The Birth Control Debate We Shouldn’t Be Having

Why access to birth control, including so-called “abortifacients,” is a health care issue.

In the current debates around birth control, one distinction that’s frequently overlooked — causing each side to talk over and past the other — is that some forms of birth control are considered by some to be morally equivalent (more or less) to abortion.

Those on one side can’t understand how anyone could ever have qualms about something — forms of birth control such as the NuvaRing, IUD, Depo-Provera, the Pill, and Plan B — that so dramatically reduces abortion.

But those on the other side feel frustrated because they view these methods, and others like them, as abortifacient — causing an abortion. For many people, including my friend Karen Swallow Prior who has written on the matter, to refer to these methods as contraceptive is to misuse terms.

It is a tricky conversation, because many of the labels accompanying these various types of birth control, including emergency contraception, have in the past — and do at present — list among their possible mechanisms the “altering of the endometrium.” In laypersons’ terms, this means that some of the above methods may theoretically prevent a fertilized egg from implanting on the wall of a woman’s uterus.

However, that is not the primary mechanism of any of these forms — not even the hotly contested Plan B. The newest research indicates that all of these methods primarily interfere with fertilization, whether by blocking sperm, immobilizing them, or inhibiting ovulation. This doesn’t mean that they never cause a fertilized egg to fail to implant. It’s remotely possible that they do — which is why some labels say so, just as tampon labels indicate that tampons may cause Toxic Shock Syndrome.

To these newer revelations regarding the mechanism of birth control (for example, a significant Princeton study reported in The New York Times), I have heard numerous people voice suspicion of the science.

I am satisfied with the science, but because I grew up in a religious tradition that’s deeply skeptical of science — perhaps because evangelical identity, which I still hold, is often conflated with very particular positions that depend on dogma more than on historical and scientific fact — I can sympathize why some people aren’t satisfied: we smell conspiracy when the facts don’t match up with what we’ve long believed.

And as a person who cares deeply about life at all stages, I also understand not wanting to use a method on the off chance that it may inhibit the implantation of a fertilized egg.

But I get stuck when that conviction is taken from the personal realm — “I choose not to do this myself” — into the realm of policy — “I will take measures to make obtaining this method more difficult.” Here is why:

It results in too many deaths — not quiet cellular deaths, but the loud deaths of grown women and the whimpering deaths of children.

It seems very clear to me that if we put most methods of reversible birth control besides condoms and diaphragms off the table, ethically speaking, we exchange the very hypothetical failure of a blastocyst to implant for the definite reality of visible, screaming, bloody deaths of women and children worldwide.

According to data at USAID, “family planning could prevent up to 30 percent of the more than 287,000 maternal deaths that occur every year, by enabling women to delay their first pregnancy and space later pregnancies at the safest intervals. If all babies were born three years apart, the lives of 1.6 million children under the age of five would be saved every year.”

That doesn’t include the lives saved due to death from malnutrition in areas where population growth far outstrips the food supply.

I may be accused of resorting to emotional appeal here, and I have heard a Catholic ethicist argue that it is only because of our (my?) sinful nature that we do not, generally speaking, accord fertilized eggs the same degree of sympathy as we do people we can see and touch. But please bear with me.

In the U.S., these conversations are often comfortably hypothetical. While poverty and hunger and maternal death do occur, they are not visible to the degree that they are in, say, Malawi, where I recently spent a year and a half.

There, I saw itty-bitty girls — girls entirely too small for many of the clothes at GAP Kids — hugely pregnant.

There, I saw girls barely older than toddlers carrying heavy jugs of water on their heads and infant siblings on their backs, simultaneously.

There, I saw and cuddled a prematurely born baby, dying of dehydration because his mother had no access to anything, and gave birth at home, miles from transportation, let alone a hospital.

There, I sat on the floor to grieve with women who had just buried, literally, with their own hands, one such baby, born too soon and too closely after its older sister, who giggled and played nearby.

We are talking about a children’s holocaust each year — of kids who could live if their moms got enough of a break between pregnancies.

I know many of the answers proposed by the side that generally opposes certain methods of birth control: “use condoms,” they say, “teach people NFP.”

But we are speaking of cultures in which women have no choice whatsoever in when or how they have sex — cultures in which to use a condom is insulting and emasculating.

When my husband tried to teach his seminary students in Malawi about St. Paul’s unequivocal call for equality in the marriage bed, there was an outcry. “We’d be run out of church and out of the village for preaching that,” they said. “The man is in charge, no question.”

It is easy from this side of the world to offer answers; answers that crumble in the face of the complexities faced by those in the majority world where, make no mistake, contraception is one of THE healthcare issues, not least because, as is the case in Malawi, the land cannot feed the present population, much less the one that is poised to increase exponentially.

So yes. I do understand what people feel is at stake. But I also believe that to reject and inhibit access to birth control on the remote and contested possibility that a fertilized egg might not implant is to consign more than a million and a half people annually — mostly children, but many women — to death.

Image via Women’s eNews.


Rachel Marie Stone
Written by

  • James

    When my husband tried to teach his seminary students in Malawi about St.
    Paul’s unequivocal call for equality in the marriage bed, there was an
    outcry. “We’d be run out of church and out of the village for preaching
    that,” they said. “The man is in charge, no question.”

    “This saying is too hard, who can accept it?”

    • Eric Boersma

      You fall down and skin your knee. If I want to help you, I can spend decades and billions of dollars re-engineering the entire sidewalk system so that it doesn’t skin people’s knees when they fall down, or I can give you a band-aid.

      Resolving the problem of marital rape in many societies is something that absolutely should be worked on (and to be clear, is being worked on, by many people), but it is something that will take generations to fully accomplish, and it does nothing for the women who are currently being raped. Providing them contraceptives is their band-aid. It helps to solve the problem now so we can continue to work on the larger problem later.

  • Roland De Vries

    In the case of Hobby Lobby, that company is willing to pay for (and does pay for) 16 different different contraceptive measures – arguably the most commonly used measures. Can you provide an analysis of which of those 16 measures is presently available in Malawi, how such measures are perceived, culturally and theologically, and of the significance of the additional 4 measures (Plan B, ella, and two IUDs) within that context? I think that your whole argument rests on, and avoids, just such an analysis.

    Also, I would note that the US Supreme Court ruling does not require that access to the 4/20 contraceptive methods be more difficult. It finds, in fact, that the government already has an assured route to provide the last four contraceptives, via a process the government has already set up for non-for-profit organizations.

    Here’s the list of 16 contraceptives that Hobby Lobby does pay for:

    1. Male condoms
    2. Female condoms
    3. Diaphragms with spermicide
    4. Sponges with spermicide
    5. Cervical caps with spermicide
    6. Spermicide alone
    7. Birth-control pills with estrogen and progestin (“Combined Pill)
    8. Birth-control pills with progestin alone (“The Mini Pill)
    9. Birth control pills (extended/continuous use)
    10. Contraceptive patches
    11. Contraceptive rings
    12. Progestin injections
    13. Implantable rods
    14. Vasectomies
    15. Female sterilization surgeries
    16. Female sterilization implants

    • Jane Dunn

      “16 different different contraceptive measures – arguably the most commonly used measures.”

      — But not the most effective methods, which include the 2 IUDs that Hobby Lobby and others refuse to cover. The IUDs are among the most expensive, which is one of the biggest reasons they are not among the most widely used even though they are the most effective.

      Yes, the Supreme Court’s majority seemed to say that the accommodation for religious non-profit could provide an alternative, but then the Court (over fierce dissent by 3 female justices) gave injunctions to some of those religious non-profits that objected even to what was offered them in the accommodation. We’ll have to see how those cases work out.

      • Roland De Vries

        The article discusses Malawi, and makes the argument that withholding the four contested contraceptive measures (3 of which may prevent implantation of a fertilized egg) will be highly detrimental to maternal and infant health there. But the writer hasn’t bothered to provide any analysis of what impact the first sixteen contraceptive measures would have or how they are perceived religiously and culturally in Malawi. And now you add that 2 of them (IUDs) are the most expensive, which would imply that they are almost completely irrelevant to Malawi. This piece simply offers all kinds of loosely related assertions that don’t seem to me to go anywhere…

        • Ellen Painter Dollar

          This article says nothing about the “four contested contraceptive measures.” She’s making a very very basic argument for why access to contraceptives—to whatever contraceptives women are willing and able to use—will save lives and is an essential tool for women’s health care that ought not to be legislated and withheld based on the outside chance that fertilized eggs might fail to implant.

