Why are House Republicans waging “war on contraception”? I’ve lately seen the question asked, not for the first — or the last — time. Truth be told, Republicans are not waging such a war — but the phrase gets close to a battle that is worth fighting.
The House held an unprecedented vote in February to end federal taxpayer funding of Planned Parenthood. It’s not a permanent or final vote; it was on a short-term Continuing Resolution to keep the government funded. The debate in Congress was given momentum by the Live Action investigatory videos, which have raised significant questions about Planned Parenthood’s mission and practices; but the rest of us need to discuss why we’ve let Planned Parenthood step in as a mainstream band-aid, applying contraception and even abortion to problems that require much more fundamental solutions.
It’s a conversation that’s healthy — and necessary — to have.
Upon retirement, the late senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D., N.Y.) was asked what was the biggest change he had observed in his four-decade career. He answered: “The biggest change, in my judgment, is that the family structure has come apart all over the North Atlantic world.” While women may still want love and marriage, they don’t expect it. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey opinion that women had “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.” And why wouldn’t they? Who, nowadays, encourages them to want more? When Taylor Swift sings a love song today, it’s about how surprised she is when a fight doesn’t lead the man she loves to walk out of her life. “Braced myself for the goodbye, ’cause that’s all I’ve ever known. Then, you took me by surprise. You said, ‘I’ll never leave you alone.’”
We’ve come to expect less for and from ourselves, for and from one another. In part, it’s the poisoned fruit of the contraceptive pill. A cover feature in New York magazine recently observed: “The Pill is so ingrained in our culture today that girls go on it in college, even high school, and stay on it for five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years. It’s not at all out of the ordinary for a woman to be on the Pill from ages 18 to 35, her prime childbearing years. While it is remarkably safe, almost like taking a vitamin, that’s a long time to turn one’s body into an efficient little non-procreative machine.” That, of course, has had all kinds of fallout. It gives a false sense of freedom, of security. Even more important, it has ravaged women’s fertility, as it seeks to mute exactly what women’s reproductive power is all about.
Moreover, as to Planned Parenthood, we ought to consider Abby Johnson, formerly the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic, whose testimony (presented in her recent book, Unplanned) highlights what doesn’t work: a mentality that claims that protecting women’s health and preventing abortion are best achieved by ready access to birth control. As Johnson points out, she herself, among the best educated on so-called safe sex, availed herself of the birth-control culture — and she had two abortions.
Her story is far from rare. And that’s why I do want to turn back the clock — to a time when we valued love and marriage and didn’t expect, support, and even encourage promiscuity. Life and history don’t work that way, obviously; there is no actual knob we can turn. But we do have opportunities to learn from our mistakes. C. S. Lewis had some good advice about this that we could afford to consider right about now: “I would rather get away from that whole idea of clocks. We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward doesn’t get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road, and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive . . . [and] going back is the quickest way on.”
The fight in Congress over Planned Parenthood’s funding is about a number of things. It’s primarily about good stewardship, as so much of the spending debate is. But beyond legislation, beyond anything Congress can or should do, it is a call to arms for a new sexual revolution. It’s about wanting more for ourselves and those we love. It’s about ending the surrender to a contraceptive mentality that treats human sexuality as just another commercial transaction.
Perhaps nothing better illustrates the contraceptive culture than a recent commercial for a contraceptive called Beyaz. Women walk into a store and literally shop for men. “It’s good to have choices.” A woman happily shakes her head at the stork and its offerings in a “we girls can do anything” adult Barbie commercial complete with Ken and a dream house and a trip to Paris.
That commercial does not, needless to say, mention the pain and desperation many women suffer when they find themselves considering – or regretting — an abortion, or popping the Pill in pursuit of something that masks itself as happiness but is really just a bad substitute, oftentimes making true happiness all the more illusory.
As evidence continues to emerge of the reckless and dangerous callousness at institutions like Planned Parenthood that are supposedly dedicated to women’s health — willingness to overlook sex trafficking involving minors, failure to report child abuse – we can’t afford to lose sight of another, more fundamental conversation that we’ve got to have, among friends, in our homes and churches. It’s about what it means to be human.
—Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online. This column is available exclusively through United Media.