As the reproductive health care battleground becomes criss-crossed with trenches of advancing legislation, I have been remembering a conversation about the Catholic position on birth control that I had in my undergrad days.
I was Christian, back then, and although not Catholic, I had heard and appreciated several homilies by the priest for the Catholic student group. For a course in interfaith dialogue, I decided to have a conversation with the priest about birth control; I knew even then that pregnancy would be extremely risky for me, so I took the matter rather personally.
The priest was able to defuse my nascent anger and fear by implying that Catholic women in situations like mine might be able to get a note signed by the Pope to make birth control okay, or something like that. And then he made an argument that I found strangely moving: he said that the marriage relationship is a very special one, and that “we just don’t know” what kind of changes birth control might create in that relationship, or how it would change the feelings between a man and his wife.
Which goes to show that a celibate man and a not-yet-sexually-active young woman can seriously contemplate arguments about reproductive health care that a woman who actually faces these issues would simply laugh at. From my current position, I do laugh, although it’s tinged with despair, because now I can answer that priest’s hypothetical.
You want to know the feeling that is preserved by not using birth control? Fear.
For a woman who doesn’t want to become pregnant, not using birth control means that sex is inextricably bound up with fear: fear of becoming pregnant, fear of what that might mean, whether it is a danger to her own life or the threat of sliding deeper into poverty with one more mouth that she can’t feed. Fear that surrounds sex, and that, as a result, is in some way also attached to her husband.
These days, I think that priest told me more truth than he meant to. Deep down, the Catholic church, like other forced-birthers, wants to use fear and childbearing to control women. That’s the kind of oh-so-precious relationship they want to protect: one where women are either safely controlled within the confines of marriage and childbearing, or forced to the margins of society as unmarried outcasts.
I won’t stand for it. And I certainly won’t lay down and let it happen. So I hunker down in the trenches and try to use my fear to feed the flame of anger, to keep my courage warm.