The war on fertility is a war on reality.

And on children, women, and men.

Popes Paul VI, Bl. John Paul II, and Benedict XVI understood/understand that fact; it is heartening that non-Catholics such as James Taranto of the Wall Street Journal are also making the connections, either explicitly or implicitly. Taranto, in his March 2nd column, “The War on Fertility” writes:

But in any case, why does it so bother Miller that the Romneys, Santorums and Pauls (and also the Palins, whom she mentions in another paragraph) made the choice to have large families? If she cared about choice, she would recognize it’s none of her business. But contemporary feminism does not actually value choice, except as a means to an ideological end, which is the obliteration of differences between the sexes. The biggest such difference consists in the distinct and disparate demands that reproduction makes on women. Thus in order to equalize the sexes, it is necessary to discourage fertility. Implicit in contemporary feminism is a normative judgment that having children is bad.

If this were made explicit, of course, the whole project would fall apart. Feminism is politically unviable without the support of at least a substantial minority of women, and women (or at least most women) do have a maternal instinct. So feminism has to wage its war against fertility covertly, rationalizing it in terms of other goals.

The reality, as Taranto touches on, is that most women either wish to have children or at least don’t think it strange or lowly to harbor such a natural, intuitive desire. If the goal of radical feminism is complete autonomy from men—or, even better, complete freedom from the bonds and rhythms of nature—then having children should either be avoided or removed as far as possible from any involvement or control by men, which directly or indirectly results in the diminishment or rejection of marriage and monogamy, and the embrace of technological “solutions” to the alleged “probem”. Therefore, as Taranto notes at the start of his post, the language of “choice” is utilized, not to indicate real choices but to attempt control over, well, nearly everything, including all of the political decisions and legal levers necessary to remake reality. And contraception—the revolutionary, technological tool for thwarting procreation—is at the heart of the matter.

Taranto refers to a March 1st piece in the New York Times“The Unfinished Battle Over Contraception”, written by former law professor Louise Trubek, who “was a plaintiff in an unsuccessful 1950s lawsuit seeking the legal recognition of a right to contraception”. Trubek begins by asking (with, I suspect, an annoyed air of enlightened superiority): “Can we still be arguing about a woman’s ability to control her own fertility?” Post-reproductive utopia cannot come fast enough, apparently, for Trubek, who takes solace in knowing she is on the winning side:

We can celebrate Griswold, Roe and all the cases that stemmed from the Poe litigation. They are important landmarks in American jurisprudence. But as I look back I am dismayed by how few of the issues I was fighting for at the time of Poe are resolved. To be sure, we have important rights and more legal privacy. But we still have not provided all the support women need to combine rewarding careers and healthy families. Planned Parenthood is under siege and poor women who are seeking comprehensive reproductive care are still at risk. Presidential candidates can get away with saying that all contraception should be outlawed. Comprehensive child care services are difficult to locate, and fully financed family and medical leave is still controversial.

In short, we won the legal battle but not the war. Women are still not guaranteed control over their lives, because the necessary social supports were never secure. The initial goal of Griswold was to help women — and even though the precedent has helped with same-sex marriage laws, those initial needs, especially of poor women, have been left largely unmet.

(By the way, isn’t it considered offensive and violence-mongering to use words such as “battle” and “war” when discussing politics and culture? Or is it only offensive when used by some people and not others?) In fact, as Mary Eberstadt demonstrates with great lucidity and economy in her just-released book, Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolutionthe Pill, rather than create a magical world of consequence-free fornication and happy freedom for one and all, has resulted in marked misery (emotional and otherwise), massive increases in divorce and broken homes, depression, and increased tensions and difficulties between men and the fairer sex.

Having thwarted and denied the realized expression of self-gift in the marital embrace, women (and men) have denied the reality of who they are, of what they desire, and for what they are ultimately called to be. Put another way, the biology and the theology are closely linked, for we are creatures, yes, but creatures made in the likeness and image of God, called to be partakers of the divine nature. “Respect the God-given cycle of life,” said Bl. John Paull II in 1979, “for this respect is part of our respect for God himself, who created male and female, who created them in his own image, reflecting his own life-giving love in the patterns of their sexual being.” 

But when men and women refuse to give that respect and therefore refuse to be open to participation in the creation of new life, they also close themselves off from participation in the divine life, for we can only be fully human when we give ourselves completely, without withholding and without manipulation. The covenant of marriage ultimately reflects the nature of God’s covenant with man through Christ, for God does not hold back, either in becoming man or in dying for the salvation of mankind. “Unity, indissolubility, and openness to fertility are essential to marriage”, says the Cathechism, “… the refusal of fertility turns married life away from its ‘supreme gift,’ the child” (par 1664). 

To come full circle: to wage war on fertility is to wage war on reality, on what is means to be human, for we are created to be pro-creators; we are called to give the gift of life; we are challenged to die to ourselves and to live for others; we are exhorted to truly love, for without love, we are nothing; “Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…” (1 Cor 13:5). Contraception results, in one way or another, from resentment: against reality, against children, against men and marriage. In the ever timely words of Bl. John Paul II: 

Aside from intentions, which can be varied and perhaps can seem convincing at times, especially if presented in the name of solidarity, we are in fact faced by an objective “conspiracy against life”, involving even international Institutions, engaged in encouraging and carrying out actual campaigns to make contraception, sterilization and abortion widely available. Nor can it be denied that the mass media are often implicated in this conspiracy, by lending credit to that culture which presents recourse to contraception, sterilization, abortion and even euthanasia as a mark of progress and a victory of freedom, while depicting as enemies of freedom and progress those positions which are unreservedly pro-life. (Evangelium Vitae, par 17).

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About Carl E. Olson 1217 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.