Millions of people around the world will have sex tonight. And more than 99% of it will NOT be intended to create a pregnancy. Yet many cultural, religious, and political traditions treat contraception as an anomaly, something to be regulated and even criminalized.
It’s common for Americans to imagine that lawmakers must oppose contraception if they’re Catholic or Evangelicals, for example, because they supposedly believe that birth control is a sin. But over 98% of American women use birth control at some point in their lives—INCLUDING Catholics and Evangelicals. People make choices--and so can politicians.
Most Americans of every faith pick and choose which parts of their religion they follow at various times in life (the First Amendment guarantees the right of such convenient selectivity). So there are reasons besides “sin” that so many religiously-oriented people oppose birth control—particularly for other people, here are some of those reasons:
* Contraception makes it clear that people have sex for pleasure and intimacy
When people consciously use effective forms of birth control, they are acknowledging the sex that they have as being for pleasure and/or intimacy, and nothing else. This honors our bodies, and the sexual energy within them. It honors our adulthood, as we get the rewards of being honest with ourselves and our partner, and the rewards of careful planning.
Self-honesty and planning are considered important tools in every other part of life. There’s no reason to exclude sexuality from this--except that fundamentalist religion fears this aspect of sex.
* Contraception effectively limits family size, empowering women
Contraception is the single most powerful intervention to increase female employment, female education, female life expectancy, and female equality in both civic and family life. With more money and more experience in the world, women’s expectations and performance in the world both rise.
For the most part, organized fundamentalist religion fears this. As we know, most fundamentalists religion divides the world by gender roles, typically assigning women tasks at home rather than responsibilities (and power) out in the world.
* Contraception reduces a key unwanted consequence of sex, promoting autonomy
When people are less frightened of the unwanted consequences of sex, they have it more often. They also start wondering how they can design it to suit their own needs, rather than seeing it as an activity to be enjoyed while hoping to avoid disaster.
In fact, contraception—which frees people to have sex any time of the month they choose, ejaculating within a vagina rather than nervously trying not to—gives people a sense of autonomy regarding sex. And autonomy is the last thing organized religion wants to promote in people.
* Contraception may make abortion more acceptable
Although neither the Old Testament nor New Testament condemn abortion, and both Jewish and Christian thought tolerated early-stage abortion until at least the Renaissance, religious fundamentalists tend to be obsessed with abortion—many seeing it, for example, as worse than child molestation.
There actually is a slippery slope—once people see the advantages of controlling their fertility, it is easier to see abortion as just one more choice regarding healthcare, ethics, and family/marital well-being.
To those who support a couple’s right to a full range of reproductive health choices, this is totally acceptable. To those who oppose adults’ right to choose abortion when it can enhance the life (or prevent crises in) of various already-living people (such as existing kids, the couple, either would-be parent), contraception can look like a gateway drug.
This means, of course, disrespecting (and discouraging) a private choice made each year by several hundred million men and women.
And not that religion operates by logic, but it should be pointed out constantly that people who oppose abortion should PROMOTE contraception to achieve their ostensible goal.
* * *
Of course, Americans’ sexual decision-making, and attempts to influence it, take place in the context of our Constitution.
Religion is specifically prohibited as a factor in American law: the First Amendment says that the government may NOT favor a particular religion, nor demand religious thinking or obedience, in its laws. The radical glory of this right is that individuals are free to worship any way they choose, or to not worship at all. However, no one—no matter how sincere their beliefs—is allowed to impose his or her beliefs on the rest of us. Supposedly.
Isn’t that what some people worry about regarding Sharia in America—they fear that Muslims will impose their religious beliefs on everyone? As it happens, many of those same people embrace SOME religious beliefs imposed on everyone—as long as they agree with their content. For example, why are crosses allowed in public parks? Why are crèches allowed on city hall lawns each year?
When people talk about the government “defunding Planned Parenthood,” they’re really talking about allocating less money for low-cost or free sexual health exams, condoms, birth control pills, IUDs, and other forms of contraception. Similarly, talk about the removing the Obamacare birth control mandate is anything but abstract—it actually undermines the contraceptive choices of actual people.
Think four or five hundred bucks for birth control every year is no big deal? Millions of working people do without doctor visits to get simple antibiotics, and repairs that would make their cars safer, simply because they can’t afford it. For them, four or five hundred bucks is serious money.
For religious fundamentalists, it’s blood money.