Susanna Spencer has a masters in theology from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. She is a writer and the theological editor for Blessed is She, and writes on her own blog Living With Lady Philosophy. She is a homeschooling mother of four and lives with her family in St. Paul, Minnesota.
The CDC recently released new guidelines for women of childbearing ages: if you are going to be drinking, you better be using contraception. Their concern is with fetal alcohol syndrome, which is a legitimate concern, but their solution to preventing it does not respect women at all. They seem to think that young women are ignorant, helpless creatures who cannot make good decisions without the government to help them along.
They go on to recommend that health providers tell women to stop drinking if they are not using some form of contraception to prevent pregnancy. Women are going to have to face even more pressure to use contraception. And further those who follow Church teaching and do not use contraception are going to be pressured to not drink alcohol at all, ever.
This new recommendation by the CDC has a glaring truth to it that the Church has always embraced: a new human life is one of the ends of the sexual act. And all of a sudden, according to the CDC press release, “Every woman who is pregnant or trying to get pregnant – and her partner – want a healthy baby,” and this baby can be harmed by alcohol at any point in the pregnancy, even in the first 6 weeks during which she may not know of her pregnancy. So, the CDC says you either, use alcohol or you use contraception.
Now let’s say I had not been raised by Catholic parents who knew all about Humanae Vitae and the Church’s stance on contraception. Let’s say the only thing I had learned as a teenage girl was that I should be on contraception all the time, because, kids these days really have no self control. Then I probably would take this recommendation at face value and say, hey, I really do not have the ability to know when I might be pregnant unless I prevent it entirely. Thanks, CDC, and while I am at it I will stop drinking whenever I even think of having a baby.
But the truth is that I was raised by Catholic parents who taught me about my sexuality in light of the truth. They taught me the value of it, the dignity of myself as a woman, and that the sexual act has a procreative end. They also taught me that it was for marriage. They taught me the truths of the Church and it empowered me as a women to know about my body.
When I became engaged to my now husband, the Church recommended that I learn a method of Natural Family Planning. We were not sure how much we would actually need to use it, but thought we might as well know it since you never know what life will bring or what grave reason might come up. And as we learned how to chart cycles, we learned that there is a lot more to learning NFP than just knowing what days are potentially fertile and which days are not. We learned that by following signs a woman can know a lot about her health.
The Church’s stance on contraception has not kept women back in the past, but has led to scientific advances in understanding women’s cycles, hormone imbalances, causes of infertility, maintaining healthy pregnancies, and postpartum health. Without the research that has happened since Humanae Vitae, several of my children might not be here due to too low of progesterone during my pregnancies, and I might be taking antidepressants for postpartum depression instead of having received one round of progesterone therapy which solved my emotional difficulties immediately.
Further, since I learned how to follow my cycles of fertility, I have known every time I have become pregnant, exactly what time frame in which a child might start receiving nourishment from my body after he or she had implanted, so I could make an informed decision about when to not drink. I did not need the CDC to tell me that not contracepting would put a potential human life at risk, I knew what to do because I had been empowered by the Church to learn about my body.
The new CDC guidelines are not empowering for women in the least. They encourage women to continue in ignorance about their fertile cycles. They tell women that they just have to use some form of contraception, most of which have pretty awful side effects, if they are going to be drinking at all. Women deserve better than this. If the CDC really cared about women, they would encourage them to learn about their reproductive health, to get to know their bodies, instead of placing foreign objects into them or taking chemicals.
Since contraception has become widely available, women have been told they have to use it or they cannot really be free. But real freedom comes from knowing the truth and following it, and the truth that the Catholic Church teaches is empowering.