The Tiny Elephant In The Room: Birth Control & Sexual Morality

/ Commentary

Among pro-lifers today, particularly those of the younger and less traditional-conservative stripe, a common orthodoxy persists.

The idea goes like this: the issue is abortion, and only abortion. We do not need to take any stand beyond that. If we can make people see abortion is murder, they will be more careful to ensure they do not become pregnant, making even the consideration of abortion a rarity. After all, we have condoms! Birth control pills! IUDs! Patches! Shots! Diaphragms!

This is half-correct; the ability to defend the pro-life cause from a logical standpoint, using solid rhetoric and compassionate language, is paramount. The pro-abortion argument is based on emotional manipulation — not facts — and it is certainly worthwhile to pick apart those arguments.

However, we must not end here. In order to defend the lives of the preborn, we are necessarily called to do far more than that. We must create a culture in which abortion is unthinkable — and we cannot do it without addressing the matter of those cute little pills.

Though various contraceptive methods have been used to some degree throughout history (particularly coitus interruptus or the “pull-out method”), it was not until the 1960’s that the rise of the birth control pill ushered in a brand new sexual landscape. No longer was sex and pregnancy inextricably linked as they had always been. Birth was a thing that could be controlled, and therefore, waiting to have sex with one’s partner until marriage was not an imperative to the same extent it had been for previous generations.

Various other factors played a role in the societal overhaul which took place in the mid-twentieth century. After women were forced to take on factory work and other typically male jobs during World War II, they did not all return to their roles as wives and mothers in droves following this era. With the taste of financial independence in their mouths and the rallying cry of the second wave feminists marching ahead of them, our foremothers faced not only the “sexual revolution,” but a total gender revolution.

For the first time ever, women were able to throw off the “shackles” of the ever-looming oppressive male-dominating and female-subjugating “patriarchy” in the social sphere and the biological realm as well. As the feminist architects of the time saw it, true liberation of women could not be achieved as long as women did not have “reproductive rights.”

So what does all of this have to do with abortion?

Everything.

For most pro-lifers today, including most Christians, abortion is not only a distinct issue from birth control but a totally separate question. Abortion and birth control are not even on the same gradient line of morality. However, this viewpoint poses a problem when we look at not only how we expect people to act, but how they actually behave in the real world.

I wrote an article about a year ago titled “Your Right To Sex Is Not More Important Than Your Child’s Right To Life.” In this article, I held the typical view of birth control as being morally neutral.

“If you’re having sex with casual or multiple partners, let them know that you will not get an abortion if an accident were to happen. And then protect yourself from pregnancy as much as humanly possible.

Use birth control. Not one kind. Multiple types. Use a condom – which will also help to protect you from STIs. Use a hormonal contraceptive. Throw in a spermicide product. Diaphragm, perhaps? There are dozens of options. Learn about them, and use them properly.

A bit of extra work?

Too bad. If you truly fear pregnancy to the level that abortion would be your choice if it were to occur, you would truly do everything in your power to avoid pregnancy. If you are unwilling to do this, you are using abortion as birth control by default.”

Everything I wrote is, of course, logically sound if we treat abortion and birth control as separate issues. And yet, the more time I spent thinking about it, the more I realized this simple exhortation to use more birth control was not actually reducing abortions. I have been known in the past to say “birth control does not fail, women fail at using birth control.” I think there is some truth to this statement.

I tend to disagree with many birth-control-critical pro-lifers who state birth control failure is a common problem. While it is certainly true no method is foolproof, it is possible to make the chance of getting pregnant virtually non-existent. Women have the education to do so, and the financial cost of doing it is very low.

So why are so many women still failing to use birth control effectively? Why are one in three women still having abortions?

It is because we are looking at a spiritual and physical question as a purely physical one. Sex is an inherently moral or immoral act, no matter how much our culture tries to convince us otherwise. By taking the implications of birth control off the table when we talk about abortion, we miss much of this vital understanding.

Women go on to have abortions when their birth control “fails” because the very attitude most women have about birth control sets them up for this exact outcome: sex is not for babies and pleasure inherently, but for babies or pleasure depending on circumstance. And if that is the attitude a person has toward sex, is it any wonder how easy it becomes to justify the next step?

As a devout Catholic, I applaud the Church’s consistent teaching against the use of contraceptives, including the 1968 Humanae Vitae encyclical by Pope Paul VI. However, this is not solely a Catholic position. All non-Catholic Christian denominations opposed birth control until the 1930s!

While you may not take the same stance as the Catholic Church (and Protestant churches at the turn of the century) on contraception, I believe it is absolutely essential to at least consider how birth control impacts the abortion equation as well as our sexual morals in general.

Do not accept birth control as morally neutral because it is the default position, but because you have truly examined the issue for yourself. You may be surprised at just how good the arguments are against it, both Christian and secular alike.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Human Defense Initiative.

The Tiny Elephant In The Room: Birth Control & Sexual Morality
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