I Fight on Contraception Hill

Contraception is one of the great scourges not just of our time but of all time. In two ways it sets men and women against their creator. First, because they choose disobedience over the clear teaching of the Church. Second, it says no to the creative work of our Lord. Both of these put their souls in jeopardy.

Contraception is also the font of many of the deadly social pathologies of our time; the sexual revolution, pornography, divorce and family breakdown, abortion and the mainstreaming of same-sex arrangements including what seems like an inevitable change in the social and legal definition of marriage.

This is why I have dedicated much of the past twenty years to fighting contraception. If you were to do a site search on my organization’s website you would see a few hundred stories about the evils of contraception. What’s more, my organization has been a leader all these years in fighting the spread of UN-style family planning around the world. Oftentimes my staff members are the only ones from the pro-life world at UN meetings where such things are discussed. You could say I have been dying on contraceptive hill for decades.

Having said and done these things for so long does not mean I think it is prudential to make contraception a litmus test in political campaigns as some are doing in a Congressional race in Northern Virginia. A pro-life Catholic woman has been attacked as a dissenter from Catholic teaching for asking the Federal government to make contraceptives available over the counter.

 

The response to my last column though not agreeing with her but still defending her on this topic has been truly fruitful in focusing my attention on this vital issue. Let me take the main arguments from my interlocutors one by one.

Some say Catholic politicians are required to make contraception an issue because of an admonition in Humanae Vitae not to “tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God.”

When that prophetic document was promulgated contraception had not yet taken over the world. It was still illegal in many states. It was a reasonable enough thing to suggest that a headlong political battle against contraception could be fought, though even then it was far from certain that it could have been won. Recall the giddy excitement at the prospect the Church might give Her okay.

It is now a different world, a vastly different world. And as we move through this consideration, it is important to keep in mind where we are now with regard to contraception.

According to 2011 UN estimates, at 78.6 percent, the US has among the highest rates of contraceptive use in the world. Only a handful of countries are higher. The incidence of contraceptive use by Catholics tracks identically with everyone else. What this means is the world is a vastly different place than when the prophet Paul VI spoke. And while the teaching against contraception can and should never change, the governmental and political tactics surrounding it must take into consideration the ground upon which we would actually fight.

Regarding what the Church has asked us to do with regard to contraception politics and policy, I have looked closely at this and spoken to several people who have worked on this and other issues for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops. What I found is the same as I reported two weeks ago.

While the Church has lobbied on contraception politics, that activity has been limited to things like preventing access by kids, opposing over-the-counter status for so-called “contraceptive” drugs that can cause abortion (like “Plan B”), and fighting to protect the conscience rights of individuals and institutions who are forced to fund it against their beliefs.  But the Church in the US has not called for Catholics in public life to attempt to ban or restrict contraceptives from the larger society.

I am not aware that the Church has even admonished Catholic politicians for voting in favor of increased funding for Title X Family Planning programs that provide low cost or free contraceptives for low-income women.

The argument is also made that the contraceptive pill is so potentially dangerous that only a doctor should administer it because it is only in the doctor’s office that women will receive warnings about its use. We are told that women need to know that it can cause cancer and might cause an abortion.

I went onto the FDA website to see their warnings about cancer and abortion. Of course, you know what I found: nothing about cancer or abortion. Given that the pill is a billion dollar industry and the main pushers are doctors, I don’t think for a minute that any doctor pushing the pill will tell his customers that the pill causes cancer or could cause abortion, primarily because he does not believe these claims. Secondarily, why say anything to cast real doubt and possibly scare away the customer? A casual survey of women colleagues backs this up—they were routinely encouraged to get on the pill, even without asking for it, and none of them was warned about these dangers. In fact, some were mocked because they were not interested in the pill—”everybody’s on the pill, you freak!”

In short, the idea that women getting a prescription for the pill are getting warnings about cancer and abortion from their doctor does not comport with reality.

And then there is the argument that an over-the-counter regime would increase the availability and therefore usage of contraception. Three years ago this would have been absolutely very persuasive. But the world has changed in the past year because contraception has become free by law, absolutely free for Americans with the cost born by you and me, non-contraceptors, in increased insurance premiums or even with our tax dollars, and also by Catholic schools, hospitals, and other employers against their will.

