Apparently contraception is such an unalloyed good for women that any suggestion that it is immoral amounts to a “war on women.” I cannot but help but think that the claim that those who disapprove of the birth control pill want to “deprive women of health care” is an intentional mischaracterization. It is plainly false that the Catholic Church refuses “health care to women”, as is now being so frequently charged. The birth control pill is not, in its most common use, a medicine that is meant to treat a medical problem. The capacity to become pregnant is not an disease that needs to be treated.
Yes, the pill does have medicinal uses and it is used, relatively rarely, for medicinal ends. But Humanae Vitae is clear that those medical uses are legitimate. “15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.” In other words, if a woman needs the pill for a legitimate medical reason (treatment of uterine fibroid tumors, etc), a Catholic hospital or insurer would provide that care. In that case, the contraceptive effects of the pill would be an unintended “double effect” and so morally licit. So there plainly is no “war on women’s health” being waged here. What self-insuring Catholic entities simply wish to do is to refuse to pay for non-medicinal “lifestyle” uses of birth control that it deems intrinsically wrong.
For those readers willing to question the conventional “wisdom” about the good of contraception, I would encourage you to read “The Vindication of Humanae Vitae” by Mary Eberstadt. She appeals to evidence from social science (noting that many of those doing the studies are likely secularists) to show that the predictions in HV that the pill would have demonstrably negative effects on children and society have come true – more infidelity, less marriage, more single-mother households, more abortion. In a way this is not surprising. The pill is arguably one of the most significant inventions in the human history. It is a social-cultural game changer on a scale I suspect we do not yet grasp. And, as it turns out, it was not for the good.
More on the public debate over the HHS contraception mandate:
The media has happily repeated without investigation the claim that “98% of Catholic women use birth control.” This statistic is seriously misleading. The Washington Post gave it a 2 Pinocchio rating.
Hadley Arkes weighs in on the contraception mandate.
Fr. Robert Barron discusses secularism and the HHS mandate.
George Weigel calls the HHS mandate “soft totalitarianism” in this First Things piece.