In an excerpt (-cum-adaptation) from her book Good Catholics: The Battle Over Abortion in the Catholic Church (Oakland: University of California Press, 2014) at Religion Dispatches today, Patricia Miller explains why Pope Paul VI chose to ignore the counsel of the commission on birth control he put together to advise him about that issue, as many Catholics around the world began using contraceptives when they became widely available. As Miller notes, part of the reason Paul VI ignored the advice of the commission, who told him that the ban on contraception could and should be lifted, was that he did not want to make it appear the church might ever have been wrong in anything it taught.
But there was more:
But another reason lurked behind the official explanation about why the teaching could not be changed: maintaining the link between sex and procreation was essential to the maintenance of the traditional, subordinate role of women. Maintaining the traditional family, in which men were leaders in the world outside the home and women were confined to the domestic realm by the demands of young children and repeated pregnancies, was a key concern of the Catholic Church. In the mid-1950s the Catholic bishops made headlines when they condemned married working mothers for deserting their children and helping to destroy the home. Allowing women to regulate their fertility was dangerous to what the church considered the natural order of things: women as receptors of God’s will as expressed through the acceptance of pregnancy.
And that passage helps us focus in a sharp way on at least part of what's at stake as the U.S. Catholic bishops keep attacking the Affordable Care Act, with its provision of contraceptive coverage for women.