Wednesday, February 22, 2012

More Thoughts on the Birth Control Debate

Each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind.I Corinthians 7:2-7

The Apostle Paul is regularly criticized for having a bad attitude toward women, and for infecting Christianity with it. As a long time fan of Paul’s theology, I have spent many hours defending Paul’s views with friends and colleagues. And just for the record, I want to say again that many of the worst “anti-female” passages attributed to Paul were not actually written by him. And we need to take all of it in context.

But compared to the sentiments expressed in the recent debates about health care and birth control, Paul sounds like the voice of reason, even after two thousand years. Within the covenant of marriage, he argues, the satisfaction of sexual desire is not a sin, and married couples should not withhold that pleasure from each other. And note exactly what he says, “Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again.”
One is hard pressed to conjure up an argument against birth control from Paul’s perspective.

In the conflict between Roman Catholic agencies and institutions and the requirement of the Affordable Care Act, that employee health insurance provide free coverage for birth control prescriptions, the church has argued that as a matter of religious freedom it should be allowed to deny that coverage to women. Religious freedom is enshrined in the first amendment to our constitution, and it is cornerstone of who we are as Americans. But that is not the last word. This is a real healthcare issue for women, as well as a serious family issue.

I wrote earlier about how similar coverage is already mandated in 28 states and many Roman Catholic institutions already comply with those mandates.

In one of the doomsday arguments against the regulations, opponents raised the specter of Catholic Charities being “forced” to close and thereby putting a giant hole in our social safety net. There is no doubt that Catholic Charities is a major supplier of social services to the poorest people in our nation, and they deserve our thanks for that ministry. But we should note that of their $4.67 billion annual budget (in 2010), $2.9 billion (62%) came from federal grants. Only $140 million came directly from Diocesan churches. The rest came from in-kind gifts, investments, community campaigns, and program fees.

And one more thing to think about: The Roman Catholic agencies in question already provide coverage for Viagra. It is not surprising that many women’s groups see the whole argument as profoundly anti-female.


  1. I bet they don't check to see if the guys are married (or straight!) before paying for viagra.

  2. 100% political issue.