The Story, Spin and Slip of Contraception

By: Thomas O’Neill, Staff Spotlight

Some things are so predictable that you take them as a given, such as fireworks on the National Mall on Independence Day, or fireworks throughout the media and the political world whenever the Supreme Court hands down a decision on a socially contentious issue. June 30 proved to be no exception.

When the Supreme Court decision on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was handed down, the reaction was immediate and intense. Some folks, especially those on the side of Hobby Lobby, were excited about the affirmation of religious liberty. Yet, in the media, the reaction was largely negative — outrage over the “denial” of contraception to employees, and a parade of “horribles” about what would be denied next, by whom and to whom.

Hobb3Petula Dvorak, in a column for the Washington Post, attempted to strike a middle path, calling the decision “dangerous,” and warning that “the five male justices who ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby just handed employers a powerful tool to opt out of laws they don’t like.” Yet, Dvorak also admits that Hobby Lobby isn’t forcing their employees not to use contraception — their employees are still free to buy it on their own. But now, she argues, many lower-tier employees will be unable to afford contraception and will fall back on less reliable methods, leading “inevitably” to more abortions.

One of the greatest canards involved in this case — the seemingly universal assumption that contraception has been an unmitigated blessing on American society. This myth persists not because it is true, but because it is so widely accepted that the only time people talk about the Pill’s effects is simply to laud it as the wonderful gift that it is.

Taking a deeper look gives us a more nuanced view. Contraception was billed as liberating women from the “tyranny” of motherhood, of being forever relegated to the sidelines of bearing and raising children. It also promised to prevent a population explosion, preventing unintended pregnancies and the overpopulation of our planet. Finally, it would liberate us from the puritanical sexual mores which had repressed sexual relations for centuries. The truth — in the form of a pill — was here to set us free.

Worried woman visiting a psychologist.Unfortunately, the actual story of contraception in America is not quite as idyllic. Since the sexual revolution of the 1960s, social effects have gotten dramatically worse, not better. Abortion rates are quadruple what they were in 1970, and 51 percent of women who have an abortion report using contraceptives the month they got pregnant. From 1960 to 2011, the percentage of children living with a single parent has tripled, and among women under 30 today, 53 percent of all births are to unwed mothers. Meanwhile, when asked about having a child outside of wedlock, almost 56 percent of high school seniors view it as “a worthwhile lifestyle choice” and as “not affecting anyone else.”

Since contraception use became widespread, the connection between sex, marriage, and children has been lost, to the detriment of our society and particularly our children. Countless studies have shown that children of single parents and cohabitors are significantly more likely to: have psychological problems, drop out of high school, become unwed parents, and to end up in poverty.1 Moreover, these results are true even after controlling for race, family background, and socio-economic factors.

All of this in the name of “liberating” adults. Yet, do any of us really believe that consequence-free sex justifies all these negative effects? Has casual sex, cohabitation, and marriages with a 50 percent chance of divorce really made anyone happier?

Not all of this can be laid at the feet of contraception — many other factors are involved, of course. But the overall culture that contraception creates has not been a boon to women, children, or to society.


[1] See the Institute of American Values’s The State of Our Unions 2012 and Why Marriage Matters: 30 Conclusions from the Social Sciences for a summary of hundreds of social scientific studies on these topics.

Staff Spotlight is — in an ongoing effort to get a range of content on Encourage & Teach — content from staff members within the Diocese of Arlington from contributors who do not write as a part of their day-to-day job.

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