Saturday, July 25, 2009

On this date in 1968...

Pope Paul VI promulgated a little document that has probably inspired more debate and commentary than just about any other papal encyclical in the history of the Church.

It's amazing to me that 41 years after the publication of Humanae Vitae -and long after most of the rest of the "industrialized" world has embraced widespread access to both contraception and abortion- the federal government here in the United States is still hashing out exactly how comfortable we are with either as a country. Sarah Posner, writing on The American Prospect's "Tapped" blog, discusses the prospects of a bill introduced this week by self-proclaimed pro-life Democrat Rep. Tim Ryan and his pro-choice co-sponsor, Rep. Rosa DeLauro. The "Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act," more commonly known as "Ryan-DeLauro" seeks to reduce the "need" for abortions, in part, by providing wider access to contraception.

This kind of reasoning, of course, leads many people who would support the theoretical goal of reducing abortions to withhold their support of Ryan-DeLauro. Some pro-life activists fret, or at least appear to in their portrayals by such media outlets as Newsweek, that this division will lead to a weaker pro-life "bloc." At least one blogger who subscribes to Ryan-DeLauro's philosophy claims "Pro-Lifers would also serve their own agenda better by not aligning with anti-contraception crazies." Despite all this, though, I find the situation (as described by Posner) reassuring:
Evidence of a looming internecine showdown among abortion opponents includes Democrats for Life of America's recent ouster of Ryan from its board over his sponsorship of the bill. That led Ryan to call DFLA a "fringe group" because of its opposition to contraception. DFLA is one of the major proponents of the Pregnant Women Support Act (PWSA), a bill that is intended to reduce the number of abortions through economic and other measures aimed at persuading women facing unintended pregnancies to carry them to term. The PWSA is supported by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Southern Baptist Convention.
To me, this shows that there is still an active "ends-means" debate going on, and that there are still large (and fairly powerful) groups of people who are not prepared to make the Faustian bargain of accepting one thing they believe to be evil in order to combat a larger evil.

I'm glad for this, at least in part, because I believe abortion and contraception are inherently connected. More importantly, the U.S. Supreme Court believes this, too. As one of today's strongest defenders of Humanae Vitae, Dr. Janet Smith, points out here, part of the Court's rationale for preserving Roe in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) was th
at "for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail."

So, despite being a "tough row to hoe" (even with Catholics, sometimes), I'm glad there are still people out there who take Humanae Vitae seriously. I think a lot more depends on this struggle than just how people choose to prevent or allow pregnancy.


Whimsy said...

Great post.

Whimsy said...

I think if the womb can be persuasively described as a first home, there are people sensitive enough to intuit how unseemly it is for a mother to forcefully evict her own child from his/her first home through the use of an IUD.

The argument for the IUD, though metaphysically bankrupt, appeals to our sense of convenience and thus derives its power from our weakness.

Of course, this doesn't even touch a parallel, no less important, argument against artificial birth control from the havoc it makes in male-female relationships -- and its devastating facet of the proliferation of porn.