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The "Gift" of Birth Control

In general I try to stay away from the abortion discussion. "When does life begin" is one of those issues that there is no point debating, people believe what they believe and are not budging an inch. So I try to concern myself only when it effects me, my body, my rights. Or those of my daughter.

I recently read an article on the NY Times website entitled "Ruling on Contraception Draws Battle Lines at Catholic Colleges." ( Basically, many Catholic college health services are refusing to cover or prescribe birth control, despite laws requiring them to do so, claiming it is against their religious beliefs.  Students at these colleges who are seeking birth control have to pay for it themselves. And if they can't afford it? Go elsewhere. Or don't use it. 

Lets pause for a moment and consider this. Yes it is a Catholic college. But these are young (very young) adults. Away from home. In college. Where there are frat parties, kegs, football games, cheerleaders. What happens when you mix these things together? Sex happens. A lot of sex. And abortion is an evil evil sin, something we should prevent at all costs. So we have young college kids rolling around in dorm rooms together and we want them to not have abortions. But we won't give them any birth control. Hmmm...

The NY Times article states that "about half of all pregnancies in the United States are unplanned, and about 4 of 10 of those end in abortion, according to the Institute of Medicine report, which was released in July. It noted that providing birth control could lower both pregnancy and abortion rates. It also cited studies showing that women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to be depressed and to smoke, drink and delay or skip prenatal care, potentially harming fetuses and putting babies at increased risk of being born prematurely and having low birth weight."

I respect the decision to not end a pregnancy. Abortion is a complex issue, fraught with all kinds of emotional and physical variables. What I do not understand is how anyone can be against abortion and against contraception at the same time. How is abortion a sin but bringing an unplanned, possibly unwanted child into the world, sometimes into a situation that is destined to be horrible, how is this ok?

If you need to know my beliefs, here they are: I do not think the joining of an egg and a sperm is instantly a human. Rather, it is first a collection of cells. It is not a baby yet but it is alive. If I ever decided to have an abortion I do not think I will have committed murder, but I will have stopped a child from existing. Therefore, it is not a decision I would take lightly, nor make easily.  Matthew and I do not want any more children right now so if an "accident" occurs we are going to have a very difficult choice to make. So I try really really hard to not get pregnant.

But none of that is the point of this post. I do not want to debate abortion rights. I do not want to argue about when a cluster of cells becomes a life. I want to talk about being a mother. Of a daughter. Who will someday be able to become pregnant. And how in the world I am going to be able to steer her down the right path.

My own parents must have done something right. I did some pretty stupid things in college and as a young adult but I somehow grew up with the understanding that unprotected sex was not to be messed around with. No matter how drunk I was. No matter who he was. I didn't lose my virginity until pretty late and when I finally did,  "no glove, no love" became my mantra.

As the mother of a now 4 year old, the idea of Maya someday being old enough for sex terrifies me.  I am well aware of all the beauty of sexual activity, when it is loving, when it is consensual, when it is with the right person. I am also well aware of all the scary stuff; not just diseases and unplanned babies but the bitter disappointment when reality didn't live up to your daydreams.  I want Maya to grow up confident and comfortable. But most of all I want her to be knowledgeable. I am constantly shocked at the number of women who have no idea how their bodies work. You don't just "get pregnant", it is actually quite difficult. There is a tiny window of opportunity and even then the odds aren't good. In truth, if you are paying attention to your body it is not that hard to prevent pregnancy. Especially when you throw condoms, IUDs and birth control pills into the mix.

It is my job as a parent to teach my daughter (when the time is appropriate) about sex. She will learn about pregnancy and disease prevention. If I have done a good job as a mom she will also learn about self respect, about protecting her dignity as well as her body, about when to say no, and eventually when to say yes. Someday, when she is all grown up,  perhaps she too will decide to have children. But I live in the real world, where teenagers sometimes have sex. And college students sometimes have sex, regardless of whether or not they are mature enough for the consequences. So if you really want to protect children, protect the unplanned ones from existing to begin with. Protect young, naive college students (still children themselves) from having to make heartbreaking choices that will haunt them forever.

According to the NY Times article "Birth control is considered a “preventive service” under the new health care law, but Mr. Galligan-Stierle (Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities).said such services should be limited to preventing disease, not pregnancy. 
“We do not happen to think pregnancy is disease,” he said. “We think it’s a gift of love of two people and our creator.”"

I agree. Pregnancy is not a disease.  But it is not a "gift" either.  It is not magic. It is the outcome of a very specific act, during a very precise time.  And, if at all possible, it should be a choice. Loving someone is hard. Parenting is even harder. Being a good parent is damn near impossible. At least let people decide for themselves if they want to go down that road. Don't punish those of us who are lucky enough to have found intimacy, but realistic enough to want to control its outcome.


  1. I'm constantly amazed at your output writing on this blog every day. Wednesday's post above was especially interesting and provocative.
    I try to remember, as your mother, when we discussed birth control I know I told you I had abortions in my youth and how difficult it was for me. Somehow you picked up all this maturity and insight, and, of course, I can't take all the credit for that.
    One bit of information. I read the article in the Times you discuss in this article, but I also read an op-ed the other day written by a woman who is supporting a law in NY State that would protect pregnant women from being fired if they complain about not being allowed to go to the bathroom more often or not be asked to lift heavy items or stand long periods at their jobs. Some are forced to bring notes from their doctors to be excused, but legally pregnancy is not considered to be a disability, so their supervisors don't HAVE to pay attention to these requests.
    So long as women are subject to these kinds of injustices (mostly by men) the idea of birth control and abortion will always be debated in the religious, political and media world.

  2. Here is the article Gerri was talking about


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