          • Roland De Vries

            This isn’t a piece simply about contraception – she begins with a discussion of precisely those contraceptives that also may prevent implantation – something she herself expresses some concern about (the four contraceptives in the Hobby Lobby ruling are those that give rise to this whole discussion).

            The concern about preventing the the implantation of a fertilized egg is not one that can be glossed over in a Christian framework than takes seriously the beginnings of human life.

          • Jane Dunn

            I don’t see her “gloss[ing] over” the hypothetical issue of fertilized eggs being blocked from implantation. The best available evidence demonstrates that that’s just not true. See the Princeton report on which the NY Times article was based. It’s been updated with an even stronger conclusion based on newer studies. Google it because when I include the link my comment gets hung up in moderation.

            I see Rachel saying that concerns about hypotheticals should not prevent us from addressing the real health concerns of live women and children.

            There is a long tradition in the Jewish faith that allows a faithful Jew to break an otherwise valid rule or principle in order to save a life or prevent serious harm. That was likely what Jesus was demonstrating when he healed on the Sabbath.

            The parable of the Good Samaritan did not commend the priest who walked on by convinced that solving the crime problem was a better long-term solution to the injured man’s problem. The one who was commended was the outsider who gave immediate care to the injured man, the one who made sure he was going to be cared for before moving on.

            All this talk about hypotheticals, in the face of the reality that a Rachel has described, and that Ellen Painter Dollar has shared at her own blog, makes me queasy.

          • Roland De Vries

            I wasn’t responding to Rachel’s Argument – I was responding to Elaine Paint Dollar’s comment. And, there’s nothing hypothetical about discussions about how contraceptives work – they are used every day by millions of women (and in some cases, men). And some of them may/do prevent the implantation of fertilized egg, which is a concern for some people/communities – and thus must be addressed in their ethical frameworks.

            The other issue is that, as I said in my very first comment, there is a long list of contraceptives that don’t raise these kinds of questions. It’s not an all or nothing issue. A careful analysis (which I don’t have the time or expertise to make) would look at which contraceptive methods are presently in use in Malawi and which methods make for easiest uptake and use in that context – both culturally and practically speaking. And would relate all of that to a theological and ethical exploration of the significance or possibility that some methods prevent implantation.

          • Jane Dunn

            I see Ellen making the same point as Rachel. The “hypothetical” I referenced is the hypothetical possibility, completely unproven, that some fertilized eggs might be blocked from implantation. It’s that hypothetical that must be weighed against the life and health of real women and children. Coming down on the side of the life and health of real women and children is not some new post-modern secularist argument. The reasoning has a long and well-respected intellectual history, which you have ignored.

          • Roland De Vries

            Apparently you don’t accept that it isn’t an either-or issue – and apparently you don’t think it’s worth considering that there are many contraceptive methods that don’t involve the possible uncertainties (about implantation) of some methods, and which do prevent just the kind of harm to women and children that Rachel has observed and described.

            And apparently, notwithstanding what I’ve written, you’d like to paint me as not caring about the health of women and children. Very easy way to dismiss and smear someone when you don’t agree with part of their argument.

            As that famous Princeton study (May 2014) points out: “[I]t is not scientifically possible to definitively rule out that a method may inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg in the endometrium.” (By the way, it’s not about proving that something does happen in this case, but about the inability to prove it isn’t happening, and the likelihood it is happening, though rarely.) The question of how to respond to such uncertainties will depend on your religious and ethical framework. You apparently have no problem with that possibility or uncertainty, while some people do. I haven’t fully worked out how I respond to that possibility, but my simple point is that I don’t want to ignore it as irrelevant.

          • Jane Dunn

            Well, if you’re concerned about the likelihood of EC pills blocking the implantation of fertilized eggs, you need to read the next sentence after the one you cherry-picked:

            “At the same time, however, all women should be informed that the best available evidence is that the ability of levonorgestrel and ulipristal acetate ECPs to prevent pregnancy can be fully accounted for by mechanisms that do not involve interference with post‐fertilization events.”

            For people who are concerned about a hypothetical, unproven possibility that one or more of these birth control methods might rarely if ever cause a fertilized egg to be blocked, they should not use those methods. But they should not be able to interfere in the birth control choices for women whose life and health would be at risk without access to all medically approved methods. You are simply not in a position to make that choice for someone else.

            And you still have not responded to the historical Jewish ethical teaching that permits a person to break the law in order to save a life. In our common law system, “necessity” and “self defense” are complete defenses to a murder charge.

            And pointing out that the end result of your position is that women and children may suffer and die is not a way of smearing you. Deciding that hearing that information is beyond the pale is to silence an argument you don’t like and to essentially decide the outcome before the debate. Just because you seem to not want to deal with the consequences of your position doesn’t mean the consequences aren’t there.

          • Roland De Vries

            The first sentence of your third paragraph is the point I’ve been trying to make, except I would change the wording to: “…the scientific impossibility of ruling out…” Rachel Marie Stone has raised an ethical question in the context of Christian faith, I believe, and I have been working through and arguing about that ethical question in that framework. And as another of my comments, below, makes clear, I haven’t concluded that the use of such contraceptives is unethical, but am trying to explore the question faithfully.

            The question of who provides what to whom and how is a complex political and even theological question. But the recent US Supreme Court case wasn’t about someone interfering with other women’s birth control choices. Was it not about the government forcing minority religious communities to act against their ethical and religious convictions when the government had other proven means to provide the contraceptives in question? And it’s interesting that your court (assuming you are american?) agreed that women have a right to access such contraceptives under the new health care law – so such access does not appear to be in question, politically or legally speaking, in the US at this point?

            I’m not Jewish, and have not studied Jewish law or ethics. Nor do I define my ethical point of view with reference to the English common law tradition – though I don’t necessarily disagree with the two examples you’ve given. As I mentioned, I write as a Christian, which means I write in a particular theological framework – one that endeavours to imagine a community of women and men that live together in ways that are faithful to the good creation of God and which aims at the formation of attitudes, habits and actions that correspond to the creation and recreation of all things by God, in Christ. Yes, harm is a variable here, but only one of many in imagining a community that corresponds to the kingdom of Jesus.

            There are a whole lot of questions to be sorted out and answered before it is anywhere near clear that the questions I’m raising will cause harm to women and infants. I think you are far to quick to raise that possibility.

          • Jane Dunn

            I am also a Christian and I’m a lawyer. Since we share the OT with our Jewish friends, it’s surprising when Christian theologians don’t at least consider ancient Jewish traditions when seeking to formulate a Christian ethic on a topic. How can you begin to understand Jesus’ teachings if you don’t understand the theological and ethical belief system out of which he came? Likewise, American common law, like English common law, is roughly based on Judeo-Christian traditions.

            I have, like you, approached this from a Christian perspective but I don’t see it as a close question. That doesn’t mean, as you have asserted, that I’m ignoring the issue of what happens to the hypothetically rejected fertilized egg. It just means that I’ve come to a conclusion. It seems like you are trying to reinvent an ethical wheel.

            As I said before, the Court claimed there were alternative ways for the government to provide the 4 disputed forms if birth control, but then they issued orders to, at least temporarily, allow religious non-profits to reject that same accommodation.

            If you don’t think it’s been established that women’s lives and health are in danger from not have access to all of the medically approved forms of birth control, read Ellen Painter Dollar’s heart-wrenching blog post on the subject. I don’t know how old you are, but this issue has been debated for decades. That I have come to a conclusion does not mean I’m ignoring anything.

          • Roland De Vries

            Give me a scriptural reference for the Jewish ethical provision you site and we could take it from there (though that’s a rhetorical point, since I’m going to move on from this to other work after this reply). I’m fairly familiar with the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible – and also the significance of those texts for the meaning and identity of Jesus – but the label “Jewish ethical teaching” that you’ve used usually points well beyond those texts to wider and contemporary Jewish thought. I considered it in those terms.

            I agree you have come to a conclusion. And many have not. You believe it is a closed case, and some others do not. I’m working through this question, objecting to some ways of characterizing the issue, and trying to be faithful in the mean time. You have concluded that every possible medically approved birth control method must be made available in order to prevent harm to women and children – I haven’t reached that conclusion.

