Bishop's Column

The contradictions of contraception

In the early 1970s, American women reported being much happier than American men did.

Since that time, social change has led to gains for women in many spheres of American life. Women now have better access to education and employment. Women have risen to more prominent positions of influence and power, both in the business world and in politics. American women earn degrees at a higher rate than men. And, thanks to the sexual revolution, women have access to socially accepted, "risk-free" sexual activity at a higher rate than at any other time in human history.

And yet, since the 1970s, the reported happiness of American women has steadily plummeted.

The reason, according to a growing body of scholarship and journalism, is contraception and abortion.

For the past 40 years, secular academics and cultural leaders have espoused the common doctrine that contraception is indispensible for the march toward social equality for women. Without contraception, the thinking goes, women would be oppressed, forced to live their lives in subjugation to men - and without opportunities. Institutions like the Catholic Church, they claimed, were devoted to the oppression of women.

But the truth is that while the widespread use of contraception and abortion are dangerous for everyone, this is especially true for women.

In her new book, "Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution," Stanford researcher Mary Eberstadt argues quite convincingly that "the sexual revolution’s … weight has fallen heaviest on the smallest and weakest shoulders in society - even as it has given extra strength to those already strongest and most predatory."

In short, says Eberstadt, contraception radically weakens family ties, which leaves women less likely to be engaged in a healthy relationship, while being disproportionately responsible for the care of the children she does have.

Timothy Reichert, a world-renowned economist and a Colorado resident, recently argued in an essay titled "Bitter Pill" in the journal First Things, that contraception leads to an unfair dynamic between men and women in which women who want to marry are increasingly disregarded by men who are free to have sexual relationships with no real consequences.

And Helen Alvaré, a law professor at George Mason University, has argued that divorcing sexuality from procreation leads to a culture that expects women to be sexually available to men without ever desiring children. Alvaré has pointed out that most women, even today, "would like to be married at some point, or have some time to devote to their children," and that the expectation placed on women make these propositions increasingly difficult. The contraceptive culture, she points out, tragically mitigates the responsibility of men to their families.

The freedom promised by the sexual revolution is not true freedom at all. Jennifer Fulwiler, a popular blogger and contributor to the National Catholic Register put it well: "I find it ironic when contraception is said to allow anyone to live freely, secular culture assures women that they can go ahead and engage in the act that creates babies, even if they are not ready to be mothers. They are handed contraception and told to forget all about the possibility of parenthood. Then, when the contraception fails, as it so often does, they find themselves feeling trapped, perceiving that their only escape is through the doors of an abortion facility. This, to me, does not look like freedom."

True freedom comes in discovering God’s plan for our lives - and living it. Sexual freedom reaches its fullest meaning and fulfillment in marriage; in relationships that are open to the natural fruits of sexuality - a bond of unity, a manifestation of trust, and, of course, the possibility for children.

The Catholic Church has no interest in the oppression of women and, contrary to the popular media, is not waging a "war on women." That’s ridiculous and absurd. Instead, she believes that happiness comes with the freedom of living in God’s plan. As the "freedom" promised by the sexual revolution has proven to be hollow and short-sighted, each of us is called to witness to the truth of Jesus Christ, "the truth that will set us free."

Related Reading:

Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things that Really Matter By Editor Hallie Lord

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