Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Contraception: Who's conning who?

Last February, Austin Ruse wrote a wrote a cautionary piece in Crisis, "Is Contraception the Hill We Want to Die On?", which was concerned with an attack on a Catholic politician's request that the federal government permit the sale of oral contraceptives without a prescription. Ruse is a thoughtful, lucid commentator; so, of course, he made some very good points. 

Nevertheless, I responded in Catholic Stand with "Contraception: A Hill Worth Dying On!" (you have to do ugly things to titles to boost your search-engine visibility, I've learned), arguing that there were several reasons the fight against abortion requires taking on contraceptives. Eleven months later, that conviction is still strong.

As usual, I posted the first few paragraphs on this site, with a link to the full CS article. Forty-seven weeks later, I finally get a comment in that combox, from Juliana@birthcontrol: "I am a catholic but I'm not sure I will be joining you on this one any time soon." 

I suppose I understand. Who wants to stop taking a Class I carcinogen that increases risks of weight gain, breast cancer, depression, blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes? Who wouldn't want to take a pill that interferes with your ability to select compatible mates, decreases your desirability, facilitates poor sexual choices, and encourages sexploitation? After all, it frees you from your biology ... assuming you don't still end up at Planned Parenthood wondering how those two gametes managed to get together despite all the roadblocks you put up.

So when Joanna Moorhead, writing in The Guardian, asks the Catholic Church to "drop the contraception con", my first reaction is to ask, "Who's conning who?"

Politics is not now, and never has been, about what you can prove or substantiate with facts; it's always been about what you can make others believe with compelling stories — myths, in the classic sense. This is especially true of a society taught to believe that truth is subjective and that scientific studies can be "bought": "good science" is whatever supports the preferred narrative, and "bad science" is whatever runs counter to it, irrespective of the real merits of the evidence presented. And scientists themselves do little to correct this impression; some even reinforce it, in one way or another.

As I wrote eleven months ago, "Seemingly, to be against contraception is equivalent to being a Holocaust denier or a proponent of the flat-Earth theory. After all, according to Angela Bonavoglia anyway, 'every major health organization maintains that [contraception] is crucial [to] the health of mothers and babies'; whether or not that statement is true, it’s certainly part of the mythos ... that women need access to birth control and abortion for their health."

Even more important, it's part of the contraception mythos that women need contraceptives to be equal to men. Demagogues love false dilemmas like, "Either artificial contraception or stuck at home all day for the rest of your life taking care of two dozen kids"; feminists have had over fifty years in which they could hammer this picturesque black-and-white fallacy into female brains, almost uncontested and uncontradicted. In this light, the "war on women" myth is baked into the "contraceptives or enslavement" dilemma: anybody who opposes contraception in any way must want to push women back into a subordinate role!

However, if the last two decades have demonstrated nothing else, they've demonstrated that there is no social conviction so widespread and certain that a small group, working tirelessly and cleverly, can't eventually overthrow it. In fact, progressives and the irreligious fear "Christian incrementalism" precisely because the advances made by the left themselves have been made through "death by a thousand cuts" legal strategies. One atheist explained it in this manner: "[I]f we don’t fight the small fights we become a religious state gradually and before we know it we have teacher led school prayer, creationism being taught in school (even if only as an alternative), Bible verses on our army’s guns, troops handing out Bibles to people in other countries, troops being discriminated against for not going to religious ceremonies etc. etc."

Women, being equal to men, are equally capable of drawing narrative-busting conclusions from evidence third-wave feminists like Sandra Fluke and Amanda Marcotte would rather not acknowledge even to dismiss. Chelsen Vicari, an Evangelical (yes, Evangelical, as in "Protestant", as in "not-Catholic with an exclamation point") and a critic of chemical contraception, writes in Juicy Ecumenism of a recent CNN article by Nadia Kounang which talks about the rise in popularity of natural family planning methods among "secular women":

Secular women are recognizing the serious health risks associated with chemical contraception that have gone ignored for far too long. “I’m a health person,” said 25 year-old Aisha Mukooza to CNN. “I try to eat healthy food, so the idea of being pumped with synthetic hormones didn’t appeal to me, in fact, it was scary.”

Vicari notes, "I’ll be honest; NFP is a complex method that takes discipline and commitment. But what NFP does offer is an alternative method to the negative ethical, physical and emotional effects that lurk behind the convenience of the Pill." And she also bemoans the general unwillingness of Evangelicals, especially Evangelical feminists ("Jesus feminists"), to come to grips with the problem:

This year the annual March for Life theme is “Every life is a gift.” For Evangelicals, our hearts agree that this message is true, but our flesh acts counter to it. Our society tells us that children are expensive, troublesome, and diminish our own goals and dreams rather than add to them. We ignore the warning signs in the pursuit of independence, cleared acne, and lighter menstruation symptoms.

Let me state for the record that I'm not entirely sure how she defines "secular women"; one of the articles she cites is by Chrissy Wing, a young mother and third-order discalced Carmelite. The non-religious almost never join Catholic third orders. But Wing's Ethika Politika article is worth looking at because she writes it from the perspective of the health-conscious "crunchy" women like Mukooza:

The recent storm against GMOs are enough to make me think that if birth control didn’t fall within the boundaries of “women’s reproductive rights,” it would have been banned long ago. Women would write letters until “Pharma” (birth control makes up a 2.8 billion dollar slice of the pharmaceutical pie) stopped making poison meant to be consumed by unsuspecting women. There is in fact a big label on any birth control, stating its synthetic nature and chemical name, along with its laundry list of side effects .... In fact, as I write this, there are several class action lawsuits against brands of birth control that have been out for years and have been consumed by millions of women. Yazmin and Nuva Ring are great examples of this.

Professor Janet Smith, in her recorded talk "Contraception: Why Not?", says, "Doctors have told me that we've seen nothing yet in respect to lawsuits. What the pharmaceutical companies will face in respect to contraceptives is going to be huge compared to what we had with the tobacco companies. The pharmaceutical companies know every bit as much how bad contraceptives are for women as the tobacco companies knew about tobacco. And some day there may be massive lawsuits."

Don't get me wrong; I'm not looking for Eisenstadt v. Baird or Griswold v. Connecticut to be overturned next year. I am saying, though, that more women are beginning to question and challenge the pro-contraceptive narrative; the media flap over Pope Francis' recent remarks reaffirming Humanae Vitae merely gives these women more space in which to be heard.

So by all means, let's end the contraception con — or rather, the multiple cons needed to sustain this multi-billion-dollar swindle. Let's get rid of the Orwellian language games by which pounding down absurdly high levels of a toxic hormone becomes "essential to women's health", and critics are pathologized as "misogynists" pursuing a "war on women". Let's finally acknowledge sexual stupidity as such.