            Thank you for the reference to Dollar’s piece – a powerful read. Let me be clear again that I have not concluded that I think these contested forms of contraception are necessarily wrong from a Christian point of view – I’m simply hesitating about a variety of ways of characterizing the issues. Dollar’s situation is unique and it brings to mind the doctrine of double-effect, where the primary intention is to do something licit, and one is not held responsible for the secondary effects. Hers is a very personal case and I’m not going to presume to discuss it in this context.

          • Jane Dunn

            I was referring to the Talmud and the rabbinic commentaries and traditions. You can find a very basic discussion of breaking a Jewish law to save a life at the Wiki entry for “Pikuach nefesh.” Sorry, but links seem to get sent to moderation.

            I’m glad you read Ellen’s piece, and it’s certainly powerful, but I don’t think it’s as unique as you may think. She and women with health issues like hers should not have to plead their cases in public or seek some governmental permission to obtain a medical device or drug to save their lives, especially when the danger to a fertilized egg is, at best, remote and hypothetical.

          • Matt Davis

            Please read this article about the four forms of contraception involved: we now know that three of them do not affect implantation and the fourth is listed as very unlikely.
            newrepublic dot com/article/118547/facts-about-birth-control-and-hobby-lobby-ob-gyn

          • Susan Paxton

            And of course the most important thing about these four methods isn’t how they work: it’s the fact that Hobby Lobby covered ALL FOUR until they found out they could use this as a club to beat down the ACA. The Greens aren’t Christians, they don’t care about abortion – obviously, since they do almost all of their buying in China – they’re right wing hypocrites, nothing more, and it sickens me to see religious people defending them.

          • Judith

            Just to stir up debate… May I ask you sir how much time and money you have donated to the prevention of miscarriages (aka spontaneous abortion)?
            I only ask because there are far greater rates of miscarriage than there are abortions with nearly three out of four conceptions being rejected by the body overall. In fact, the “contested four” methods actually bring DOWN the rates of fertilized eggs failing to implant because they primarily prevent fertilization, and without that interference more than one in five fertilized eggs will fail to implant all on their own.
            If what you say is true and you are so concerned with “the beginnings of life” then maybe you should get off your arse and organize a 10K run for research to prevent miscarriage instead of inhibiting woman’s access to lifesaving care?

        • Alison Manson

          I am a Christian doctor who has worked in Africa. IUDs are one of the most widely-used contraceptives in Africa because (a) they are one of the most effective (b) they are one of the cheapest (copper IUD) (c) they require the least ongoing medical care (they remain effective and safe in situ for 5 years or more) and (d) they rely on no input from the male partner, in societies where most women have no control over their sexual lives, and (e) they have very few contraindications. It defies belief that we are still having to argue that they are not abortifacient.

          • Roland De Vries

            Hi Alison. I certainly appreciate that long acting and ‘permanent’ birth control seems most effective in many African contexts given cultural and socio-economic realities. Uptake of the method also seems to be very low in those contexts, accounting for less than 1-2% of contraceptive use in Malawi.

            One of the challenges in this debate is the use of the word ‘abortifacient’, since that word has generally been used to mean the interruption of pregnancy – i.e. interference with, or destruction of the embryo after implantation (since pregnancy is generally defined as having taken place with implantation). Assuming this use of the of the term, then the concern of some Christians is not that the IUD is an abortifacient. Rather, the concern of these Christians is that IUDs and the other ‘contested’ forms prevent the implantation of the fertilized egg – which is a concern for those who see fertilization as a decisive point in the beginnings of life. My initial reading across various sites and studies suggests that either (i) it cannot ruled out that IUDs prevent implantation or (ii) prevention of implantation of the eggs is likely one reasons that IUDs are as successful as they are. I sometimes wonder if those who say “the science is clear” on IUDs and ella (and possibly Plan B) are simply trying to shut down those who have a concern in this area.

            My only point is that if someone believes that fertilization is a decisive moment in the beginning of life and if it can’t be decisively shown that IUDs don’t prevent implantation (but in fact might) then that person has ethical questions to sort out. And surely for such people a part of the answer to such a question (assuming the concern for infant and maternal health, and assuming they have no objection to contraceptives in principle) would be the use of the many contraceptive methods that don’t prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Obviously that itself would involve very complex considerations given cultural context, political realities etc…

          • Susan Paxton

            You are tiresome, at best; a legalist of the worst order, and I can’t understand why anyone here debates you. What a waste of time.

          • Evelyn

            It is my understanding that copper IUDs, without hormones to block ovulation, act solely by the mechanism of creating a hostile uterine environment.

          • Matt Davis

            Did you read the link I posted? It’s written by an OB/GYN and uses both the medical and conservative definition of abortion, ruling both out. I quote my other post:

            Please read this article about the four forms of contraception involved: we now know that three of them do not affect implantation and the fourth is listed as very unlikely.
            newrepublic dot com/article/118547/facts-about-birth-control-and-hobby-lobby-ob-gyn

    • Eric Boersma

      You seem to be missing the point that the debate over whether or not IUDs are abortifacient (which is ridiculous; they’re not) is irrelevant because the practical outcome of opposing those birth control methods is the death of already-born women and children.

      For many people who oppose these contraceptives, those women in Malawi are less human than the theoretical fertilized egg being rejected by the uterine wall is. The Hobby Lobby case is a jumping off point to a wider discussion about the fact that our debate over what is an abortifacient has real life consequences that kill real people who have already been born.

      • Roland De Vries

        The piece has by no means shown that opposing these 4/20 birth control methods has anything to do with maternal and infant health in Malawi, which is the claim made. A little bit of actual research would go a long way.

        • Eric Boersma

          The Hobby Lobby decision does not happen in a societal vacuum, and many conservative Christians have attempted to translate Hobby Lobby’s political lawsuit into some kind of coherent theological position. The end result is the spread of anti-contraceptive theology in conservative American denominations. That same anti-contraceptive theology within the RCC is the core of the problem in Malawi.

        • JT

          Quite right, a little research does go a long way. For example, with research one finds that the four “birth control methods” have uses beyond just birth control (yes, even IUD’s: for example, they can treat menorrhagia, dysmenorrhea, and endometriosis). The relevance here being that the articles point is that denying birth control can lead to greater harm than allow it, even assuming that birth control resulted in any harm. If we are going to talk about women’s health, then it is entirely improper to act like these treatments are limited just to contraceptive purposes.

          • Roland De Vries

            Of course contraceptives have other purposes. But in this piece Rachel Marie Stone is discussing their use precisely as contraceptives – in North America and Canada. And, a Christian theological and ethical framework can never be reduced to mere considerations of harm.

          • Steven Patrick Barrett

            I’m a nurse with a theological background. It might be helpful if theologians like Mr. De Vries did consider the Hippocratic code, “First, do no harm,” as more than a “mere consideration” before making their theological-political pronouncements in the intimate world of sex, reproduction, and birth planning. In the medical world, we are advised to think negatively. I.e., to ask ourselves the question: what could possibly go wrong? before any kind of action,intervention, or care. Such thoughtfulness would prevent countless medical and nursing mistakes. Such “negative thinking” enables us to be healers by not getting in the way of the powers of healing.

          • Roland De Vries

            I agree that the prevention of harm is a part of a Christian ethical framework, but I worry when it appears to be the dominant feature. The reduction of ethics to harm prevention (and the preoccupation with levels of harm, and calculating harm, and balancing harms) is the result of modern, western liberalism in which it is assumed that questions of goodness and truth are unanswerable (they are private) and in which the only public moral standard remaining is whether an action causes harm. (Thus, you can do anything, can extend your hand as far as you want, as long as it doesn’t make contact with your neighbours’s nose).

            For me Christian ethics is about describing the shape of a community, and of individual lives within that community, where there is an honouring of the good creation of God and in which the creative and re-creative purposes of God, in Christ, are expressed in our habits and attitudes and actions. In such a context, considerations of whether we are doing harm (and calculations about harm) will obviously have some place, but they are not primary.

            All of that to say, again, that in my view a Christian consideration of contraception isn’t about balancing harms primarily (I was replying to a comment that seemed to suggest it is), but about trying to be faithful to God’s gift of bodily existence, of sexuality, and of human life. (And yes, of course, Christians will differ to some extent on how they answer these questions.) In my very brief comment I was simply saying that such considerations can’t be left aside, and the question of when life begins isn’t a secondary or irrelevant one.

