7th Dec 2010

The Pope Gets Some Glossy Reinforcement

by Kathryn Jean Lopez 

The pope in conversation about Raquel Welch: This is one of the underappreciated aspects of Ignatius Press’s recent release of Light of the World, an interview with Pope Benedict XVI by journalist Peter Seewald. 

In Light of the World, Pope Benedict XVI says that Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae has been proven right. Says Benedict:  “If we separate sexuality and fecundity from each other . . . sexuality becomes arbitrary. Logically, every form of sexuality is of equal value.” Back in 1968, even the university chartered by the U.S. Catholic bishops had its tenured moral theologian fighting Paul VI’s contentions; but people may be coming around to what Paul VI taught.

But he’s far from alone.  As Seewald mentioned to the pontiff, actress Raquel Welch has recently talked about how the pill “has taken the caution and discernment out of choosing a sexual partner, which used to be the equivalent of choosing a life partner. Without a commitment, the trust and loyalty between couples of childbearing age is missing, and obviously leads to incidents of infidelity. No one seems immune.” In her book, subtitled “Beyond the Cleavage,” the ‘70s star talks about how that played out in her life. It’s a sisterly caution. This isn’t the pope talking, it’s a woman – a woman who saw “liberation” and knows the truth about it. (More here.)

Indeed, as I was walking up Lexington Avenue in New York City last week, I saw New York magazine’s cover proclaiming: “Fifty Years Ago, The Pill Ushered In a New Era of Sexual Freedom. It Might Have Created a Fertility Crisis as Well.” The piece is amazingly candid: Taking the pill involves medical risks (though the article does bend over backward to reassure readers on this front). Taking the pill involves emotional and relational risks. It separates a woman from her partner. But it also separates her from herself – her fertility and her dignity as a woman.

Describing the pill’s full-cycle cost, New York writer Vanessa Grigoriadis writes:

One anxiety — Am I pregnant?—is replaced by another: Can I get pregnant? The days of gobbling down the Pill and running out to CVS at 3 a.m. for a pregnancy test recede in the distance, replaced by a new set of obsessions. The Pill didn’t create the field of infertility medicine, but it turned it into an enormous industry. Inadvertently, indirectly, infertility has become the Pill’s primary side effect.

And she critically adds: “Ironically, this most basic of women’s issues is one that traditional feminism has a very hard time processing — the notion that this freedom might have a cost is thought to be so dangerous it shouldn’t be mentioned.”

This year is the 50th anniversary of the birth control pill, and the piece talked about one celebration of it at Manhattan’s tony Pierre hotel. The cake for the gala event was almost Orwellian, reading, “ ONE SMALL PILL. ONE GIANT LEAP FOR WOMANKIND. ONE MONUMENTAL MOMENT IN HISTORY.” I’ll give them the “monumental.” But it wasn’t so sweet. One of the abortion-industry professionals on stage that night declared, “Today, we operate on a simple premise — that every little girl should be able to grow up to be anything she wants, and she can only do so if she has the ability to chart her own reproductive destiny.”

But the way it’s presented there and all too often, it’s a false promise. That unnatural charting comes at a cost. As Grigoriadis explains:

The Pill is so ingrained in our culture today that girls go on it in college, even high school, and stay on it for five, ten, fifteen, even twenty years. It’s not at all out of the ordinary for a woman to be on the Pill from ages 18 to 35, her prime childbearing years. While it is remarkably safe, almost like taking a vitamin, that’s a long time to turn one’s body into an efficient little non-procreative machine.

Also last week, in Washington, D.C., a conference was held with a much different tone. Human Life International America’s conference on 50 years of the pill was in no small part about humility and redemption. Humility, in that many of the speakers – like Janet Smith, editor of the Why Humanae Vitae Was Right reader -- were not new to the truths that New York magazine is engaging, but “I told you so” was not on their lips. Rather, there was love: love for young men and women who want something better for themselves than their parents had; young men and women who’ve made mistakes, and will make more, but who desire more.

Dr. John Bruchalski, founder of the Catholic Tepeyac Family Center in Fairfax, Va., explained that his organization doesn’t dispense birth control: It views fertility and pregnancy not as disabilities, but as blessings of “this wonder that is the human body.” The New York cover story unwittingly echoes Dr. Bruchalski, when it points out that “on the Pill, every woman’s cycle is exactly the same, at 28 days, even though that is rarely the case in nature, where the majority of periods occur every 26 to 32 days but can take up to 40 or even 50 days. This is a nice effect, but it’s not real. And there’s a cost to this illusion, one that the women at the Pierre weren’t discussing.”

The feminist jig is up. Even New York magazine, which is most famous with me for its egg-donor ads, knows it. And what better place? There would be no ads offering girls money for their eggs if there weren’t women desperate to have children. There would not be an industry’s worth of women desperate to have children if women weren’t convinced it was in their best interest to medicate their fertility instead of accepting it as a most-natural and awesome gift.

There is light at the end of the dark road the pill created. Pope Benedict, meet Raquel Welch. Janet Smith, meet New York magazine. Conferences, converge. There’s more to life than any one of you can cover, and we need all of you focusing a light on truth. 

Kathryn Jean Lopez is editor-at-large of National Review Online and a nationally syndicated columnist. She speaks frequently on faith and public life.

(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Catholic Pulse or the Knights of Columbus.)