Catholics, Comstock and Contraception: A Response to Ramesh Ponnuru

I am no stranger to controversy, having been dismissed from Stanford University for my reporting on forced abortions in China’s one-child policy, but the reaction to my article, published in Crisis last week, has surprised even me.

The principle that I was defending—namely, that Catholic politicians should not run from their faith in running for public office—seems straight-forward enough to me. But it turns out that, just as most of Our Lord’s disciples abandoned him at key points in his ministry, so do many of his latter-day followers shy away from the hard teachings of His Church. The list of politicians who are “Catholic but” grows ever longer.

Here I would like to thank Deal Hudson for first drawing public attention to one Catholic politician in particular, Barbara Comstock, and the compromises that, in my opinion, she has made in seeking to have abortifacient contraceptives made available over the counter. Deal has done us all a service.

There are some, of course (there are always some), who would prefer that we simply remain silent on the issue of contraception. Ramesh Ponnuru certainly got his knickers in a knot. After calling my article “bull,” “a diatribe,” and “a low blow” (you get the picture), he attacks me for injecting Catholicism and contraception into public policy!

But I didn’t do that: Ramesh did, by posting his caricature of my article in the pages of a secular magazine–National Review Online.  Here is the letter I sent him subsequently:

Dear Ramesh,

I recently gave a homily on the morality of promoting birth control pills, those blessed little bundles of powerful steroid-based artificial hormones which—despite being cancer-causing chemical sterilizing agents, abortifacients, and environmental pollutants all rolled into one—many Americans can’t seem to live without.

All right. It wasn’t exactly a homily, since I’m not a priest and I wasn’t speaking in a church—at least not in a literal sense. But I did think I was preaching to at least a part of the choir, for I was writing an article for Crisis, which describes itself as “a voice for the faithful Catholic laity.”

So you will understand that I was speaking to an audience of believing Catholics in terms of our shared faith.  And I was asking a question: Is it licit—that’s a Catholic word for acceptable in the eyes of the Church—for a Catholic politician to be promoting birth control pills, as Republican candidate Barbara Comstock has done?

Apparently you were offended by the question since, in your own column, you called it “bull.” (Note to non-Catholic readers: This “bull” is apparently a contraction of a two-syllable word, and is not to be confused with a papal “bull”—specifically Humanae Vitae, issued by Pope Paul VI in 1968, which reaffirmed the consistent teaching of the Church over twenty centuries on the immorality of rejecting God’s gift of life by abortion, sterilization, and contraception.)

But I was happy to read that, after a paragraph or two of dancing around the question, you did finally come to my point.  Which is, of course, that I have difficulties—as a Catholic—with a Catholic candidate who is promoting easier access to abortifacient contraceptives.

Now you demur that “A faithful Catholic may in good conscience reasonably believe that making oral contraception available over the counter won’t do much to increase the use of contraception.”

I suppose so, Ramesh, but this really doesn’t buy you very much. In fact, it reads to me like you are admitting that making birth control pills available over the counter will increase the use of contraception—just not by very much. Sort of like the girl who says she is only a tiny bit pregnant.

Anyway, I happen to believe that making birth control pills available OTC, as they say, will significantly increase their use.  Isn’t that why we—you and I and virtually every other pro-lifer—objected when the Obama administration made the abortifacient Plan B available over the counter?

So you see, both as a Catholic and as someone who is pro-life, I have a problem with Comstock.

So I am going with someone who doesn’t have these liabilities, someone who in my view is the most electable conservative candidate to replace the retiring Congressman Frank Wolf.  And isn’t that what we’re all looking for?

All the best,

Steven W. Mosher

P.S. By the way, I didn’t tell other pro-lifers that “they’re going to Hell.” But I will be damned if I ignore the possibility that besides Heaven there are, well, other destinations.

Steven W. Mosher


Steven W. Mosher is President of the Population Research Institute located in Front Royal, Virginia.

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