The War on Fertility

The left’s birth-control fixation is about more than sexual freedom


If there is one word that captures the Orwellian nature of contemporary feminism, it is “choice.” It’s not just the word’s wide use as a euphemism for abortion. You can understand why people on that side of the abortion issue prefer to frame their position in abstract terms, as a defense of liberty, rather than concretely discussing the specific freedom they are defending. Some of them are no doubt sincere in saying that they favor “the right to choose” in general and have no brief for abortion in particular.

But not all. People who claim to favor “reproductive choice” are often quite judgmental about the reproductive choices of others. This column has occasionally noted anecdotal examples, such as the lady at a party last year, a self-described feminist, who angrily described Sarah Palin as a “moron” for having encouraged her pregnant daughter to carry the child to term and “to marry the sperm donor” (feministspeak for the biological father). Another was the man who encouraged pregnant and unmarried Katie Roiphie, a feminist author, to get an abortion and have a “regular baby” later.

Only a bit less harshly, Washington Post columnist Lisa Miller puts such sentiments into writing:

Between them, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum have as many children–12–as the tribes of Israel. Ron Paul has five of his own, and in an early debate, perhaps unwilling to be outdone by Michele Bachmann’s fostering of dozens, Paul boasted that when he worked as a physician he delivered “4,000 babies.”

There’s nothing wrong with big families, of course. But the smug fecundity of the Republican field this primary season has me worried. Their family photos, with members of their respective broods spilling out to the margins, seem to convey a subliminal message that goes far beyond a father’s pride in being able to field his own basketball team. What the Republican front-runners seem to be saying is this: We are like the biblical patriarchs. As conservative religious believers, we take seriously the biblical injunction to be fruitful and multiply.

“We’ve come a long way from the days of the Bible, baby, and I don’t want to go back there,” Miller declares. She goes on to celebrate birth control, which enabled women “to take charge of their fertility, and in so doing, to take charge of their education, their earnings potential, and eventually, the planning of their families, and the loving, nurturing raising of their children.”

“Family planning is good for families,” she insists, ignoring the sharp rise in divorce and illegitimacy since 1960, when the Food and Drug Administration approved the pill for contraceptive use. In fairness, maybe she means to make a more modest claim–that for the subset of the population who have been able to form and sustain marriages despite the social dislocations of the past half-century, birth control has on balance been beneficial.

But in any case, why does it so bother Miller that the Romneys, Santorums and Pauls (and also the Palins, whom she mentions in another paragraph) made the choice to have large families? If she cared about choice, she would recognize it’s none of her business. But contemporary feminism does not actually value choice, except as a means to an ideological end, which is the obliteration of differences between the sexes. The biggest such difference consists in the distinct and disparate demands that reproduction makes on women. Thus in order to equalize the sexes, it is necessary to discourage fertility. Implicit in contemporary feminism is a normative judgment that having children is bad.

If this were made explicit, of course, the whole project would fall apart. Feminism is politically unviable without the support of at least a substantial minority of women, and women (or at least most women) do have a maternal instinct. So feminism has to wage its war against fertility covertly, rationalizing it in terms of other goals. A revealing example comes from a CNSNews.com report on testimony that Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, gave to a House subcommittee the other day:

Sebelius told a House panel Thursday that a reduction in the number of human beings born in the United States will compensate employers and insurers for the cost of complying with the new HHS mandate that will require all health-care plans to cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions.

“The reduction in the number of pregnancies compensates for the cost of contraception,” Sebelius said. She went on to say the estimated cost is “down not up.”

We’re skeptical that this prediction will pan out, because it assumes that the ObamaCare mandate will lead to a substantial increase in contraceptive use and thus a reduction in pregnancies and childbirths. But Sebelius’s logic, as far as it goes, is unassailable: The pill is a hell of a lot cheaper than the medical costs (never mind the nonmedical ones) of prenatal care, childbirth, pediatric care and adult care until 26, the ObamaCare age of majority.

ObamaCare is just a start, argues Louise Trubek in today’s New York Times. A retired law professor, she was a plaintiff in an unsuccessful 1950s lawsuit seeking the legal recognition of a right to contraception, a right the Supreme Court affirmed in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965):

We won the legal battle but not the war. Women are still not guaranteed control over their lives, because the necessary social supports were never secure. The initial goal of Griswold was to help women–and even though the precedent has helped with same-sex marriage laws, those initial needs, especially of poor women, have been left largely unmet.

The universal coverage plan outlined in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act is a good step forward, and we should do all we can to ensure it.

Sebelius’s defense of the contraception mandate dovetails nicely with Trubek’s call for even greater expansions of the entitlement state. Think of the money the government saves by preventing childbirth as a down payment on the next big package of benefits.

Taylor Dinerman“One family, one child, four modernizations”: a Red Chinese propaganda poster from 1987.

Perhaps you have spotted the flaw in the Sebelius logic. Yes, in the short term, contraception is cheaper than fertility. In the long term, however, a war on fertility is an act of cultural and economic suicide. Today’s low fertility is tomorrow’s shortage of productive citizens–of the taxpayers who would have to pay for the ever-expanding entitlement state.

The continuing collapse of European welfare statism is as much a crisis of demographics as of sclerotic government. Even communist China, which somewhat ironically lacks a Western-style welfare state, is having to reckon with the unintended long-term consequences of its one-child policy.

America has some hope for the future, though. Its fertility rate has not declined as sharply as in other Western nations, in part thanks to families like the Romneys, Santorums, Pauls and Palins. The polarization of American politics gives reason for hope about America’s political future, too. As we posited years ago in “The Roe Effect,” the left’s war on fertility is likely to have its greatest success in reducing the fertility of left-leaning women, thereby ensuring that future generations are more conservative. Now you can see why Lisa Miller is in such a bad mood.

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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