Contraception is the lynchpin for any American conservative’s proper understanding of sex. Unfortunately, the modern debate over sexual profligacy has tended to focus on abortion, since it is (forgive the pun) a much sexier battle than that over contraception. In the conservative camp abortion has become a dirty word, alongside such traditional punching bags as “welfare.” There are two reasons for this: in the first place, many conservatives despise abortion insofar as they believe it to be an act of premeditated murder, and furthermore committed against those who are unable to defend themselves – although in that word “themselves” comes already the introduction of a very substantial opinion concerning the personhood of the aborted being. In the second place, when one has a choice between a debate over the secret choices of the bedroom and that over the acceptability of cold-blooded infanticide, the latter will always win out – it makes for better press, and it demonizes liberal opponents to a far grander extent, equating them with those exotic witch doctors of the Mayans who threw sacrificial crowds into wells.
The history of Planned Parenthood (I should mention, well chronicled in a piece by Jill Lepore in the NewYorker) bears out that that organization’s initial objective was not the careful culling of the human race based on eugenical fantasies, but helping Depression-era mothers, who were appalled at the thought of bringing more people into their already starving families. Planned Parenthood first demonstrated effective methods for contraception to this demographic, in the express hope of giving a better life to people of worse means. The charge that Margaret Sanger was a eugenicist is entirely accurate. Less well known is the equally accurate fact that Sanger was expelled from Planned Parenthood because of her ideology. Contraception in America had, of course, been known about and utilized before Planned Parenthood, but it tended to be the provenance of the rich or the desperate. I confess that I forget the reference, but in the debates over Planned Parenthood’s legality in its early stages, one supporter glibly remarked that it was a strange thing that people of higher social status tended to have fewer children, while those of lower social status tended to have too many to feed. I keep this in mind any time I discuss this issue, since the trend means only one of three things: richer people are more infertile, richer people are more continent, or richer people use contraception. I hope against the first and I sincerely doubt the second, which means I am inclined to accept the last.
When I look at the public voice of conservatives on the issue of abortion, I see immediately the drawing of the lines – no ambiguity there. Then, turning to listen to the statements about contraception, I notice some suspicious disparities, not just between act and thought but between different tables in the conservative tent. Rick Santorum, recently and famously, has denounced contraception as antithetical to a Christian, conservative worldview, and he must believe that he speaks for all people who value pious conduct over impious, whether Christian or not. However, the facts of the case – and by that I simply mean, my personal experience of talking to and witnessing many conservative (often religious) couples over the last 20 odd years – do not bear out any link between the rhetoric and the social mores. For instance, I have talked to many conservative couples, recently married, who have told me that they are “waiting” to have a baby, given economic conditions. Have they then also pledged to forego sex? Did they embark on their honeymoon throwing care to the wind, assuming that God or nature would honor their financial schedule, or did they take steps to, dare I say it, plan their parenthood? Continue reading Towards an Unprotected Stance on Contraception