contraception

The Politics of Contraception

Kwangmoozaa / Shutterstock
Kwangmoozaa / Shutterstock 

NOT LONG AGO, a friend asked my opinion about birth control pills. She and her husband, who have several young children, wanted to use them, but she had misgivings.

She had read an article by a Christian couple that had frightened her. “They basically just blasted the entire idea of using hormonal birth control on the basis that it is pretty much abortion,” she said.

Although evangelical sex manuals from the 1970s, including Ed and Gaye Wheat’s Intended for Pleasure, advocated the pill as a means of enjoying the delights of the marital bed without fear of pregnancy, some evangelicals today have a very different perspective. A recent Christianity Today blog series on contraception that I participated in received vigorous and occasionally vitriolic responses, despite giving voice to a range of perspectives: Advocates of hormonal contraception were featured alongside proponents of natural family planning.

How is it that contraception has become a religious battlefield—even, or perhaps especially—among evangelical Protestants?

A certain myth currently in circulation among conservative Christians (Catholic and evangelical alike) harkens back to a pre-contraceptive past when parents welcomed innumerable children, each as a gift from God. In this mythical narrative, the advent in the 1960s of the modern contraceptive pill fostered in people a “hedonistic mentality” and made them “unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality.” After the pill, children were no longer seen as gifts, but as burdens—“diseases” to be vaccinated against. If, despite precautionary measures, a woman conceived, then her modern “contraceptive mentality” would all but determine that she have an abortion. “Abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception,” wrote Pope John Paul II in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae.

Echoing Evangelium Vitae, in 2006 Southern Baptist leader Al Mohler called for the “rejection of the contraceptive mentality that sees pregnancy and children as impositions to be avoided rather than as gifts to be received, loved, and nurtured.” He also charged that the “effective separation of sex from procreation” was “one of the most ominous” and “important defining marks of our age,” leading to all kinds of sexual degradation.

The implication, of course, is that earlier ages were more closely aligned with God’s will and with “natural law,” the classical philosophy praised by Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.

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Planned Parenthood Backs Off Plan to Put Mormon Phrase on Condoms

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Planned Parenthood Association of Utah won’t give out condoms in packages borrowing a well-known Mormon phrase.

The pink-and-white wrappers were meant as a playful safe-sex reminder for Latter-day Saints, the group said. But critics say it was distasteful to feature the phrase “CTR” or “Choose the Right,” which the church uses to guide LDS youngsters toward good decisions.

2 Young Women, 2 Different Views on Contraception Case

Katie Breslin, left, and Katie Stone, right. Image via Lauren Markoe / RNS

Amid the helium balloons, dance music, chants, and counterchants, Katie Stone and Katie Breslin spelled out their opposing views outside the Supreme Court as the justices inside heard one of the most contentious cases of the year. The two 20-something Christians, both motivated by faith, say the justices’ ruling in Zubik v. Burwell could affirm or weaken the most basic of rights. The case asks whether religious nonprofits must comply with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, or whether it violates the federal law that sets a high bar for government infringement on religious rights.

Pope Francis Suggests Contraception Could Be OK for Women Threatened by Zika Virus

giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com
Photo via giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com

Speaking to reporters on February 18 on the way back from Mexico, Pope Francis weighed in on the outbreak of Zika virus in Latin America.

When asked whether birth control or abortion could be considered a "lesser evil" in the face of the virus, Francis condemned abortion as evil, but offered a more ambiguous response about birth control.

Could the Zika Virus Move Catholic Church to Reconsider Birth Control?

Image via REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/RNS

The discovery of a sexually transmitted case of the Zika virus is already reverberating in Latin America. In Brazil, at ground zero of the Zika virus outbreak, the Health Ministry issued new guidelines for pregnant Brazilians, including cautions to use condoms and abstain from sex or even kissing. Activists are also weighing in, calling for legalizing abortion of deformed fetuses. But an important voice with the potential to influence the debate has said relatively little on the topic thus far: the Catholic Church.

Thanks, Birth Control!

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It’s still not quite socially acceptable for women to express the desire to use birth control. To do so is to run the risk of being labeled a ‘slut’ — or worse. Forget all the sexual exploitation and objectification of women that’s all over the Internet and the entertainment industry — what’s really offensive in some quarters is the idea that women desire to have sex without having babies.

For more than 25 years, the federal government has funded abstinence-only sex education programs that have mostly proven ineffective (and even misleading). The United States has a rate of teenage pregnancy that’s significantly higher than other developed countries, and roughly half of all American pregnancies are unplanned.

That figure soars to nearly 70 percent when we’re talking about unmarried women under the age of thirty — and these numbers, too, are significantly higher than those in other developed countries.

By some estimates, 40 percent of unintended pregnancies are ended with an abortion.

Obamacare's 'Contraceptive Mandate' Faces New Challenge in Supreme Court

Image via Adelle M. Banks / RNS 

Sixteen months after ruling narrowly that companies with religious objections cannot be forced to pay for employees’ contraceptives, the court faces a chorus of cries from religious charities, schools, and hospitals seeking to get out of the birth control business altogether.

The justices are scheduled to review several petitions Friday asking them to overturn federal appeals court decisions that would force the non-profit groups to opt out of the “contraceptive mandate” included in the Affordable Care Act, rather than receiving the blanket exclusion granted churches and other solely religious institutions.

If they agree to hear one or more of the cases, it will mark the fourth time in five years that President Obama’s prized health care law has come before the high court. And it will put the battle between religious freedom and reproductive rights front-and-center in next year’s presidential race.

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