Notre Dame's official student newspaper, the Observer, has been printing a series of Viewpoint letters to the editor concerning the HHS mandate that will force Notre Dame and other Catholic institutions to provide coverage of contraceptives, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs through its health insurance. Today we are proud to feature a letter written by one of the students in our Integritas undergraduate formation program. It was published in the February 6 edition of the Observer:
I would like to reply to Notre Dame Right to Life officers' Jan. 31 letter, "Contraception and Dignity," touched off when it sternly condemned the use of artificial contraception. I am going to argue on behalf of the original letter's position by responding to some of the arguments made by "Contraception and Dignity," Feb. 3.
Emily Bienek, Joel Moore and John Galeziewski argued contraception can mitigate the harmful consequences of domestic violence, rape and drunken hook-ups. This argument fails because these problems cannot be solved by contraception. If women are really so afraid of being assaulted by friends, boyfriends, husbands and strangers they feel they must be taking contraception at all times to prevent unplanned pregnancies, our society suffers from a far greater problem than a lack of reproductive choice.
I would rather make the world safe from violence against women than hand out birth control pills to potential rape victims. Similarly, the fact that many Notre Dame students regularly get so drunk that they cannot control their behavior contributes to a host of problems of which unplanned pregnancies are only one. We can better resolve that issue by helping students drink responsibly than by constantly struggling to reduce the harm they do to themselves and others when they are drunk.
Bienek, Moore, Galeziewski and Anne Reser all made the point artificial contraception helps women by allowing them to regulate how many children they have and when they have them. This allows women to pursue other goals before starting a family and to responsibly regulate the size of their families once they have them. Abstinence before marriage and NFP during marriage can do the same things. Researchers at the University of Heidelberg in Germany found NFP is as effective as "the pill" at preventing conception, and (forgive the cliché) abstinence remains the only 100 percent effective means of preventing pregnancy and STDs.
John Galeziewski suggests NFP, even when properly used, is no different than other forms of contraception. On the contrary, NFP does not upset the delicate chemical balance within a woman's body in ways that could damage her health, as hormonal contraceptives do.
It also does not fundamentally change the nature of the sexual act by chemically or mechanically eliminating one of its key functions, something all forms of artificial birth control do as well. Finally, NFP makes sex more intimate for couples that use it by giving them a greater understanding of the natural reproductive process and how to work within it to plan their families.
Anne Reser deplores the fact "there are still people who believe that a woman's dignity is somehow tied to her ability and desire to have children." I believe she has misunderstood "Contraception and Dignity" on this issue. At the risk of putting words in the authors' mouths, I believe the people behind "Contraception and Dignity" would not call a woman's reproductive ability the sole source of her worth. Rather, they would assert that a woman derives her dignity from all of the various and wonderful gifts God has bestowed on her by making her in His image, and that her ability to create and nurture life within her own body is merely one of these gifts, though it is an awe-inspiring and very important one.
Women do not need artificial birth control to protect themselves, plan their families or affirm their dignity. They can avoid unplanned pregnancies and STDs by abstaining from sex before marriage and regulate the births of their children within marriage by using NFP. They can better respect themselves by embracing their ability to bear children as an important part of their nature than they can by denying the beauty and significance of one of the greatest abilities of any human person, which they alone happen to possess. The only thing women (and men) "need" artificial contraception for is to have sex whenever they want and with whomever they want. Modern society thinks sex should be like television: entertainment on demand. Those of us who believe that sex is a total, loving and fruitful gift from one person of incommensurable dignity to another believe sex was meant for something more.