Thursday, April 28, 2011

U.S. Bishops' Pro-Life Spokeswoman: Catholics Oppose Taxpayer Funding of Contraception

Third update: I posted during Holy Week about Gerald Slevin's recent critical analysis of Germaine Grisez's revisionist history of the post-Vatican II papal commission on birth control.  As I noted in that posting, it strikes me as inconsistent to oppose both artificial contraception and abortion, since abundant evidence demonstrates that the majority of abortions take place because pregnancies haven't been planned or a couple or woman dealing with a pregnancy feels unable to provide for and raise a child.  

And in a Good Friday posting, I noted the recent finding of the Guttmacher Institute that some 98% of Catholic women in the U.S. have used birth control--a finding Fr. Anthony Ruff notes in his response to Cardinal Wuerl's recent statement about the teaching authority of bishops in the wake of the condemnation of Elizabeth Johnson's work.  As I noted in my discussion of Ruff's article, it's intriguing to me that we're only now discovering something that statisticians, theologians, and many others have known since the late 1960s: that an overwhelming percentage of Catholics in the developed areas of the world stoutly reject Catholic magisterial teaching about artificial contraception and sexual ethics in general.

In light of these previous discussions of the contraception issue, I find the response of the U.S. Catholic bishops' official pro-life spokeswoman to the Guttmacher Institute data fascinating.  Nancy Frazier O'Brien discusses this response in a recent article in National Catholic Reporter.

As O'Brien notes, after the Guttmacher findings were published, Deirdre McQuade, assistant director for policy and communications at USCCB's Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, told Catholic News Service, "The way the data is presented . . . is misleading in a pretty fundamental way." McQuade's response to the Guttmacher data showing the vast majority of American Catholics reject church teaching about contraception is to reiterate the church's opposition to both abortion and contraception.

McQuade notes that "Catholics" are opposed to taxpayer funding of contraceptive services, because some contraceptives are actually abortifacients, and because "fertility is a sign of health."  Fertility should not be considered a disease to be controlled--and therefore birth control is not an area of health care that one ought  routinely to expect to be provided by health care agencies funded by tax dollars.

And again I have to say: I don't get it.  If we're really opposed to abortion and consider it one of the most heinous abuses of life to be curbed in our society, it seems to me we'd not only step back from the ban on artificial contraception, but we'd actively advocate for access to contraceptives for those who want or need them.  It's logically inconsistent to claim we're pro-life when it comes to abortion, and then to oppose contraceptives--given the clear link between preventing unwanted pregnancies and preventing abortions.

And there's another ethical issue lurking behind this debate that seems to me well worth noting: this is the desire of various groups of the religious and political right to control women and women's access to contraception, because women's ability to determine whether or when they will bear children is exceptionally threatening to the patriarchal mindset of the leaders of the religious and political right.  This is the unacknowledged goal of those trying to shut down Planned Parenthood.

What they're effectively trying to shut down is women's control over their reproductive lives.  In particular, they're effectively trying to shut down the control of poor women over their reproductive lives.  And that strikes me as morally reprehensible in the extreme, when those mounting this crusade know full well that affluent women will always have the means to obtain contraceptive devices or medications--while more and more women at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder will be deprived of those health care needs if this crusade has its way.

Pace Ms. McQuade, contraceptives most certainly are a part of any adequate health care plan for adults that seeks to provide comprehensive health care.  I grew up hearing one horror story after another about the effects of unplanned and unwanted pregnancies on many poor women in the chronically impoverished American South in the period from Reconstruction through the Great Depression.  I know from stories I heard my grandmother, mother, and aunts tell that women suffered horribly in the past when they were expected (and often forced) to bear one child after another during their years of fertility, and when food and the comforts to make life humane were scarce.

To ask that women be returned to that subjugation to biological fate and to male domination in the name of God strikes me as obscene.  The leaders of the Catholic church are on the wrong side of history and of morality with this particular crusade--and it's time they recognized that fact.  The opposition to contraceptive use undercuts what they want to teach us about the value of life and the evil of abortion.  Colluding with the religious and political right in attacks on the health care needs of poor women in the U.S. is not a morally admirable thing for Catholic bishops to do.

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