          • JT

            No, Rachel Marie Stone is discussing the consequences of banning particular medical treatments. I can understand how you missed that, though, as the thesis statement was hidden away in paragraph ten.

            A Christian theological and ethical framework can indeed be “reduced” to considerations of harm, because harm is such a widely varied word that can allow disparate considerations to be merged into a single framework. For example, the classic “if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off” exhortation equates physical harm as less bad than spiritual harm. But if you wish, it is easy to switch to a discussion of “sin” instead of “harm.” Say, by comparing the sin of actively oppressing women in order to avoid the sin of passively allowing other “sins” to occur.

    • Greg Robertson

      Hobby Lobby also supports companies in China that have FORCED abortion policies. AND Hobby Lobby invests in companies that manufacture the contraceptives they claim they are opposed to. So to me, Hobby Lobby does NOT have a “strong religious conviction” on this issue, but instead has a political agenda.

  • James

    Your argument fails, not because it is an emotional appeal, but because it is a consequentialist argument.

    Your background is Evangelical, but much of the resistance to contraception in places like Malawi is Catholic. Catholics oppose all forms of contraception, except for fertility-awareness based methods (NFP). Despite the popular myth, Catholics are generally accepting of science. NFP is scientifically sound and can be highly effective, although it is not always user-friendly.

    The issue is that a key principle in Catholic moral theology is that you may not do evil so that good may come from it. The ends do not justify the means. Even a good end (improved maternal health, decreased infant mortality) does not justify an illicit means.

    Perhaps you have no problem with these contraceptives. That is not the point. The question is if the ends can justify the means, where do we draw the line? Would improved maternal health justify abortion? How about euthanizing infants that we cannot take care of? I’m sure you find all of these morally repugnant, but if they produce an overall good end, for what reason are they morally repugnant?

    As a practical matter, humans are very bad at predicting the ultimate ends of human actions. “Unintended consequences” are common and can bring about problems far beyond what the actor intended. An illicit means intended to bring about a good result often brings about a bad result despite the good intention.

    • Eric Boersma

      NFP is scientifically sound and can be highly effective, although it is not always user-friendly.

      If something is not user-friendly, it is not highly effective. Full stop. It is not possible for those two concepts to be applied to the same object because being theoretically effective while being practically ineffective means that something is ineffective.

      The issue is that a key principle in Catholic moral theology

      The issue is that a key principle in Catholic moral theology is nearly entirely ignored by actual Catholics.

      The ends do not justify the means.

      This cuts both ways. Why is avoiding a sin worth the deaths of hundreds of thousands of actual infants?

      Scientifically, 3 of 4 fertilizations end in miscarriage before the woman knows she is pregnant. Not taking contraception causes millions of avoidable deaths every year, if you follow the Catholic line of thinking that an implanted egg is a person. Why does sin avoidance as an end justify the deaths of millions of people (by your own definition) in your mind?

      • James

        The issue is that a key principle in Catholic moral theology is nearly entirely ignored by actual Catholics.

        Is truth determined by a majority vote?

        This cuts both ways. Why is avoiding a sin worth the deaths of hundreds of thousands of actual infants?

        So what sins should we commit for the greater good? When is it OK to sin?

        “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

        • Eric Boersma

          Is truth determined by a majority vote?

          Is truth determined by a single fallible human despite the objections of literally all of his closest advisors telling him he’s making a grave mistake? “Birth control is a sin” is not a truth. It’s an opinion that’s based off a particular religious perspective. If Catholic moral theology says that saving lives is less important than affirming the prejudices of dead popes, then Catholic moral theology is bankrupt and should be rejecting by any thinking person (which consequently, it is by nearly 90% of actual Catholics).

          So what sins should we commit for the greater good? When is it OK to sin?

          It’s OK to sin when the gravity of the sin being committed is less than the gravity of the sin that would result. Lying to the Gestapo to protect those people hiding in your attic is a sin according to the RCC, and yet you wouldn’t find a Pope in the last 50 years who’ll tell you that you should’ve told the truth. If you believe that every fertilization forms a new human, then you absolutely must recognize that 75% of those fertilizations end in death within a day or two. A family of 6 has the deaths of 24 other people on their conscience, if they’ve been having nothing but unprotected sex their whole lives. Is killing 24 people justified by the writings of a single Pope?

          • James

            You clearly don’t like the Catholic Church or the Pope, yet you show little understanding of the teachings of either.

            As for the family, you don’t seem to understand the difference between natural death and killing. In your hypothetical 24 persons will die from a natural miscarriage, the other 6 will eventually die from some other cause. The only way to prevent these deaths is to never have sex and never have children, which is hardly good for the long term survival of the human race.

          • Eric Boersma

            The only way to prevent these deaths is to never have sex and never have children, which is hardly good for the long term survival of the human race.

            Or to develop a sexual ethic that wasn’t birthed in the ninth century AD and only continued because an old Pope was too afraid to admit that he’d been wrong. There’s a third way here.

          • RachelMarieStone

            Just for the record–Malawian WOMEN aren’t opposed to birth control. Many men don’t want to use condoms and in some cases take exception to their wives using contraception, but women, including Roman Catholics, the religious majority there, use or want to use BC. Most popular form? Depo-Provera, the injectible.

          • Eric Boersma

            women, including Roman Catholics, the religious majority there, use or want to use BC.

            This is sort of the core of my point; if the actual people comprising the RCC don’t listen to the RCC’s teachings on the topic, then the teachings aren’t effective and the RCC’s continued work to try to block access to birth control is both morally reprehensible and impotent. If the RCC, which has a huge pool of resources to draw from were to step up and start working to expand the availability and coverage of birth control in many places there would be a lot of good that would come from it.

          • Roland De Vries

            Depo-Provera is similar to ella and IUDs in that it too MIGHT prevent implantation of a fertilized egg (at least that’s what I find in a quick read of a few sites). So it seems that your argument would be (?):

            The consequences of not providing Depo-Povera are much worse (for maternal and infant health in Malawi) than the consequences of providing Depo-Provera (the possibility that a fertilized egg may not implant, in a few rare cases).

            I lean toward accepting (want to accept!) such an argument for the same reasons you do, and have no problem with the use of contraceptives, but it is the consequentialist aspect that bothers me, too. Saying “I’m satisfied with the science” isn’t an answer to this consequentialist problem, I think, because the science still says that some of these methods will/do prevent implantation in some cases. The problem can be expressed by asking: What if the method prevents implantation in.09% of cases? 2% of cases? 20% of cases? 45% of cases? The consequentialist argument can’t answer, and doesn’t care, it seems to me.

            Perhaps (!) intentionality is another variable here – the intent is to prevent ovulation, not to prevent implantation, and it is vastly more likely that the former will happen than the latter with many of these ‘controversial’ methods. So the intent is not problematic. (And I know you do point toward intentionality in your piece.)

            I’m sorry I didn’t give more credit to your argument in my first read!

          • RachelMarieStone

            Rather than think about it as “consequentialist,” what about “harm reductionist,” akin, for those who oppose certain forms of BC, to needle-exchange programs, agreeing that this is at least a way to reduce harm? I’ve studied the Bible quite a bit. There are many, many times when it seems God is in the business of harm reduction. Granting a certificate of divorce “because of the hardness of their hearts” is just one example.

          • Eric Boersma

            What if the method prevents implantation in.09% of cases? 2% of cases? 20% of cases? 45% of cases? The consequentialist argument can’t answer, and doesn’t care, it seems to me.

            Non-contraceptive sex prevents implantation in ~75% of cases, so even in the most ridiculous doomsday scenario you can possibly think of for contraception, it’s causing less failed implantation than nature itself, and almost certainly several orders of magnitude less than nature.

            Consequentialists don’t need to provide an answer for this because anyone who chooses a system which causes more failed implantations is clearly not actually concerned with preventing failed implantations.

          • Roland De Vries

            I’ve seen this argument all over the blogosphere the past few days, and it is such a red herring. Spontaneous abortions happen in around 15-20% of pregnancies – does that license abortion? In Canada, 3 children die per week of SIDS – does that license the suffocation of infant children? Human person’s have the capacity for intentionality which “nature” does not (I use scare quotes because “nature” isn’t a thing or person and doesn’t DO anything). The fact that fertilized eggs may not implant, naturally, isn’t an argument for ignoring what humans intend to do with respect to fertilized eggs. When contraceptives that prevent implantation are used, that possibility has to be considered in the intentionality of the one taking the particular pharmaceutical product. I’m not saying that’s the end of the matter, or THE decisive point, (as my comment below makes clear) – I simply don’t accept the logic of your argument.

          • Eric Boersma

            I’m having a hard time parsing your argument.

            Intention is not magic. Let’s pick something totally neutral. Let’s say that I oppose putting mustard on hot dogs. I think it’s a sin. Nobody should do it. Let’s say that I think the best way to get people to stop putting mustard on hot dogs is by making ketchup totally free. Now let’s say that it turns out that increasing the ketchup that people have available for hot dogs actually makes them want to use mustard more so as a result more mustard is used on hot dogs. When I know this, and I still continue to advocate for free ketchup as a way to reduce mustard usage, any rational observer will instantly conclude that I don’t actually want to reduce mustard usage. I may own shares in a ketchup company and want to increase profits or I may just be stupid, but at that point there’s no reason that I should be included in public policy discussion because I’m either a fraud or stupid or both. I’ve discredited my own argument and refused to update it based on new data.

            That’s exactly what anti-contraception people have done. Whether or not that’s what they intend to do is irrelevant. What they’ve done is increase the number of miscarried zygotes. If you claim to want to reduce the number of miscarried zygotes and you try to do so by specifically choosing a route which increases the number of miscarried zygotes, I have no reason why we should take that person’s contribution to the discussion seriously.

          • Jane Dunn

            The point is not between “natural” destruction/rejection of a fertilized egg versus its intentional destruction. The point is that if people believed that fertilized eggs hold the same moral worth as born children, there would be as much effort made to save the naturally rejected fertilized eggs (~50%) as there is to save kids stricken with naturally-occurring cancer. The apt comparison isn’t between natural and intentional destruction. It’s between what the life-begins-at-fertilization folks do (or don’t do) to try to cure or save the naturally rejected fertilized eggs versus what they do to try to cure or save sick kids. Even they do not treat the loss of a fertilized egg the same as the loss of a child, even if both occurred naturally.

          • Roland De Vries

            I don’t understand the need to turn this issue into a calculus that must grant “moral equivalence” to a fertilized egg and a child. Perhaps such a need is rooted in modern consequentialist ethics (where prevention of harm is the only available and decisive moral category) and in which (invariably incommensurable realities) must be compared with each other.

            Assuming that the methods in question do prevent implantation (which I know you don’t accept): Is it not possible to believe that it is wrong to actively harm or prevent the development of a fertilized egg, without turning it into a calculus that compares children and fertilized eggs. Particularly since there are many other birth control methods available (again, I know you have concluded they are all necessary), and since there are other deep and morally compelling issues that surround it (the nature of community and care for one another; the nature of the body and sexuality, etc…)? And also give that there is a clear difference between intentionally causing something and allowing something to happen?

            Thanks for the conversation!

          • Jane Dunn

            The moral value of a fertilized egg, and whether its value is equivalent to a born child, is key to the balancing and weighing that must be done in making a decision. When you combine on one side the only hypothetical possibility of rejected fertilized eggs, with the pretty clear fact that, despite protestations, the life-begins-at-fertilization folks don’t really believe the fertilized egg has as much moral worth as a born child, and compare that to the threats to the life and health of women, as both Rachel and Ellen have described, I think the balance clearly tips in favor of allowing a woman and her doctor to make the decision about what form of birth control to use. Giving anyone else the ability to make that decision puts women’s lives, and children’s lives, at risk. Of course, I may not agree with all the choices made, but I don’t agree with all of the choices made by food assistance or small business assistance recipients either. That’s what it means to live in community in a constitutional democratic republic.

            On what moral basis would you deny a woman access to a form of birth control needed to protect her life or health when the danger of harm to a fertilized egg is, at best, a remote possibility? Should a woman have to present her case to some governmental board to have them determine whether her need is worthy? How would that even work?

            Your analysis seems to be trying to make a life versus life balancing, which I don’t think accurately describes what’s at stake, even for folks who believe life begins at conception. Though I’m sure it’s not your intent, it’s demeaning to women to have their lives valued less than the “life” of a hypothetical fertilized egg that even the life-begins-at-conception folks treat as less-than.

            Thanks also for the conversation.

          • James

            It sounds like the real problem in Malawi isn’t a lack of contraceptives, but that marital rape and sexual coercion are socially accepted.

            It’s easy from this side of the world to sit back and say that women “want” Depo-Provera. But is that their real choice or is it a response to their situation? The drug does have unpleasant side-effects for many women. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that these women would rather not be raped by their husbands, but if that’s not going to change, then they’d rather have Depo-Provera than not.

            It’s discouraging to see first worlders, especially Christians, see providing contraceptives as a greater priority than ending marital rape or that ending marital rape is hopeless.

          • Eric Boersma

            You clearly don’t like the Catholic Church or the Pope

            I have no problem with either the RCC or the Pope; I have a problem with people who make bad decisions to perpetuate their own power structures, something the RCC is guilty of on at least a few occasions. Those were mistakes (and I don’t fault them for making mistakes, everyone is human, including the Pope). That they’re not willing to own up to those mistakes and correct them means that they’re still fighting to perpetuate their own power structures, which is something I’ll continue to oppose.

      • James

        Finally, if the biggest problem with a contraceptive is user error, how much would a “effective contraceptive” remove the user from the equation?

        So by your moral reasoning, if users couldn’t be trusted to reliably use contraception or the population wasn’t interested in contraceptives, then the social and health benefits of contraception would justify coercion in contraceptive use and toward non-user reversible methods, like implants, injections, IUDs, and sterilization, would they not?

        If not, then by your moral reasoning, why not?

        • Eric Boersma

          how much would a “effective contraceptive” remove the user from the equation?

          Success rates between NFP and actual effective contraceptive plans seems to be a delta of about 30%. And that’s the whole point: NFP is already a contraceptive. It’s just not a very good one. The RCC has already approved a contraceptive, it just won’t approve the ones that are easy to use because a Pope in the 60’s didn’t like hippies having sex at Woodstock.

          So by your moral reasoning, if users couldn’t be trusted to reliably use contraception or the population wasn’t interested in contraceptives, then the social and health benefits of contraception would justify coercion in contraceptive use and toward non-user reversible methods, like implants, injections, IUDs, and sterilization, would they not?

          Huh? I’ve always known you to be a rather reasonable person, if a bit too sold out on Catholic Theology. Equating not wanting people to die starving in the mud with forced sterilization is frankly insulting.

          • James

            The RCC has already approved a contraceptive, it just won’t approve the
            ones that are easy to use because a Pope in the 60’s didn’t like hippies
            having sex at Woodstock.

            You have absolutely no idea what the Catholic Church actually teaches about contraception, do you?

            Huh? I’ve always known you to be a rather reasonable person, if a bit
            too sold out on Catholic Theology. Equating not wanting people to die
            starving in the mud with forced sterilization is frankly insulting.

            If people are starving in the mud, then where do we draw the line? When do the ends no longer justify the means? How do we determine?

            Second, why not feed the people starving in the mud? Why is the answer fewer people instead of less starvation?

          • James

            Yes, I have read the majority report, the minority report, and the Krakow report (from Cardinal Wojtyla (later John Paul II) who was stuck behind the Iron Curtain) and, of course, Humanae Vitae itself.

            Pope Paul VI rewrote the mass. He permitted worship in the vernacular. He abolished the minor orders. Hardly what one would expect from a man who is afraid of change.

            But he did not allow use of artificial birth control. Unlike the rosy predictions of most, Pope Paul predicted the following would occur with increased use of artificial birth control:

            1. Increase marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.
            2. Men will increasingly see women as objects for their own pleasure.

            3. Public authorities will coerce couples into using the contraceptives they feel most effective, despite the wishes of the couple.

            Since you are a consequentialist, was his prediction accurate? Has marital infidelity increased or decreased since 1968? Are men more or less likely to see women as objects for their own pleasure? Have government authorities used coercion to force couples to use contraception and sterilization? (See China, India)

          • Eric Boersma

            Has marital infidelity increased or decreased since 1968?

