It’s been interesting to listen to the debate men have been having about women’s reproductive rights, including claims from Rick Santorum that contraception gives one license to do things which ought not be done and perverted pundit Rush Limbaugh referring to an advocate of easier access to contraception for women as a “slut” to the disgust of his sponsors. This is a political discussion, which means that there can be a difference between what one might do personally, and what one might legislate for society at large. There are a few reasons people might legislate differently than their personal views in the case of women’s reproductive rights:
- Poverty. There is an undeniable link between poverty and contraception. Unwanted pregnancy is more common among the poor, who have less access to education, contraception, and financial and social resources needed to raise a child. Interestingly, Freakonomics showed a clear statistical link between abortion rights and lower crime rates, both in the US (abortion became legal in the 1970s, crime plummeted in the 1990s), and in Romania (the reverse was shown – crime soared when abortion was outlawed under the communist regime). This illustrates the poverty link and impact to society. Another article points out that since 2007, Walmart and Target both provide a month’s worth of birth control pills for only $9, making this a discussion that a $108 difference in take-home pay renders moot. This issue is firmly linked to poverty as only those living hand to mouth (students generally included) are worried about those amounts of money.
- Women’s rights. There is no getting around the fact that pregnancy affects women more than it affects men; to date, no man has ever been forced to carry and bear a child against his will. Access to birth control and abortion levels the playing field for women. And most of the legislators involved in this discussion have been men.
- The cost of unwanted pregnancy . Not only is there a financial burden on society for unwanted pregnancies and the care for children, a fact well known by insurance companies who will gladly provide contraception benefits, but there is the cost to society in terms of increased abortions (which are unsafe, but still performed, in countries where abortion is illegal).
Where do Mormons sit generally? Somewhere to the left of Catholics, but to the right of Gloria Steinem. Mitt Romney has been viewed as “not conservative enough” by some for his failure to unilaterally oppose abortion rights in Massachussetts, although it is somewhat clear that his personal views are more conservative than his political stance. He also was credited with a great soundbite on contraception: “It’s working. Leave it alone.” There is generally some reluctance for Mormons to curttail others’ choices given our own history of persecution, and when it comes to contraception, Mormon views have shifted substantially over the last few decades.
In light of this, I wanted to poll our readers to see where we all stand on birth control, including some of the stances that are less clearcut. Let’s start with some demographics:
First, let’s talk about birth control. The Mormon church’s stance on birth control has changed over time as it has become more widely available and accepted in society. While we used to have a stance closer to Catholicism a few decades ago, now there is no guidance in the CHI (Church Handbook of Instruction) prohibiting the use of birth control, although men getting a vasectomy are encouraged to discuss the decision with their bishop. Since lay members don’t have a copy of the CHI, you can guess how often that happens. When my parents joined the church in 1955, the stance was so strongly against birth control that my parents were persuaded to reverse a vasectomy and have more children. Had they not done that, Hawkgrrrl might not have even been a Hawkthought.
In the recent Catholic debate, while the bishops have come out with a very hardline anti-birth control stance, actual American Catholic voters are aligned with mainstream voter values (58% of American Catholics approve women having free access to birth control compared to 55% of Americans in general who do). And while Catholic leaders are against birth control, 98% of sexually active Catholic women have used it. Rick Santorum (who is to Catholicism what Mitt Romney is to Mormonism in this election, for good or evil) drew fire for opining about the form of birth control common when he was a youngster: women putting an aspirin between the knees. (Cue forced laughter after an appropriate waiting period for this strained joke to settle in).
Another point to consider is that birth control pills are not strictly used to prevent pregnancy. There are many female health problems that are treated with “the pill.” It definitely isn’t just for contraception. Let’s see what you think:
Morning After Pill
This form of birth control emerged in the 1990s and gained popularity on college campuses where it became known as the 72-hour pill. It’s the pill a woman can take after rape, date rape, or consensual sex that she regrets, to prevent a pregnancy from taking hold. Originally decried as a very early form of abortion, it has become more commonly accepted as a much better alternative to first trimester abortion. The person taking it has no idea whether she is in fact pregnant. Many women would like it to be easily available, for example in vending machines on college campuses.
The morning after pill prevents conception by creating a hostile environment and thus preventing implantation. If one is already pregnant and takes it, it will not cause you to abort. Conversely, the abortion pill (RU-486, also known as Plan B) will cause you to have an actual chemical abortion, although it is obviously not invasive (nor surgical) in the way an abortion is.
The church has no official stance on the morning after pill. These links show there is still a lot of confusion on the church’s stance. Given our abstinence before marriage and total fidelity after mantra, I’m not sure we’re going to hear a clarification any time soon. Perhaps just some pamphlets for LDS adoption services.
Let’s find out what you think of these forms of contraception:
The church’s stance is that elective abortion is immoral. If a woman has previously had an abortion and wishes to join the church, she must have clearance at the Mission President level or higher. However, the church does allow for abortion (after prayerful consideration) in cases of rape, incest, if the health of the mother is in jeopardy, or if the baby will have severe birth defects. These are not considered “elective” abortion.
In these cases, the church encourages the couple to make the decision prayerfully and to consult with the bishop. An story was told in which Romney, a young bishop, went to the hospital where a sister in his ward was going to abort a fetus and attempted to block her from doing so. So, what do you think?
Do your views on contraception reflect your view of humanity in general? Do they reflect your political views? Do they reflect your personal choices? For good measure, let’s end with two broader poll questions: