My observations are based on a website launched by Planned Parenthood in honor of the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill in America. The website encourages people to leave comments celebrating the ways in which the Pill has improved their lives.
What the comments themselves indicate, however, is that women today have fallen into a “birth control mentality” that places pleasure and convenience above commitment and truth. Some women start taking birth control because they genuinely believe that it is the responsible way to plan their family, but even the comments of these well-intentioned women reveal a misunderstanding of basic human dignity.
Many women left comments on the website saying that the Pill provided “freedom” and “independence,” claiming that it was “liberating” and “empowering” for them. These comments reveal a mindset that views a woman’s natural fertility as an obstacle to be overcome, a burden from which one must be freed.
One woman said that she “felt like a woman” when she started taking the Pill. Another said, “The pill has allowed me to become the woman I am today.” These women claim to discover their womanhood by suppressing their fertility, a crucial aspect of their feminine nature. However, true womanhood cannot be found by extinguishing the nature of woman, but rather by embracing it.
This idea is common in a culture in which the birth control mentality flourishes. Too often, women seek their dignity and identity in the suppression of that which makes them female. They try to become more like men, thinking that doing so will somehow raise their worth. The denial of the beautiful natural differences between men and women is illustrated in one woman’s comment, “Birth Control helps me to feel like everyone else, men and women.” Man and woman were not created to be identical; they were made to be complementary. The birth control mentality loses sight of this important reality.
Many women also said that they went on the Pill when they entered a “serious relationship.” Serious here is synonymous with sexual. The obvious implication is that any serious relationship must include sex, and indeed, that a sexual dimension is what makes a relationship serious. With this mindset, the Pill becomes a necessary part of the dating process. The Pill not only accommodates the mindset that dating and sex are necessarily connected, but it fosters it as well.
One woman spoke of using the Pill because she wanted to wait to have children until “after I was sure my marriage was going to work.” This statement is a sad sign of the times. Gone are the days when marriage was assumed to be for life, when husbands and wives were committed to working out their differences, when the words “til death do us part” were real vows that a couple took seriously and upheld in more than 50% of marriages. In a world where marriage is no longer stable, children are no longer welcomed as a blessing.
This false understanding of the value of children is another characteristic of the comments left on Planned Parenthood’s website. The opportunity to bring a new life into the world is not seen a blessing. Rather, women refer to potential babies as “a disaster” and a “burden.” What a horrible disrespect for human life! This “disaster” and “burden” being discussed is a human person! One woman even said, “The fact that I didn't produce any children to contribute to all of the problems caused by overpopulation is the most important accomplishment of my life.” What a sad misunderstanding of human life that would lead someone to think this way. Sadly, the birth control mentality that stresses personal choice and convenience over the sacred dignity of human life cannot see the true value of the human person.
The prevalence of this disrespectful attitude towards human life and the misunderstanding of the beauty of fertility is found in some of the more illogical comments on the site. For example, one woman lamented her mother’s death in childbirth, saying “I am one of her ten children. I can't help but think that my children would have a grandma if the pill had been available to her.” Another woman voiced a similar sentiment, saying, “Sadly the Pill came too late for my grandmother who died in childbirth leaving four children.”
Do these women realize what they are suggesting? Women rarely go on birth control after having multiple children. And if their mothers and grandmothers had been using birth control from the start, they would have had fewer children. Thus, these commenters are wishing that either they or one (or likely several) of their family members had never existed.
The comments on the website reveal that couples who try to control the finer details of their families through contraception show a drastic tendency to welcome fewer children into their lives. Parents posted proud comments about their one or two children and thanked the Pill for their ability to have only carefully-planned and specifically-prepared-for babies without any additional children to burden them. Rather than welcoming all potential children as a blessing, the birth control mentality sees children as a blessing only so far as they are sought and planned for. If not, they are a hardship that no parent should have to endure.
As children become a commodity and contraception becomes a “right,” women begin wishing that their mothers and grandmothers had been spared the burden of unsought children. They cannot fathom the idea that perhaps their mothers and grandmothers viewed all potential children as a blessing and therefore welcomed them all. Rather than viewing a child's worth in terms of “planned” and “wanted,” many women in previous generations joyfully and lovingly welcomed all children as a gift from God and the fruit of their marital love.
On the same website, Planned Parenthood states, “In the coming months, federal officials will consider measures that will dramatically increase access” to birth control. This is presumably a reference to health reform regulations taking shape after the recent passage of the Affordable Care Act.
This is a dangerous campaign on the part of Planned Parenthood. If contraception is considered “basic health care” that insurance companies are required to cover, the Pill will be more accessible than ever. More women than ever before will be led into the “birth control mentality.” The consequences for our nation would be devastating. Let us pray that more women come to realize the dangerous effects of such a mentality and recognize their own God-given dignity, as well as the worth of each human life.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.