My view of the HHS contraception debate is all wrapped up with my personal decision to use NFP, so instead of trying to untangle them, I’m going to share them both. In addition, I want to recommend that you read this post from a priest named Father Christian over at Elizabeth Esther’s website. It was just what I needed to see yesterday, when I was feeling totally distressed about the fact that people I have cared about can be such, well, jerks. If you've been feeling kind of beat up by this particular national row, I promise you that the Thomas Merton quote will make you feel worlds better.
I had always known that the Church was opposed to contraception of any kind, but I never really understood why. My perspective was that God was God, and if you were using contraception but He wanted you to get pregnant, He could make that happen. It sounds mighty flip, I know, but it made a lot of sense to me at the time. Mary didn’t even have to have sex to become Jesus’s mother, so it seemed to me that you should do what you needed to protect yourself from diseases and unwanted pregnancies if you were going to have sex, and God would do what God needed to do.
My gynecologist and primary care physician had both urged me to take the pill, the former because I complained of terrible cramps and the latter because, I’m guessing, I was a female in her early 20s, and she thought it was unlikely that I would remain a virgin much longer. When Husband and I had started dating, way back in high school, we agreed that we wanted to wait until marriage to have sex. We always knew that we’d made the right decision, but it certainly wasn’t always easy. Fortunately, we were both committed to that choice to wait, and when one of us wavered, the other kept strong, and we actually made it to our wedding night!
However, at my last doctor’s appointment before our wedding, I told my doctor that we were getting married, so I guessed that I needed to go on the pill. She didn’t object and even wrote me a prescription for the brand I suggested because I knew my sister used it. I started taking it, and it did help my terrible cramping a lot, and it was also cool to know exactly when my next period would arrive. My very unpredictable cycles never evened out after puberty the way that my mom and various medical professionals told me they would, so it was a relief not to be caught unawares.
Right around that time, Husband and I went to the pre-marriage conference that the diocese requires engaged couples to attend. A couple in their sixties, I’d say, gave the witness talk about NFP. They talked about how the wife had suffered many miscarriages after their first two children were born, and she’d been told that if she had another one she’d likely die. So she went on the pill. They mentioned it to a priest friend, and said they were glad they were exempt from the requirement not to use contraception, since she had a life-threatening condition. The priest told them that there was no exemption, not even for a situation like this. They decided to go back to using NFP (I don’t know what form), and abstained very conservatively, adding a day onto each end of the time they thought she’d be fertile, just in case. They made it through their childbearing years, alive and still very much in love.
After hearing that story and learning about the abortifacient properties of hormonal contraceptives in particular, I realized that my reasons for being on the pill were not valid. If this woman could have DIED and still chose to follow the Church’s teaching, I needed to do that, too. I was horrified to think that we might have lost little babies because the pill was making my uterus a hostile place for them to implant. Husband and I took a walk outside and I cried, and he said we could do whatever I wanted. I remained on the pill the first six months we were married, until I found that I could order the CCL teaching kit to learn at home. I went off the pill right away, three years ago now, and truly have never looked back.
This is where my mind goes when I think about the current contraception debate. I have a hard time sharing my thoughts about this with anyone who disagrees with me. It makes me feel like a total wimp, and certainly not a warrior for God or unborn children. But at the same time, every post on Facebook and ever blog post on this topic makes me want to scream out.
What follows is my reasoning for why the Church should not under any circumstances have to carry insurance that funds contraceptives (or sterilization or anything like that). It’s what I wish I could share, but am always afraid to. I need the safety of my anonymous blog to let it out.
The Catholic Church believes that sexual intercourse has two purposes that cannot be separated from each other: the joyful, pleasurable union of husband and wife AND the creation of new life. There is so much wrapped up in this one belief that causes the Catholic Church to be at odds with the world today. But it makes so much sense! The Church is opposed to all of the contraception and sterilization in this law because it prevents the second purpose. Plain and simple. Hormonal contraceptives are repugnant because when you believe that life starts the moment that an egg is fertilized, you believe that that new life should not be extinguished.
The thing I want to say is that nearly all of those complaints, the ones that I read online and hear on the radio all the time about why women NEED hormonal birth control aren’t enough. Protecting life trumps relieving suffering. I’m not saying that life is pain, but I am saying that God even let His only Son suffer excruciating pain in order to save our eternal souls. I’m still infertile, so I don’t know what I would do if I were told that I had to prevent myself from getting pregnant or else I would die. But I like to think that I’d be as brave as the woman who gave her witness talk at that pre-Cana conference, and trust that God would keep me in his hands no matter what.