Is Contraception the Hill We Want to Die On?

Using artificial contraception to avoid pregnancy is a mortal sin, according to the teachings of the Catholic Church.

While only the Catholic Church maintains this teaching on contraception, it would be a better world if everyone did.

Paul VI was a prophet when he told the world that great societal evils would follow upon the widespread use of contraception: a loosening of morals, an objectification of women, family breakdown and all the rest of the pathologies that have visited us like furies.

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Many of us also hold that contraception also leads inevitably to abortion. After all, according to national statistics, 94 percent of the women getting abortions have  used contraception at some point in their lives. Meaning they know what it is and how to get it.  Contraception is a promissory note that is cashed by abortion when it fails.

Contraception was made a constitutional right in this country by the Supreme Court in two cases, Griswold v. Connecticut and Eisenstadt v. Baird. Griswold gave married people the right to use it and the decision was based on the sanctity of marriage. Eisenstadt kicked over that rationale by making it a right for single people, too. And then came the deluge.

According to the United Nations the US has one of the highest incidents of contraceptive use in the world. Anybody who wants it can easily get it, including abortifacient “contraceptives” like Plan B that are now available over-the-counter. Bowls of condoms adorn the entrances of clubs and the desks of school administrators. A month’s supply of the pill can be had for as little as nine bucks a month at your local Wal-Mart. And the Obama administration has now made it federal law that all women get it for free.

The abortion crowd knows that Americans love their contraceptives and that Americans would fight tooth-and-nail against anyone who might try to take them away. That’s why the abortion crowd loves to make the abortion debate all about contraception. This is why the “war on women” rhetoric has been so effective. They have been able to convince a significant portion of the electorate that pro-lifers want to take away their contraceptive pills.

But do we?

Serious Catholics understand the evils associated with contraceptives, including the medical dangers to women who take them, and we tell that story. But I am not aware of any campaign to ban contraceptives. In order to do that, we would need to overturn not one but two Supreme Court decisions. I have never seen a bumper sticker that says, “Overturn Griswold … and Eisenstadt,” not even on Judy Brown’s car. Think Roe has been hard to overturn? Try Griswold.

Not even the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has made banning contraceptives a part of its lobbying program. Their spokesman, my wife, told the New York Times in 2003, “while the church does not lobby to ban contraception, it does oppose policies like coercive government birth-control programs or laws that force individuals or institutions with moral or religious objections to provide contraceptives.”

And by the way, when was the last time you heard a sermon from your priest about contraception, let alone a statement by your Bishop?

A Catholic politician in Northern Virginia has come under fire from a primary challenger and LifeSiteNews for asking the Federal government to allow adult women to buy oral contraceptives without a doctor’s prescription. She is being accused of being a bad Catholic and questions are being raised about whether faithful Catholics can support her.*

This letter came at a time when contraceptives are already available in drugstores all over Virginia. You see racks and racks of condoms everywhere. What’s more, there are 136 federally funded Title X family planning clinics in Virginia where poor women can get contraceptive pills for free and virtually instantly, as many have doctors on site who write the prescriptions.

I must admit if I was in her place, I would not have sent the letter, but then I could never be elected to this most liberal part of Virginia, the tony suburbs of Washington DC where she is the only Republican of any kind elected to the Virginia House of Delegates from inside the Beltway.

Even though she represents a profoundly pro-choice area, where abortion is practically a sacrament, she has a stellar pro-life record, voting against state funding of abortion, against abortion funding in a proposed state health exchange, in favor of ultrasound, and she even voted in favor of something that many pro-lifers oppose for prudential reasons, personhood for the unborn child. She voted a single time against an amendment to cut abortion funding from Obamacare but, according to pro-life watchdog Family Foundation of Virginia, she did so as a vote against Obamacare and not as a vote in favor of abortion. And one of her Republican challengers runs on this, and on contraception?

Such charges tend to be made in desperation and truth be told, the primary opponent making these charges has about as good a chance to win in this district as I do.

But her challenger’s chances aside, the more interesting question is what is the duty of the Catholic politician when it comes to contraceptives?

There is no question that the Catholic politician is duty bound to limit and then to stop legal abortion. After all, abortion is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being. Protecting the innocent from abortion is not a uniquely Catholic matter. Is contraception the same as abortion, or is it more like divorce, a fundamental Catholic teaching but one that we do not seek to impose on others. We may seek to convince others but we do not seek to impose it on them through public policy.

There are good public health reasons to be against contraception. Hormonal birth control pills can cause cancer, for instance. And this is a very important point to make when we properly try to undermine public confidence in contraceptives. But this is not a Catholic reason to vote against them and Delegate Barbara Comstock is being attacked on Catholic grounds. We do not see any great Catholic campaigns against smoking and smoking probably causes more cancer than the pill.

Comstock’s letter should be seen in the context of where we are in our new Obamacare world. Contraception was universally available before Obamacare, but now every person in America gets it for free, either through employer insurance or the healthcare exchanges. They have utterly won and somewhere in the pits of hell, sitting in the cocktail lounge, drinking a celebratory martini is Margaret Sanger.

Here’s an irony: the policy change Comstock called for could actually reduce the use of contraception, because women would actually have to reach into their own pockets to buy it. Are free pills paid by tax dollars the purer “Catholic” position than making women pay for it themselves?

Abortion advocates everywhere are eager to use contraceptives as a cudgel to beat us with and they would love nothing more than for us to actually fight on that ground. Comstock declined. In one fell swoop she took the cudgel away from them.

As for her critics, do they really want us to charge up Contraceptive Hill, flying our flags high and singing Te Deums? Must we now launch campaigns to ban contraceptives? And condoms, too? Must we make overturning Griswold and Eisenstadt a litmus test for candidates and judges?

Certain defeat awaits us up Contraceptive Hill. We should not fight there.

* In the spirit of full disclosure, my wife and I, along with former US Ambassador to the Holy See Jim Nicholson and other serious Catholics, have endorsed Barbara Comstock’s candidacy to replace retiring Congressman Frank Wolfe in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District.


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