If, as a conference held September 22nd-23rd stated, "Contraception Is Not the Answer," what on earth is the question? Surely it was not, "What is the best way to reduce abortion?" No, the focus of the conference was the evil of contraception throughout society. The speakers presented a comprehensive attack escalating a new political strategy of the far right.
The pro-life organizers of the conference called the decidedly middle-class, white audience "brave" for making history attacking the "golden calf of contraception." According to the Centers for Disease Control, most American women who have had sex have used at least one contraceptive method at some point in their lives. Fr. Thomas Euteneuer told the gathering, "When you sow contraception, you reap abortion." Holding the majority of women in this country responsible for abortion demonstrates the extremism of their agenda.
They blame contraception for encouraging sexual activity, damaging women's bodies, divorce, undermining God's will, reducing responsibility of men, giving women sole control over conception, and for causing abortion. Despite the proven effectiveness of contraception, Jennifer Roback Morse from the Action Institute said that "the reality of imperfect contraception makes the divorce culture and the abortion culture inevitable."
The conferees maintained the sole purpose of sex is creating babies within marriage, which is out of sync with modern American attitudes. The speakers said women should stay at home and raise as many children as possible, instead of having a career and "selfishly" choosing to be childless. They rail against our "immodest" culture, advise home schooling, and bemoan the decrease in the birth rate (while at the same time building the case against immigration).
Social conservatives could achieve incremental gains chipping away at contraception, similar to the many small changes they have made to abortion policy over time. Fr. Euteneuer explicitly aims to deny funding that provides contraception to lower income women, in an effort to bring home the international policy developed in tandem with the Bush Administration to deny reproductive health services to women around the world.
Will this approach appeal to Americans? It's easy to see how the very upbeat approach might. "Kids are fun," exclaimed Morse cheerily as she went on to explain that once you stay home with two children, you might as well have more because then "they entertain and take care of themselves." The speakers who mentioned they had six to ten children received resounding applause. Their cheerful passion and sense of humor resonates, potentially stigmatizing parents who prefer to choose if, when, and how many children to have.
The sobering reality for many families is that, according to the government, the average child costs between $184,00-$284,000 to raise, before college, and that does not account for the lost income that many families rely on from the mother's income. Saying this doesn't reduce a child to finances, it's a simple reality check most families face.
Beyond the happy baby-talk, their message promoting large families has an undercurrent of fear, isolation, depression, divorce, infertility, and immigration. British demographer Andrew Pollard, appealed to patriotism and exploited emotions saying, "contraception is like having 9/11 every day for thirty-five years." He blamed the decrease in births for the increase in immigration and linked the latter to terrorism: "The problem is a lot of [countries] have seen the solution in getting larger numbers of immigrants in and up to now for Britain alone they've been taking them from India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh and the problem is we've been growing our own bombers."
Anti-abortion groups usually downplay their opposition to contraception. Yet more than 250 people strategized how to restrict and possibly eliminate the surest method to prevent unplanned pregnancy. This is not a splinter in the pro-life movement, though some of its other leaders are afraid of alienating mainstream America by supporting this ideology outright. Now this broader agenda of the anti-abortion movement has finally shown its true colors.
It is unlikely Americans will reject contraception to embrace this regressive vision. However, it is possible this strategy could gain traction with mainstream conservatives, given their disproportionate influence on public policy. Now the question remains, are Americans ready to give up contraception and everything that shift in policy would mean for families, schools, health care, business, and government?