So, let’s start with facts on the ground. At 78 percent the US has nearly the highest use of contraceptives in the world. Add onto that the new Obamacare reality that contraceptives are now free for all, and then ask yourself whether having to pay for it over the counter—out of your own pocket, every month—as opposed to getting it for free will increase usage?

Go further and look at other countries where it is already over the counter. By logic, their rates should be substantially higher than our own. In China it is available without a prescription and without screening and their prevalence rate is only one point higher than ours. India also allows it without a doctor and without screening and their prevalence rate is 20 percent lower than ours. Brazil allows it over the counter and their rate is 1.5 percent higher than ours.

At best, it is unclear what over the counter would mean in terms of usage. This is further clouded by the new Obamacare reality that it is now 100 percent free for all.

And then there is the question of the abortifacient aspects of the every-day pill. And this is particularly difficult because I know I am going to be accused of soft-peddling abortion drugs. I am not. I am suggesting that our rhetoric sometimes does not precisely match reality.

Experts I have talked to in recent days are careful when they talk about such a connection. They say we believe the pill could in certain circumstances have the abortion effect but this cannot be proven since no studies have been done that show such an effect.

The certitude with which we speak about “abortifacient contraception” is at least challenged by the reality that it works that way in theory but most likely not often in practice.

Here is the very careful Catholic theologian Christopher Tollefson talking about the so-called morning after pill in a National Review story where he explains Catholic teaching on contraception:  “…Ella and Plan B, which are plausibly thought to work on occasion by preventing implantation of an embryo, i.e., by abortion.” Note his careful phrasing about drugs that are intended to stop pregnancy, “plausibly thought to work on occasion.” Experts say we can be even less certain when talking about the every day contraceptive pill.

None of this should be seen as an argument for over the counter availability of contraceptives. It is not. It is an argument against the notion that taking an over the counter approach is less Catholic or even anti-Catholic than the status quo, which is free contraception for all.

Lastly, there is the question of political prudence, which seems to be intrinsically sinful to some. I would note that the Catholic laymen who have made these arguments in the Northern Virginia Congressional race have in fact worked for politicians who either voted for or at least did not oppose a 26 percent increase in Title X Family Planning spending, that is, contraception funding with our tax dollars, during the presidency of George W. Bush. Maybe I missed it, but I do not recall any attacks on any Republicans who voted in favor during those years and I do not remember any religious jeremiads hurled at Catholic politicians then either.

So, everyone understands prudence as we move our issues forward.

It has always been understood that contraception is a divisive issue in the pro-life coalition and a losing one with the electorate at large, which I have shown is passionate about their contraception and, recent elections have shown, is quite willing to punish those who are thought to threaten its availability.

I spent the past days talking to many national evangelical leaders about the prospect of Catholics making contraception a political issue, of making contraception a litmus test during campaign season. Not one thought it was a good idea. Each one of them said it would divide Catholics and Evangelicals.

Evangelicals largely do not support the Catholic teaching on contraception. They stand with us on overt abortifacients. They are concerned, like we are, about the potentially abortifacient aspects of the regular pill. They stand with us on religious freedom and the funding of contraception. But they part company with us on the use of contraception and any effort to make contraception per se a political issue and doing so would come with a monumental political cost. For instance, any hope of ending abortion or protecting marriage could be lost in such a storm. This also is why our opponents and I would say the devil himself lick their chops at the possibility that we would make contraception a political issue.

So what are we to do? The political and social reality we live in does not change the teaching of the Church and neither does it change our responsibility to change that reality. But, if we are not going to fight on the electoral hill of contraception then what are we to do?

I say contraception is like Japan during World War II. It is the font of our present evils but we cannot go after it until the ground is prepared. We must island hop and strategically bomb but not invade, not yet anyway. In the coming weeks, I am gong to do some reporting on what others are doing to counter contraception’s advance and hope to learn for myself and then share with you some ideas on how we can stop this poison already pulsing through our country’s veins.

Austin Ruse

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Austin Ruse is a contributing editor to Crisis and president of the Center for Family & Human Rights (C-FAM). He is the author of the upcoming Catholic Case for Trump (Regnery, 2020). You can follow him on Twitter @austinruse.

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