she said. “We can’t afford the ones we have now…”

Abortion, of course, was not even talked about back then…but even if it had been as readily available then as it is now, this woman would never have had one. She was a devout Roman Catholic. I am sure she would have considered abortion to be murder. But even more important than that to her, I think, was the necessity of following the doctrine of the church. And the church said …that there was to be no birth control. It was a sin.

For our neighbor, that pronouncement of sin sealed the deal. There would be yet another baby. Only God knew how the family would survive. She was at her wits’ end.

I will never forget that day because I can remember my mother muttering, after the neighbor left, that it ought not be up to the pope to decide what women could and could not do. “The pope can make all those decrees,” my other said, “and sit comfortably in Rome with people taking care of his every need. He doesn’t have a clue what it is like to have kids you don’t want because you want to have sex with your husband and pregnancy, without birth control, is the result.” My mother fumed and fussed…

I thought about that as I listened to people talk about birth control this week. There is a campaign going on to get more people to look into birth control and to use it. I found the conversation strange; I found the need to have such a campaign strange, because I thought that by now, everybody uses birth control, at least in this country.

Apparently that is not the case. There are many women (and men, who really can use condoms as a method of birth control!) who still believe that using birth control is wrong.  A campaign called, “Thanks, Birth Control” was launched to bring attention to the need and the benefits of birth control. In the 21st century, a campaign like this is necessary. I would not have thought it…

According to the campaign, these are some facts surrounding birth control and its use and benefits:

  •  Among adult women who have had sex, 99% have used birth control.
    • Birth control was named one of the top 10 public health achievements in the last 100 years by the    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    • Women using birth control carefully and consistently account for only 5% of all unplanned pregnancies.
    • Roughly 1 in 4 teens get pregnant by age 20.
    • Half of all pregnancies are unplanned.
    • Among all age groups, women in their 20s have the highest number of unplanned pregnancies.
    • 71% of Americans favor the goal of reducing unplanned pregnancies in the US.
    • Nearly 40% of teens have never thought about what their life would be like if they got pregnant/caused a pregnancy.
    • More than half of single women 18-29 admit to not using birth control every time they have sex.
    • More than half of sexually active college-age women say they would be more comfortable using contraception if more people talked about it in a positive way.

What this campaign made me understand is that I don’t understand why, or maybe I hadn’t thought about it …but I don’t understand why people are uncomfortable talking about it. Has the stance of the Roman Catholic Church glued itself to minds of American women? Do women think that taking birth control is, somehow, killing life? And do other religions put a yoke of guilt around the necks of women, who, let’s face it, like sex as much as men but who are encouraged to look at sex only as a means of procreation and nothing more? In other words, are women being penalized for liking sex (those who do), while the guys get a free ride, able to have sex with as many women as they want and not suffer any consequences?

It makes me struggle with the whole “will of God” thing. Is it the will of God that women not take birth control? Was it the will of God for women not to like sex, but to look at sex as a perfunctory activity solely for the purpose of bringing children into the world? I don’t think so…but it seems that for many women, the subject of birth control brings up the idea that using birth control makes one a sinner.

Please.

This campaign to draw attention to the benefits of using birth control appears to be really necessary, because, truth be told, few women, few families, can afford unplanned pregnancies. At least back in the day when my neighbor talked with my mother there was a solid middle class; people in general had better blue-collar jobs that kept them and their families afloat, within reason.

But the middle class is shrinking, and, frankly, few people can afford to have large families. According to recent statistics, it costs an average of $245,000, and that is not even including the cost of college. (http://money.cnn.com/2014/08/18/pf/child-cost/)

Who can afford that? Who can afford it for one child, let alone for 2, 3, 5 …or more …children?

In talking about the will of God, it would seem that God would not want women to bring children into the world whom they would not be able to feed and clothe; it would not seem that God would be in favor of women …and families …having so many children that the parents work two and three jobs just to make ends meet.

It would seem that those who love life would see that practicing birth control is a way to more probably assure bringing children, planned children, quality lives. Wouldn’t that be more the will of God?

The “Thanks, Birth Control” campaign made me stop and think. I truly did not think whether or not to use it in the 21st century was an issue, that some women are afraid and/or ashamed to use it or even talk about it. But the fear and shame seems misplaced.

We don’t have the time or luxury to wilt under oppressive religious, cultural or social mores.  The world has changed; the economy has changed, and the ability to give children quality lives has definitely been challenged.

Seems to me that the desire for a child to have a quality life ought to trump any doctrine or cultural beliefs.

A candid observation …

When Laws are Unjust

Sometimes, laws are unjust.

Unjust laws in this country allowing racial discrimination were part of the reason for the Civil Rights movement. With the laws in the nation and in many states in place, African-Americans could not feel protected by the laws, because the laws helped perpetuate their status and injustice perpetrated against them. African-Americans had no voice, “the law” notwithstanding.

In Ireland, it is women whose voices are not being heard. In that Catholic country, laws are on the books which prohibit abortion. Because of those laws, a young woman died after being denied an abortion. Her death has sparked outrage and protest by women, who rallied in front of the Irish parliament this week. (http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/11/15/thousands-rally-outside-irish-parliament-after-woman-repeatedly-denied-abortion-before-dying/)

We depend on our lawmakers to craft laws that protect the people, but in fact there are far too many laws on the books which do not protect but rather support discriminatory or harmful and unjust treatment of certain groups. Women in the United States and in fact all over the world have had to fight unjust laws so that they could enjoy full citizenship which included the right to vote, and still have to fight for equal pay for equal work. And …what women and cannot do with their own bodies is still an issue which divides the nation politically and religiously.

Women in Ireland are fighting for the right to live with dignity. Young Savita Halappanavar, 31, died because in spite of excruciating pain and several requests for doctors to terminate her 17-week pregnancy, they would not. It would be abortion because in spite of her pain, the fetus still had a heartbeat. After three days the young woman died, reportedly from septicemia.

It seems, on this side of the pond, that the laws in Ireland which would allow an otherwise healthy woman to die from a complicated pregnancy, are just wrong and unjust. They are just as wrong and unjust as were American laws which forbade black people to learn to read and write, or which prevented them, and women, from voting.

If individuals are silent in the face of unjust laws, they in essence voice their approval of those laws. That’s a lesson Dr. King drove home as people trained to be non-violent protestors. An unjust law, King said, needs to be broken, or at least challenged. Just because something is a “law” does not mean it is right or fair; some laws beg to be challenged, changed, or struck down.

People historically have challenged laws with which they did not agree. When Brown vs. Board of Education made it against the law for schools to be segregated, many cities and states balked; they thought the law was unjust and did all they could to disobey it, in spite of the law’s directive that schools should be integrated “with all deliberate speed.”  Some schools were closed rather than obey the desegregation order. Other schools took as long as 10 years to begin desegregating.

Anything worth having, including justice, is worth fighting for; and many issues of justice must be fought for. Thousands of women in Ireland are protesting the death of the young mother, and another rally is planned for the weekend. That’s a good thing.

Power concedes nothing without a demand, noted Frederick Douglass.

Douglass was right.

A candid observation …