Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Morality vs. High-and-mighty

Who wants feisty?

There is a story in today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune about the increasing availability of Plan-B, AKA the morning after pill, in Minnesota and across the country. It does a decent job of presenting two divergent views on the appropriateness of making Plan-B an over-the-counter drug (which an independent study overwhelmingly urged, though the FDA has reservations).

Here's where I get confused:
Many religious and abortion opponent groups promote abstinence until marriage as the only moral form of birth control. And others say that making Plan B easily accessible promotes irresponsible sex and inattention to sexually transmitted diseases.

"Teenage girls are not going to go to the doctor if they don't have to," said Dr. Joe DeCook, a spokesman for the Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a national advocacy group that lobbies on reproductive issues. "But then they will not be having medical testing for [sexually transmitted diseases], and they are already epidemic."

First: the idea that birth control is a moral issue escapes me. Abortion as a moral battle-ground yes: is it about a baby or about a woman's autonomy over her own body. Both legitimate questions.

But birth control? I was raised Catholic. I know mother-Church teaches two main forms of BC: abstinence and the rhythm method. The Strib article says there are approximately 3 million accidental pregnancies in the U.S. every year. Without any research I'll guess about 1 million of them result from the rhythm method, and another 1 million come from people who are unwilling or unable to use birth control, but can't live up to the "moral imperative" of abstinence.

I know several Catholics of varying degrees of conviction read this, so I want to say I'm not trying to be offensive, I just don't get it. The Holy See and I don't see eye-to-eye on this one.

If birth control is such a moral issue, why aren't its opponents pounding away demanding condoms be removed from pharmacies, gas stations, and vending machines? Or at least require presentation of a valid marriage certificate at time of sale?

Why isn't there a push to ban "the pill"? I mean if there was one single invention that advanced the cause of a libidinous society, it was the one-bedroom apartment. But the second is certainly "the pill". Where is the moral outrage on those?

Or even Viagra, for that matter? Again, this is without any pretense of scientific study, but I'm willing to bet the majority of men who are prescribed Viagra are not married to their first wives.

Second: it's a preposterous idea that without doctors acting as gate-keepers on contraception, the (horrendous) problems we have in this country with sexually transmitted disease will somehow morph into an Avian Influenza-like problem, and we'll all start contracting herpes through unprotected discourse with the (presumedly promiscuous) cashier girl at Safeway.

If Americans were in any way serious about reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies, slowing the spread of STDs, or generally improving the health and well-being of fellow-people (instead of chest-pounding and soap-box based righteous indignation at the slightest perceived affront) we'd take a lesson from several African nations.

ABC. It's not only slowed the progress of AIDS, in some cases it's even decreased transmission.

The crazy thing is, almost everyone, of every political and religious stripe can agree nearly instantaneously to the first two-thirds of the program;

Be faithful
use a Condom

Why is it so hard to concede to reality? People are animals. I said it, we are. Animals. Like Chimps (or bonobos...some of you get the reference), or cats, or salamanders. We're animals. Well, most of us aren't too much like salamanders. As a result, sometimes our Animal selves win out over our Moral selves-we were apes before we were people. We had survival instincts before we had ethics and philosophy.

Is it so hard to encourage people to behave "well" but give them the tools to cope when they "falter"?

Maybe we just want to see other people "screw up" and rather than extend them a helping hand, we'd prefer to ridicule.


alektra said...

First off, the Church hasn't promoted the rhythm method in years. They figured out something else that actually does a pretty good job. However, since it does require both people to know each other well, they don't promote it all over the place.

Second, the pill does have medical uses other than birth control. One of them applies to a quarter of women who otherwise would just be out of service for a few days every month, bed-ridden.

Third, the morning after does have a weird effect on campus. I'll say this: from the women's floor on a freshman dorm, either we're not reporting sexual assault enough, or we're not teaching our kids to at least have the sense and self-worth to say no until the guy has a condom. Because 25% of the freshman girls used that pill on a floor my sophomore year (it was the one that got polled). Some of them more than once. It's just not a good drug for women to take even taking out the birth control part. It messes up their bodies and makes them sick. Granted, it's about 75% effective at what it's intended to do. But using it doesn't, as that article says, take away the STD component.