            We don’t have accurate statistics that I’m aware of for marital infidelity, but we do have accurate statistics for divorce, which spiked in the early 1980’s and has been on the decline ever since in the US. Birth control usage has continued to rise; there doesn’t appear to be any statistical correlation between birth control usage and ending marriages.

            Are men more or less likely to see women as objects for their own pleasure?

            Significantly less. As a feminist/womanist, things have literally never been better for women. Things still aren’t right, but they’re certainly not worse than they were in 1968 and suggesting otherwise is ridiculous.

            Have government authorities used coercion to force couples to use contraception and sterilization?

            Forced sterilization is a human rights abuse and the same people (like me) who advocate for greater access to contraception also recognize that people have full control over their own bodies (which coincidentally is why I support access to abortion rights — because people need to have control over their own bodies for a society to actually have a chance at freedom) and thus should never be coerced or forced into using contraception and certainly shouldn’t be forced to be sterilized.

            In short: the Pope was right in the same way that someone saying “It’ll probably rain somewhere on Earth tomorrow” is right. They may have predicted the weather, but it certainly didn’t make them a meteorologist. In the meantime, said Pope’s aversion to birth control has killed millions of people.

          • James

            We don’t have accurate statistics that I’m aware of for marital
            infidelity, but we do have accurate statistics for divorce, which spiked
            in the early 1980’s and has been on the decline ever since in the US.
            Birth control usage has continued to rise; there doesn’t appear to be
            any statistical correlation between birth control usage and ending

            Divorce rates peaked in the early 1980s and fell, but much of this is because marriage rates have fallen. Fewer marriages = fewer divorces. But that doesn’t mean that the underlying problems have been solved.

            Things still aren’t right, but they’re certainly not worse than they were in 1968 and suggesting otherwise is ridiculous.

            Check your privilege, sir.

            What about sex trafficking? Prostitution? Pornography, especially the violent and degrading kind? Things may be better for some of the middle class white feminist women you know, but that’s a very narrow view ow th world.

            Forced sterilization is a human rights abuse and the same people (like me) who advocate for greater access
            to contraception also recognize that people have full control over their own bodies (which coincidentally is why I support access to abortion rights — because people need to have control over their own bodies for a society to actually have a chance at freedom) and thus should never be coerced or forced into using contraception and certainly shouldn’t be forced to be sterilized.

            You don’t get that the two are connected?

            When you say that (1) contraception is good and (2) the ends justify the means, you seem surprised when people conclude that the good of contraception justifies the means of forced sterilization.

          • Eric Boersma

            But that doesn’t mean that the underlying problems have been solved.

            What underlying problems? The fact that people have sex without feeling guilty or worried about it? I don’t see that as a problem. In fact, I quite enjoy the fact that I’m able to have sex without having to pretend that it’s some kind of transcendently mystical experience that can’t be extracted from procreation. You’ve yet to show that there’s been any kind of increase in infidelity or anything of the sort, you’ve simply begged the question.

            Check your privilege, sir.

            Er, did you read what I wrote? I specifically noted that things aren’t good but that they’re unarguably better than they used to be.

            What about sex trafficking?

            Existed in 1968. Sex Trafficking is, by definition, a crime of slavery meaning that the people who get into it don’t choose it, so contraceptive use will have no impact on it. Unless you’ve got evidence that sex trafficking has risen since 1968, I’m going to assume you’re just making stuff up.


            Has literally always existed and will always exist. I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make.

            Pornography, especially the violent and degrading kind?

            Has again, literally always existed. It’s much, much better to be in pornography today, when there are regulations around what people can have you do, how they can have you do it, what protection you need to include, where things need to be shot/filmed, etc. Things have unequivocally gotten better on this front since 1968.

            Things may be better for some of the middle class white feminist women you know, but that’s a very narrow view ow th world.

            Do not presume to know who I know or how their lives have changed. You’re way out of line, here. You’re also wrong.

            You don’t get that the two are connected?

            The two aren’t connected except in your attempts to discredit an argument based off an absurdist slippery slope argument. People get autonomy over their own bodies; they shouldn’t be sold into slavery, they should be able to use or not use whatever contraception they wish, they should be able to have sex with whomever they feel is appropriate, be in relationships with whom they feel is appropriate and so on.

            So while I would certainly encourage people to use contraception and would seek to eliminate their misconceptions about how contraception works and what it actually prevents, I would never suggest that forcing someone to use contraception would ever be the right choice because my beliefs end at my body. The RCC doesn’t share that conviction, so I will continue to argue that they’re wrong and immoral (because they are).

          • James

            If sex is not something to feel guilty or worried about, not a transcendental experience, and not connected to procreation, then why be faithful?

            Do you believe that marriage is good? Do you believe that divorce is bad? Do you believe that fidelity matters? If not, then we have little to talk about.

            It’s much, much better to be in pornography today

            I’ll leave you with this.


            “Images have now become so extreme that acts that were almost non-existent a decade ago have become commonplace.”

            (Warning: Article contains graphic descriptions of sexual acts.)

          • Eric Boersma

            If sex is not something to feel guilty or worried about, not a transcendental experience, and not connected to procreation, then why be faithful?

            Because I respect and care for my wife and I don’t desire to hurt or betray her? One doesn’t need to have some kind of religious impetus to believe that staying monogamous in an agreed-upon monogamous relationship is a good thing.

            Do you believe that marriage is good?

            Not inherently. Good marriages are good, bad marriages are bad.

            Do you believe that divorce is bad?

            No. I’m certainly sad when I see people go through pain related to a divorce, but I don’t believe the divorces themselves are bad, because the people involved will go through much more pain trying to prop up an already-failed marriage than in simply ending it.

            Do you believe that fidelity matters?

            I believe that if you’ve agreed with your partner that you’ll be monogamous, then fidelity matters. I believe that if you’ve got a different kind of relationship going on, that it’s important that you live within the expectations of that relationship.

            I’ll leave you with this.

            50 years ago, that person never would have been able to discuss what happens during pornography shoots because “no decent person would talk about that”. It would still be happening, but they’d never have a chance to leave that life or explain to anyone else what they didn’t like about it, because they’d have been tarnished by the very act of being part of it.

            50 years ago, Jenna McCarthy never gets out of pornography long enough to say stupid things about autism vaccines. Suggesting that her life was better then for no reason other than the stuff she was doing was “less extreme” (I don’t even know what that’s supposed to mean, all pornography is extreme, that’s the point) pornography is silly.

    • RachelMarieStone

      Yes it’s a consequentialist, harm-reduction argument. Yours is a slippery slope argument. God is in the business of harm reduction and doesn’t seem to fear slippery slopes/

      • James

        The problem with any consequentialist argument is that we are incapable of knowing all the consequences. How do you know that your harm-reduction measure is actually reducing harm? What if it increases harm? What are the moral consequences of an act intended to reduce harm that actually increased it?

        As westcoast life points out, Malawi has far bigger problems than birth control, and birth control is merely a “band-aid” fix to the problems they do have. Does this band-aid fix make things better or worse in the long term? What if a woman dies or is left infertile from complications of the contraceptives? How do you think the local people will react? Will it be easier or harder for missionaries to operate in Malawi in the future?

  • Margaret Kelly

    Has any group successfully taught effective Natural Family Planning in Malawi? These people have only a 60-something percent adult literacy rate and we’re supposed to teach them to chart their basal body temperatures and note the consistency of their cervical mucus?

    • James

      The Billings Ovulation Method and Family of the Americas have taught mucus-only methods to illiterate women in developing countries for decades.

      • Margaret Kelly

        James, thanks for responding. I did not know this. Would you mind linking to some information on the history of these efforts?

        • RachelMarieStone

          I think this point should have been clear: even if women know the methods, the culture in which they live doesn’t give them a choice in when/how they have sex. Seriously. Ever. Even the wives of seminarians.

          • James

            Should Christians accommodate the culture or work to change it?

          • Elsa

            The culture will be hellishly difficult to change, and will take a long time. In the meantime children and women are still dying. Of course Christians (as well as non-Christians) should work to change such a system, and maybe they are. But what about right now? Seriously, what are you saying, “Oh, we’ll just change the entire culture on Tuesday. Let’s put that on our agenda.” ? Good luck with that.

