Is It Anti-Woman to Oppose Contraceptives?
This is a fair question to ask given the the increased control and freedom of choice contraceptives have provided women. It’s also a question that has been implicitly raised in the debates about the HHS mandate. E.D. Kain, for example, writing in the context of Santorum’s views on contraceptives, stated, “if we’re to really grow as a culture and a people, we have to get past the notion that somehow women are inferior or that they shouldn’t have control over their own destiny.”
Yes, we do, and E.D.’s words here are helpful. If opposition to birth control arises from the notion that women are inferior or shouldn’t have control over their own destiny, then I think it’s fair to say that the opposition is anti-woman. Is it always true, though, that this notion underlies opposition to birth control? Let’s consider the following cases:
First case: Katherina and Petruchio. They do not use birth control because Petruchio forbids it and Katherina goes along with his demand. Petruchio wants lots of children, as many as possible. Katherina is ambivalent, but acquiesces to Petruchio’s desires, believing that being a good wife means being supportive, obedient, and submissive to her husband.
Case two: Hermione and Ron, another married couple. They refuse to use birth control as well, both strongly believing that children are a gift from God and that it would be immoral for them (or anyone else) to regulate the reproductive systems in any way. For them, every act of sex must be an attempt to get pregnant.
Case three: Celes. Celes objects to using birth control because she has strongly experienced the negative side effects of their use: using them makes her feel physically ill. She chooses instead to abstain from sex when she’s fertile.
Fourth case: Wilma. Wilma has religious and moral objections to contraceptives, i.e., any intentional attempt to hinder procreation or make it impossible. She chooses instead to avoid pregnancy by abstaining from sex when she’s fertile.
The opposition to birth control in the first case is blatantly anti-woman because it is rooted in 1) Petruchio’s belief that Katherina should have no say in the number of children she carries and to whom she gives birth and 2) Katherina’s belief that she’s inferior to her husband. An argument could be made that the opposition in case two is also anti-woman because the opposition is to any control on Hermione’s part over her own reproductive processes–a control she ought to have as a free moral person.
In case three, the opposition is based on health problems experienced by Celes when she uses contraceptives. In opposing the use of birth control for practical reasons, Celes neither demeans herself nor relinquish control over her body, so her opposition does not speak to an anti-woman disposition.
Case four is trickier than the others. One might argue that a particular religious or moral opposition to birth control implies the inferiority of women, but this would be a difficult if impossible argument to make in respect to all such conceivable religious and moral objections. Moreover, Wilma has no less control over her reproductive cycle than Celes: each chooses to exercise control over her body, but each uses means other than contraceptives to do so. I would therefore say that Wilma’s opposition to birth control is not inherently anti-woman.
So, is it anti-woman to oppose contraceptives? These four cases indicate that it can be, but it isn’t necessarily so.
What do you think?
Tod makes a criticism below that I’d like to address here as well. It should be obvious that in none of my case studies, nor in answering the question, did I contend with our very real history of misogyny, patriarchy, and systematic oppression of women. My conclusions are therefore limited in what they can tell us, but what I’ve established is worth keeping in mind when considering the larger and arguably more important issues: there is no logical connection between being anti-contraception and anti-woman. Has there been a historical connection? Yes. Must there be a future historical connection? No. Will there be? Regrettably, yes.