Fourth, the church basicaly teaches that we're not animals. So your premise is a little off, there. If you believe that, ok. But since the Church doesn't, it's a different point of view. The Church teaches we shouldn't give into base desires, like greed. Lust is another wrong. And it does spread disease and unwanted kids. Condoms aren't always effective, especially with people not concentrating on putting them on correctly when they're in that situation (I believe the usual rate with that is somewhere from 70-80%, which is a risk I find laughable, given people think you're insane to play russian roulette and the level of AIDS being so high in some sectors). So as much as it's pounding down its fist from on high, it's also pointing out a basic social fact: we wouldn't have STD's or so many teenage pregnancies if we actually valued ourselves and our bodies enough to make sure the people we were with A) were clean and B) were willing and able to accept the consequences of their actions.

Fifth, is it unrealistic? Yes. It's not supposed to be realistic. The Church is about becoming the ideal person. And if someone falters, the Church is one of the most giving health care providers for people with AIDS in the world. It also takes care of unwanted babies and helps women all over the world. We don't see it much in the US because the US has enough money to take care of itself in comparison.

And that's my response at 1:30 a.m. I'll be interested to hear what your parents have to say.

Brian said...


I agree with Alektra's well written comments. I am also looking forward to your next visit to China and will put aside a good deal of time for a discussion with you on your post when you come. The radio show is definitely going to visit DC next year so that may be the time of our chat. ^_^

I think the Golden Gophers win over Michigan has really brought the animal in you out!

Anonymous said...

Leave the church out of it. Why do we bring it in? What I can't get is Bushy being against BC, he's not Catholic...Why does he care so much?

Why does condom use lower STDs? Because it works some of the time, better than no condoms working none of the time. There is no way possible for us to stop having sex, married or not. (i like the bonobo reference)

Also I like the fact that a group of fat rich men has consistently eliminated womens choices on BC and abortion, but Viagra, a RECREATIONAL drug(first ever) benefits only that group....NO ONE IS TAKING VIAGRA TO HAVE CHILDREN!

Oh and we may not be animals according to the church, but the priests that are supposed to judge us, sure seemed to be when they "played" with their choir boys. I wonder if they used condoms?

Sorry for the rant...

alektra said...

And I pity your prejudice and blindness, anonymous. Check out your stats again on pedophilia. It's generally married straight men who are preying on children, if you look at the percentage of priests versus molesting priests and straight married men versus pedophiles in that same group.

The Church has money. That's why when things go wrong, it makes the news. The lawyers are bigger and the payoffs are bigger. Do I think it disgusting, horrid, and does anyone who is hurt deserve justice? YES. But don't mistrust someone who has a collar and trust your next door neighbor because he's married. Because odds are, you're wrong.

Chinahand said...

I'm with Alektra--the shot about pedophile priests was a low blow. Some of the most hard-working, selfless, caring, and simply GOOD people I have met are priests. If more of us gave a fraction ourselves to do the good work done by the vast majority of priests, we'd have a lot less problems in our neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

All I'm saying is that after the whole "hide the pedophile" incident, the church at times should admit they are wrong. I know plenty of priests have done good and continue to do good. I have a two friends that were in the clergy, one was a monk, the other was in line to become the Bishop of the US, infact he sat on council with Pope John Paul the II in Rome before he was pope.

Both have one thing to say, the church needs to become consistent. My friend the monk, is Bi-sexual, a very good person, and incredibly kind and generous. He also points out that the Catholic church is full of other gay and bi-sexual men. The majority of which do incredible good and help the church to become a better place. Yet everyday the church condems them?

The "was to be bishop" concurred on the amount of "gays" in the church and one reason he left the clergy was because of the inconsistency on this issue, Birthcontrol and marriage for priests.

My main problem is that the church doesn't take the time to say "maybe we were wrong". Or maybe we could look at this differently.

In the end I have nothing against hard working priests...just against shell games and mistruths from their bosses.