          • Tom from North Carolina

            If there’s one thing we should have learned from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan; we can’t readily change other people’s cultures. For those of us that see no evidence of a “soul”, there’s not much judgment about where to draw the line even if it meant preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. The mother’s life and health should be a priority over any potential human being. Ensuring resources for an existing family is more important than using effective, practical contraception.

          • James

            Providing contraceptives IS changing the culture and I don’t think most of the people on this thread are aware of what changes it will bring about.

          • Tom from North Carolina

            And what culture is that? And how is it changing?

          • James

            Also, how does contraception solve the problem of marital rape?

          • Eric Boersma

            It doesn’t solve the problem but it helps to alleviate the consequences so that those women have more tools at their disposal to work to change the tide of marital rape. Marital rape is not something you “solve” over night. It takes a long, long time to fix and in the meantime you should be working to triage the damage you’re also trying to prevent.

        • James

          Not quite sure why this hasn’t been approved, but here are some studies. www(dot)natural-fertility-regulation(dot)org(slash)trials(dot)shtml

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      NFP can be highly effective when husband and wife communicate and work together. If men can’t be convinced to use a condom because it is emasculating, I’m not sure they could be convinced to check in with the state of their wives’ cervical mucus and basal body temperature before discussing whether tonight would be a mutually agreeable time to have intercourse.

  • Alissa C.

    Wondering if IUDs are used, how likely it is that these women would have access to health care to monitor them for any side effects? Or for removal when they are wanting to start a family?

    • James

      This issue seems to be missing from the discussion. If women in Malawi have complications from BC, where do they turn?

  • Alexis

    Thank you. Amen.

  • Cyberquill

    Instead of “Don’t take away my birth control,” shouldn’t the sign the lady is holding read “Don’t take away my FREE birth control”?

    • Rebecca Trotter

      In practice, it’s often the exact same thing. This is what is wrong with the church; we are so hung up on our ideas about how things could work or should work that we refuse to grapple with the reality of how they DO work. And funny how nowhere is this more evident than when it’s a matter affecting women. After all, we all know that women are whiny, hysterical, demanding and unable to be trusted, right?

      • Cyberquill

        Some are, as are some men. It’s called human nature.

        • JT

          Alas, sarcasm is often hard to communicate via the internet. What Rebecca was getting at is that people in general view women as being whiny, hysterical, demanding, and unable to be trusted: she was in no way claiming that women really are that way. There was also the implicit implication that people in general do not view men the same way (again, she wasn’t talking about reality, but rather people’s perceptions).

          The relevance of this is, of course, in the a bunch of men (the majority decision of SCOTUS) decided that women can have their personal rights infringed, but it said nothing about men having their personal rights infringed. Any decision that inherently affects one gender more than another is also inherently sexist.

          • Cyberquill

            By that reasoning, Roe v. Wade was a sexist decision, too. When the issue is oral contraceptives or abortion, it seems rather difficult to inherently affect both genders equally.

          • JT

            The difference being that Roe v Wade gave women rights than men had but women thereto lacked (the right to control reproduction), whereas the recent SCOTUS decision restricted the rights of women but not men. The former was a step towards equality, the latter a step away.

            To be fair, I should have said “any decision that inherently negatively affects one gender…”, though I had assumed that would be understood.

    • JT

      It’s never been “free.”

      See, employees work for a business, and in turn a business gives them compensation. Healthcare Insurance is a very beneficial form of compensation (businesses can provide more compensation for less cost), but it is still compensation. Or, in other words, female employees have already earned that birth control.

      • Cyberquill

        Are you saying the peanuts we get on an airplane aren’t free, either?

        • JT

          Food and drink that one receives with one’s purchase of a seat on an airline flight is not free. While this can be reduced to peanuts, the exact same principle applies to the four-course meal that the blokes in first class receive. They’ve paid more, so they receive better food. You’ve paid less, so you receive worse food. But at the end of the day, you both are receiving the food you’ve paid for.

          Of course, airline food is a poor comparison because the roles are reversed. When you receive your filet mignon in first class, you are paying for that, but if you decide you don’t want it, no contractual obligations are being broken. But when you work for a company and they decide to keep back some of your hard-earned compensation, that is a violation of contractual obligations. The company is effectively stealing from the worker.

          • Cyberquill

            Right, except when the Supreme Court steps in and decides that some of these contractual obligations violate the Constitution. In which case, of course, whether we regard the Court as having been hijacked by a majority of radical ideologues depends on whether we agree or disagree with a given ruling.

          • JT

            SCOTUS’ telling corporations that it is okay to steal from employees doesn’t make those actions not-stealing. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has a long history of ruling idiotically, and then needing to overrule itself later. For example, in Hammer v. Dagenhart, SCOTUS decided that Congress didn’t have the authority to pass child labor laws, but in United States v. Darby Lumber Co., SCOTUS decided that in fact Congress DID have the authority to do just that. As the Constitution was not amended in the intervening period, we must conclude that the prior SCOTUS decision was in error, which means that the authority of Congress had been infringed. That SCOTUS approved this infringement doesn’t mean that it was no longer an infringement. Constitutional Rights and authorities cannot be given nor taken away, only suppressed.

            That is where we are now: the Constitutional Rights of women (and through them, all of society) are being suppressed by Hobby Lobby, and endorsed by the Supreme Court. Insofar as we believe that justice in America will win out, we also believe that, in time, SCOTUS will overrule itself once again.

            As for IF we regard SCOTUS as having been hikacked or not, that largely has to do with if we are reasonable people or not. If we are reasonable, then we realize that Hobby Lobby’s arguments were entirely without merit, lacking even internal consistency, and thus must conclude that SCOTUS’s decision was not made based on reason itself.

          • Cyberquill

            I don’t think there is such a thing as a reasonable SC decision that we, personally, disagree with. One might as well argue that back in the sixties, the Court took it upon itself to amend the Constitution by introducing a heretofore unknown constitutional right to universal privacy, which then enabled the Roe v. Wade decision and which now, I suppose, forms the basis for the constitutional right to contraception coverage as part of one’s remuneration. (Not that the right to privacy is a bad thing. I just can’t find it in the Constitution as written.)

          • JT

            The confusion seems to be that you are assuming that the issue begins and ends with contraception: that is not the case. It is true that the “right to contraception” isn’t in the Constitution, but you should instead be looking for the right to self-determination, which forms the very foundation of the constitution.

            As for the right to privacy, that’s the 4th amendment.

            Keep in mind that the merge ability to argue something (“one might as well argue…”) doesn’t mean that such an argument would be valid in the least.

          • Cyberquill

            The confusion seems to be that you are assuming that the right to self-determination (a) applies to some but not to others (e.g., to employees but not to employers), and (b) is somehow infringed upon by being forced to spend one’s salary money on funding one’s elective personal pleasures.

            “As for the right to privacy, that’s the 4th amendment.”

            The “th” is all it shows on my end here, so I can’t tell which amendment you’re referring to.

  • Kristine

    I read somewhere quite awhile back (on Jen Hatmaker’s blog?) this idea:

    If your gospel doesn’t work for everyone, in the whole world,
    then your gospel doesn’t work.
    period. This is UTTERLY the point you are making. if this “hobby lobby gospel” doesn’t work in Malawi,

    Don’t even get me started on when “life” begins or how many women who are not on ANY form of birth control pass fertilized eggs that never implanted every single friggin month and no one is screaming about that.

  • pastordt

    Thank you, Rachel.

  • Amy

    When my husband tried to teach his seminary students in Malawi about St.
    Paul’s unequivocal call for equality in the marriage bed, there was an
    outcry. “We’d be run out of church and out of the village for preaching
    that,” they said. “The man is in charge, no question.”

    Umm, these are seminary students who should be accepting and preaching the whole counsel of the Word of God. They need prayer for their own submission.

  • Westcoastlife

    Reading Amy’s comment (3 hours ago) on inequality in the marriage bed and the fact that young girls are having sex, likely not consensually, in Malawi the problem is women’s inequality. Now, afaik the Hobby Lobby is only in the US. So only US workers in the US would be signing up for the Hobby Lobby’s health insurance. So, I don’t have any problem with the Hobby Lobby’s right to choose which health benefits it offers its employees. Want this all to go away?, embrace Public Health Care (not Public Health Insurance, that doesn’t work looking at the Hobby Lobby).

