Countering the Contraceptive Culture
For Mary Turner, work was satisfying enough at the Chicago crisis-pregnancy center she worked for in the mid-’90s. Yet, rewarding as she found her days providing one-onone counseling to individual women, she felt frustrated by the endlessness of the procession. Day after day, week after week, the women just kept coming.
“Crisis-pregnancy centers do wonderful work,” Turner says today, “but they won't bring an end to abortion. As soon as one woman is helped, another walks in. The stream is unending as long as we don't address the root.”
Turner had that thought in mind when, three years after moving to La Crosse, Wis., in 1997, she launched LifeVoice. Focused on digging up and exposing what she believes that root to be — the “contraceptive mentality” — the ministry educates people about the Church's teaching on contraception and the many positive effects of natural family planning.
“Salvation of souls is our goal as Catholics, and this is our part in it,” Turner says. “The bulk of the information is on the danger of contraception. We live in a world steeped in a contraceptive mentality. Contraception seems to be an easier route, but chastity fulfills the promises.”
Advocates for contraception claim it stabilizes marriages, prevents unplanned pregnancies, decreases abortions, prevents sexually transmitted diseases and decreases poverty through population control. Instead, as Turner demonstrates, contraception fails on every promise.
Since the birth-control pill was introduced in the 1960s — and with it widespread social acceptance of contraception — the country has seen a dramatic rise in the divorce rate, a skyrocketing increase in babies born out of wedlock, more than a million abortions a year (since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973), an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases and an increase of fatherless homes resigned to chronic poverty.
“Many people are against abortion and think it's awful, but they don't see the connection between abortion and contraception,” says Father Samuel Martin, a friend of Turner's who has invited her to speak to his class at Aquinas High School in La Crosse. “Mary gets that across.”
While not a diocesan program, LifeVoice has been endorsed by Bishop Raymond Burke (now archbishop of St. Louis) and has been introduced to deanery groups of parishes. Because of the latter, Turner notes, more pastors seem to have opened themselves to preaching on the topic.
“I grew up in a devout Catholic family, but the subject of contraception never came up,” Turner says. “Nor did I ever hear an explanation in a church background, even as an undergraduate in a Catholic college.”
Turner has managed to preside over LifeVoice while also pursuing a master's degree in pastoral theology from Ave Maria University in Ypsilanti, Mich. — and raising a family. One of the biggest challenges, she says, is staying current with the fast-breaking news about contraception. “I update each talk based on the latest information about new forms of contraception,” she says.
Audiences have been impressed not only by her expertise but also by her warmth. “She approaches people in a congenial way,” Father Martin says. “She's very positive, not judgmental.” He believes her personal style makes her hearers more accepting of what she has to say.
Nor does it hurt that Turner is both energetic and motivated. In just three years of existence, LifeVoice has made 63 presentations to parishes, Knights of Columbus members and women's, youth and high-school groups. Its outreach also has included 3,000 door-to-door visitations and twice-weekly prayer vigils in front of a center that dispenses contraception and makes abortion referrals.
LifeVoice volunteers also hand out pamphlets in offices, stores and on the streets. Turner says college students have been “incredibly open and desirous of this information.”
Approximately 30 volunteers involve themselves in one or more of these projects, and Turner publishes a newsletter to keep them, other supporters and financial contributors up-to-date.
Of course, things don't always come up roses. Although Turner says 95% of the people offered information accept and say they will read it, many who come to her presentations do so with a built-in resistance.
“One lady admitted she only came because her pastor asked her to,” Turner relates. “‘I didn't want to come,’ she told me, ‘but you said everything that's going on inside of me since I got my tubal ligation. Thank you.’”
Truth With Love
Barbara Harmon, former director of religious education at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in East Troy, Wis., agrees that people who have been using contraceptives would not be eager to hear the presentation.
“As a DRE, I had looked for ways to bring the Church's message about contraceptives and sterilization to the people,” she explains. She used tapes by a renowned Catholic priest that clearly condemned contraceptive use, but they were met “with much resistance and argument from parents of children in the parish's program. Mary's approach seemed much better. The motto of LifeVoice is ‘Telling the Truth with Love.’”
Harmon asked her successor, Suzanne Markiel, to invite Turner to address an in-service program for religious-education teachers.
“It was as I hoped it would be,” Harmon says. “All reactions I heard were positive. Everyone seemed very interested; no one was visibly upset, despite how controversial a topic contraception use is. I think that most attending had used or were using contraception at some time and were not aware of either the dangers or specific Church teaching.”
“Turner held our attention and her message was faith-filled and conveyed with love,” Markiel adds. “She was not pushy and did not make people feel uncomfortable if they were using contraceptives or had in the past.”
The program lasts an hour, with questions and answers afterward. The audience is generally surprised to learn that a majority of women seeking abortion had been using contraception at the time they got pregnant — a pattern Turner saw firsthand while working at the Chicago crisis-pregnancy center. They are also surprised to hear about the physical dangers from the pill, Depo-Provera shots, Norplant implants, tubal ligations, vasectomies and other contraceptive means.
On the other hand, the loss of intimacy with their husbands and the dehumanizing effects of contraception are borne out by women who admit that it negatively impacts how they feel about their sexuality.
“The day I got my tubal ligation, I felt like an ‘it,’” one woman admitted. “Relations with my husband were distasteful.”
That woman's remark “captures so well the devastation after expecting good to come from it,” Turner says.
LifeVoice shows that the end to such devastation is a return to trust in God and his Church. It was not the Church that was “out of touch” throughout the last century, Turner explains, but a culture that tried to take matters into its own hands.
“We will not restore respect for life at all ages and stages, before or after conception,” she says, “without restoring our trust in God.”
Joanne C. Schmidt writes from Houston.