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.
Did you see Amanda Marcotte’s post from last week? Honestly, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe she wrote that. Rarely have I seen such helpful tips for utilizing the food from Community Supported Agriculture shipments. Somebody hand me my apron, because I want to get started on that kidney bean and wine stew recipe right now!
Oh, and she also penned a reply to my post from Friday, exploring whether or not she was upset when she wrote about World Youth Day (conclusion: she was not), whether or not she was upset while writing the current post (conclusion: still not!), whether or not I personally hate women (conclusion: I do), whether or not the Church hates women (conclusion: it does), and she wrapped it up with some f-bombs and a scatological call to action.
It’s hard to know what to respond to here, so for brevity’s sake I’ll stick with the part about whether or not the Catholic Church hates women. Not only does the Church not disrespect women, it’s one of the few places in the modern world where women can find true acceptance and respect. To address some of Ms. Marcotte’s points specifically:
Is contraception good for women?
When I cited the Guttmacher data that more than half of women seeking abortions were using contraception at the time they conceived their child, Ms. Marcotte points out that I neglected to include a key piece of information: “Of this group, only 13% of pill users and 14% of condom users report correct use.”
Great point. Just look at those abysmal actual use rates! There are two possible explanations: The problem is with the women using the contraception; or the problem is with the contraception.
If you assume that the thousands of women we’re talking about here were intelligent, responsible people, then this indicates that there is a huge problem with contraception—something the Church has said all along.
Even the most ardent pro-choice activist doesn’t want to have an abortion. Aside from the termination of a new human’s life, it’s a painful, and occasionally deadly, procedure that’s a violation of a woman’s body and can leave her sterile. So why are so many women ending up at abortion clinics if this contraception thing is working out so well? Again from the Guttmacher data, only 8 percent of women seeking abortions had never used contraception, so it’s not an issue of not being aware of their birth control options.
How does the contraceptive mentality impact women?
Another point Ms. Marcotte made (with some editing for vulgarity):
I love the way she characterizes how contraception and abortions happen. It’s not that women seek these things out! No, the contraception man comes to your door and hands you your bag of contraception. Prior to then, it would have never occurred you to do something like [have sex]. But suddenly, without even thinking about it, you’re [having sex] and boom! Next thing you know, pregnant. And then the abortion posse shows up to your house and takes you to the clinic. You probably didn’t even realize that you’d get a baby if you didn’t go with them. Because you have no will or mind of your own.
I think what she’s trying to get at here is the question of whether contraception takes away women’s free will. As she rightfully points out, it doesn’t. Women are always free to make their own decisions, and at some level they’re aware that sex can lead to pregnancy. But this is where the “contraceptive mentality” comes into play: The widespread acceptance of contraception has led our society to fundamentally misunderstand the nature of the sexual act. Sure, women know that sex creates babies. But they’re bombarded with about a zillion messages every day that portray sex as a consequence-free endeavor that’s only about pleasure and fun (just turn on the E! network or flip through an issue of Cosmo if you’re not sure what I’m talking about). When women hear an occasional message that emphasizes the powerful, life-giving potential of sex, and hear 10,000 messages that portray it as trivial, it’s not a stretch to think that the more frequent message is going to seep in on some subconscious level.
Just look at what’s going on in our culture. There are over 1 million abortions every year. Why are so many women ending up pregnant when they don’t want to be pregnant? If we rule out incompetence or lack of intelligence on the part of women, it starts to look like there might be a problem with contraception.
Who stands up for all women?
When you get in these kinds of discussions with secular feminists, they often bring up examples of women in bad circumstances having children they didn’t expect because they didn’t have access to abortion (Ms. Marcotte linked to a story involving a nine-year-old girl). I applaud their concern for women, and would never make light of the difficultly of childbirth. But I’m not comfortable with the fact that secular feminists are not willing to stand up for all women.
The last moment I considered myself a feminist was when I first saw the ultrasound of my second pregnancy. The baby was 19 weeks along, and we discovered that she was a girl. I watched her kick her legs and touch her face; we all laughed when she let out a big yawn. I admired her distinct nose which made for a beautiful profile that I’d later recognize when she was born.
But a chill went down my spine when I realized that the pro-choice feminist worldview, which I claimed to subscribe to, said that this young woman had no rights; in fact, according to my own worldview, my daughter was sub-human. Though I was not yet Catholic, I rejected mainstream feminism forever at that moment.
I don’t believe that women should have to meet a certain bar in order to be considered fully human and worthy of respect. Pro-choice feminism only respects women once they’ve reached a certain age, usually about 36 weeks; the ones who are younger than that are not considered worthy of consideration as human beings, let alone worthy of respect. The Catholic Church respects all women, no matter how small and voiceless.
The story Ms. Marcotte linked to about the nine-year-old girl is tragic; but I could link to some videos of girls younger than that being ripped limb from limb by abortion. Childbirth is definitely tough. But not as tough as being dismembered.
Who encourages women to seek information?
Finally, I note that I’m always suspicious of any cause that is not comfortable with a free flow of information, especially when it involves withholding information from women. Notice that you never see secular feminists sites linking to videos of abortions. You never see pro-choice sites posting pictures of what, exactly, these “clumps of tissue” within the womb actually look like. You never see them encouraging women to research fetal development and learn things like the fact that whatever it is that’s within their wombs has a heartbeat at four weeks, fingerprints at 10 weeks, and fully formed genitals at 14 weeks. They even oppose bills requiring that women at abortion clinics have the option of seeing ultrasounds to find out what is going on in their bodies, on the grounds that it would make the women too emotional.
Hey, guys, Victorian England called. They want their view of women back.
The Catholic Church, on the other hand, respects women enough to tell them the full truth about human sexuality and human life. It never discourages them from gaining more information about their own bodies. It trusts them to be able to handle the truth, even if it’s not convenient.
I don’t suggest here that Ms. Marcotte or other secular feminists intend to disrespect women; I think they mean well but are simply misguided. And I understand that, because I used to be in the same place. I had a bumper sticker for the National Organization of Women, donated to Planned Parenthood, and meant every word of it when I said I’d die to protect women’s access to abortion. But when I started questioning assumptions and taking a hard look at who really respects every aspect of all women, I found secular feminism sorely wanting. In fact, I found that there is no organization in the world that loves, honors, and respects women more than the Catholic Church.