Jennifer Fulwiler is a writer and speaker who converted to Catholicism after a life of atheism. She’s a contributor to the books The Church and New Media and Atheist to Catholic: 11 Stories of Conversion, and is writing a book based on her personal blog, ConversionDiary.com. She and her husband live in Austin, TX with their five young children, and were featured in the nationally televised reality show Minor Revisions. You can follow her on Twitter at @conversiondiary.
Amanda Marcotte’s article in Slate about World Youth Day is making the rounds this week. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by suggesting that she was very upset when she wrote it. What was it about the event that got her so flustered? There’s not a clear thesis to the piece, but it seems that the Church’s anti-abortion stance, emphasized when Pope Benedict offered forgiveness to women who have had abortions, is what triggered most of her angst.
I get it. When I was pro-choice, I would have been upset too. The foundation of the pro-choice position is that access to abortion is necessary in order for women to have control over their bodies. Abortion = freedom. It’s that simple. Without it, the thinking goes, women have almost no control over when they have children. And, let’s face it, pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood are no joke. Your body is transformed almost beyond recognition in pregnancy, you experience some of the worst pain known to mankind in labor, and then you have a newborn who’s dependent on you for everything. It’s a physically and emotionally challenging process that alters your life down to the core of your being.
So, yeah, it’s the kind of thing you want a little control over.
But let’s take a closer look at this worldview. Implicit in the “abortion as freedom” stance is the idea that women don’t have much control over getting pregnant in the first place, thus they must resort to violating medical procedures once the pregnancy has already occurred.
That’s kind of a crazy idea, when you think about it. And, like a lot of crazy ideas in our culture, we have contraception to thank for it. Now that there’s widespread access to contraception, our young women are told not that sex creates babies, but that unprotected sex creates babies. They’re assured that sex can be safely separated from its life-giving potential, as long as they use artificial birth control. From a secular point of view, it might sound like a nice, pro-woman message.
The problem is that it’s not true.
According to Family Planning Perspectives, a publication of Planned Parenthood’s Guttmacher Institute, a woman using a method of birth control with a 99 percent success rate has a 70 percent chance of experiencing an unexpected pregnancy over a 10-year period. Again from the Guttmacher Institute, more than half of the woman who get abortions were using contraception when they conceived their child. And, anecdotally, anyone who knows many women who have had abortions knows that contraception failure is very often behind it.
So, let’s summarize the situation: Women are handed contraception and assured that they need not have a second thought as to whether they’re ready for pregnancy. Then, when their birth control method fails, they’re encouraged to undergo a painful medical procedure performed on the most sensitive part of their bodies. Also, in order for the “sex doesn’t have to have consequences” view to hold up, life within the womb cannot be human—otherwise, when a woman’s contraception fails, she just became a mother, and abortion won’t change that. And so women are discouraged from seeking accurate information about the new life within their bodies, fed insulting euphemisms about what the abortion procedure involves, and shouted down when they speak up about personal negative experiences with it.
Anyone who cares about women should be outraged.
And so, to Amanda Marcotte and others like her, I would say, as I’ve said before: You’re right to be angry. You are correct in sensing that women’s freedom is being taken away. You’re just wrong to blame the Church. Not only does it not “punish female sexuality,” but it’s one of the few voices in our culture that respects it.
The Catholic Church is the only institution that consistently proclaims the truth that the bonding and pleasurable aspects of sex cannot be severed from its life-giving potential. The Church advocates for methods of birth control that keep couples mindful of the possibility that each sexual act could create a pregnancy, even if they’re trying to avoid it, and thus encourages women to be completely bought in to the entire process. If it seems to be a killjoy, it’s only because it’s telling you the full truth.
I encourage Marcotte to take another look at the situation, and to carefully trace where the threat to women’s reproductive freedom really begins. It’s not with the Catholic Church’s stance against abortion. Women’s freedom was gone the moment our society bought into the lies of contraception.