    You know how they say if you are having problems like Carpal Tunnel, Tendonitis, etc. in you wrist, look upstream? Well, if denying birth control means women somewhere are dying, but not here, not in the west, then you have to see what is really wrong with Malawi. Woman and infant mortality is a festering wound, covering a festering wound with a quick band-aid (birth control) won’t solve the real problems there in the long run (think about Nigeria and the 300 kidnapped girls that the army was warned about before the abduction). Girls used by men, girls unable to have access to justice to stop these said men, girls getting pregnant too young, men refusing to wear condoms for their wives, something most people against abortion don’t object to – in a country with an out of control HIV epidemic – women not having the right to refuse their husbands if they don’t use a condom, and on and on and on.

    I lived in India and they pushed and pushed birth control. The public health workers got paid by how many women they could sign up for IUD procedures in the rural villages. It was an abject failure, I am not even commenting on the ethical abortifacient/birth control properties of IUDs – ethics wasn’t the issue, because the problem wasn’t a lack of access to any form of birth control (it technically could have been, due to costs or accessible pharmacies) but a lack of cultural acceptance. They tried to convince the young moms with 2 or 3 kids to get it, but no young mom in rural India had any agency over her reproductive rights, no matter what the law says, those young moms had to answer to a stern mother-in-law who was not going to have her sons cheated out of plenty of future sons. Had you offered a female only birth control, they would have been lined up around the block two miles long. Since daughters-in-law have to live with mom-in-laws, and mom-in-laws have run daughters out of town, or worse, for such infractions as not ‘getting rid of’ a female infant, no daughter-in-law was willing to live with the consequences of disobeying her mom-in-law. Now, don’t say this is all of India, but this is typical poor, rural India, and a huge percentage of Indians are poor and rural.

    The reality is, Malawi has much worse problems than infant mortality. What sort of a life do you save these birth-spaced-out daughters for? If her life is to be used by men, to have no say over any other area of her life, from when she has her first sexual encounter to her ability to save herself from AIDS, all the birth control in the world isn’t going to much improve her lot. Sure, she’ll have a few less children, well, maybe, if her husband allows it, and may bury a few less, actually, she may end up with more living children, since they will have a better shot at life by being spaced out, but the sorrow and horror of having no rights or agency or access to justice, let alone wealth (education and health care) won’t disappear. She could have a few more living children thanks to birth control before she dies of HIV related infections, especially since it may not be clear to anyone in that society that only condoms work at prevention, they may well feel all sorts of birth control will do the trick and it may get worse before it gets better. (you get this mentality, religious Americans suspect science – uneducated Malawians suspect Westerners, same thing). That would result in more orphans, since there will be more living children per woman. Just because we, here, in the west use birth control to better our lives (better maternal health, better financial control) doesn’t mean it will always work that way in other cultures, especially ones with the highest HIV rates in the world. It is naive to think throwing a band aid on a problem like Malawi is equivalent to allowing a corporation, owned by someone who feels certain birth control is in fact abortifacient, to choose not to cover certain pharmaceuticals.

    I am huge on giving women more rights world wide. Want to massively improve a society’s outcome. Educate the girls. The more education a woman receives, the less children she has and the longer she waits to have her first one. Want fewer babies dying after birth miles from a hospital? Educate women, they will find employment closer to health centres. Want less teen/child pregnancies, give women access to justice, to take rapists to court, to fight back against the brutality many face, and the dire consequences of those rapes – HIV, pregnancy, maternal death due to being too young to be pregnant in the first place. Giving women equality in marriage would go a long way – a women with education is more likely to enter an equal marriage than a woman without education. But, if someone doesn’t agree birth control is an answer, don’t malign them. USAID is likely looking for quick results – less infant mortality (which looks good on a donor update sheet), but long-term, hiding the lack of sexual agency these girls suffer from won’t improve the overall picture, and may make it worse – does Malawi need more living children per women, or more women who can say no to the way they are used sexually? Something needs to be done, but what that is, is not as clear-cut as what USAID would like us to buy into. If people have convictions against birth control methods, then focusing on why Malawi is in this state will likely be a better use of time and effort. Fighting over birth control isn’t going to turn Malawi around. It is a mess, and it is best we are honest about that first.

    • Westcoastlife

      I suppose, to look at this argument another way: if we wanted to improve the lot of women in India (fewer children per woman) and reduce the overall population, we could offer each poor, rural woman a free sex-determining ultrasound. The quick results would fewer births per woman and fewer children overall (generally considered a good thing in India), but morally and long-term it would be reprehensible.

      I am not calling all birth control reprehensible, but if someone’s conscience rejects birth control as a solution to over-population and unwanted pregnancies, there are still many, many ways to combat those ills that are upstream of the actual pregnancy – women’s education, equal justice for women, equality for women in marriages and so on that likely work far better than just loading poor, young, desperate women up with child-spacing birth control (likely not the IUD if the woman wants to go on and off it, leaving the pill forms) that may be rejected either by them or their husbands, solving nothing in the end. Many woman in India will accept the IUD once they have had 6 or 7 children, too little, too late. Many women in Malawi will space their children out and have more, or simply cover up the ongoing sexual abuse they suffer with after-the-fact birth control that we won’t call abortifacients, yet dying slowly of HIV or having more children who live after birth only to die of starvation due to being orphaned while young. For every good benefit, there is a dark consequence. For India, ultrasounds have allowed those with some means to have less children per woman, but have dramatically reduced the number of females born. I don’t know Malawi the way I do India, but the birth control cure you speak of sounds more like a weak band-aid than a solution.

  • Jane Dunn

    Rachel — I have 2 comments in moderation. They both included a link to the updated Princeton report. There was nothing objectionable in either comment. Would you see if you can get them out? Thanks.

    • RachelMarieStone

      Jane, not sure why that’s happening. I’ll look into it. Thank you!

      • Jane Dunn

        Thanks! The second moderated post I cut and pasted sans link into a new comment, so no need to resurrect that one, but the first one has, IMHO, important info from the updated report. 😉

        BTW, great article!

        • RachelMarieStone

          Thanks, Jane. I quoted you in a follow up piece I just published on my RNS blog (rachelmariestone DOT religionnews DOT com). Your point about the Good Samaritan is so spot on.

          • Jane Dunn

            Thanks, Rachel! I’m honored. I left a comment at your RNS article.

    • Tom from North Carolina

      From my experience, any attempt at embedding a URL in a comment will be held up for review, forever.

  • HildyJJ

    JFK had to deal with the accusation that he would ignore the interests of America and instead follow the dictates of the pope. His victory and presidency opened up politics for catholics.

    Now, however, we have the white male catholics on the court following the dictates of the pope and ignoring American law and precedent (as clearly and extensively pointed out in the dissenting opinions). All hail the coming theocracy.

  • Carstonio

    Excellent. As a father of daughters, I say that any religious or secular ideology that teaches “the man is in charge” is evil.

  • Ginny Bain Allen

    As the all-knowing big brother to the rest of the world, the USA is attempting to enforce our corrupted cultural beliefs upon our entire privileged planet. Many in other countries view babies as the unmitigated blessings from Almighty God that they truly are, unlike our enlightened, ungodly, progressive elite who view the unborn as the enemy to their narcissistic lifestyle – living sexually unencumbered by the inconvenience of babies.

  • Jesus H. Christ

    And then Jesus came upon his disciples and said, “Brethren, I’ve heard it said that I am to be a human sacrifice for your sins. May I asketh, who in the goddamn hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!!???

    Blood sacrifice!!!???? Are you all fucking insane!!!!????

    Brethren, listen carefully as I tell you something of great importance.

    The idea that the blood of a savage human sacrifice will drift up to the heavens and unleash magical powers of atonement from the invisible deity living there is, without a doubt, the most absurd, preposterous, revolting, sickening, evil and idiotic pile of Cro-Magnon donkey shit that the human mind has ever concocted in our entire history on planet Earth!!

    Blood sacrifice!!!!! Do you hear what you’re fucking saying!!!????

    Brethren, thou can all take your dying for sins lunacy and shove it straight up thy fucking asses!!!!!”

    And Jesus’ disciples said, “Well shit, man!! Maybe we can get Billy Ray to die for our sins.

    Otherwise, I guess we’re fucked.”

    —-Jesus Christ, The lost Gospel of Sane Rational Thought

    —-The disciples, as told to Kirk Cameron