Why are Republicans waging war on contraception? It’s not the first time the question has been asked, and it won’t be the last. Truth be told, Republicans aren’t engaging in battle on that front — but the phrase gets close to a legitimate fight.
Congress, for its part, held an unprecedented vote in the House in February to end funding of Planned Parenthood. It’s not a permanent or final vote; it was attached to a short-term move to keep the government funded. The debate in Congress was given momentum by the Live Action investigatory videos, which raised significant questions about what exactly Planned Parenthood is doing; but the rest of us need to discuss why we’ve let Planned Parenthood step in as a mainstream Band-Aid, throwing contraception and even abortion at problems that have much more fundamental solutions.
While women may want love and marriage, they don’t expect it. Justice Sandra O’Connor wrote in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion that women had “organized intimate relationships, and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.” And why wouldn’t they? Who, nowadays, encourages them to want more?
We’ve come to expect less for and from ourselves, and for and from one another. In part, it’s the fruit of the contraceptive pill. New York magazine recently observed in a cover feature: “The pill is so ingrained in our culture today that girls go on it in college, even high school, and stay on it for five, 10, 15, even 20 years.” That, of course, has had all kinds of fallout: a false sense of freedom, security. And it has ravaged women’s fertility, as it seeks to mute exactly what women’s reproductive power is all about.
That’s why I want to turn back the clock — to a time when we valued love and marriage and didn’t expect, support and even encourage promiscuity. Life and history don’t work that way, obviously, there is no actual rewind. But we do have opportunities to learn from our mistakes.
The spending fight over Planned Parenthood in Congress is about a number of things. It’s primarily about good stewardship, as so much of the spending debate is. But beyond legislation, beyond anything Congress can or should do, it is a call to arms for a new sexual revolution. It’s about wanting more for ourselves and for those whom we love. It’s about ending the surrender to a contraceptive mentality that treats human sexuality as just another commercial transaction.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates that than a recent commercial for a contraceptive called Beyaz. Women walk into a store and literally shop for men. “It’s good to have choices.” A woman happily shakes her head at the stork and its offerings in a sassy “we girls can do anything” kind of way, promenading through an adult Barbie commercial complete with Ken, a dream house and a trip to Paris.
That commercial does not, needless to say, do justice to the pain and desperation many women suffer when they find themselves thinking about an abortion, or popping pills in pursuit of something that masks itself as satisfaction but is really just a bad substitute, oftentimes making true happiness all the more illusory.
As evidence of the reckless and dangerous callousness at institutions supposedly dedicated to women’s health — failure to report the sex trafficking of minors, failure to report child abuse — continues to emerge, we can’t afford to lose sight of another, more fundamental conversation that we’ve got to have, among friends, in our homes and churches — a talk about what it means to be human.