Happy Birthday The Pill

Ironically, this Sunday was not only Mother’s Day but the 50th anniversary of the introduction of the first modern birth control pill, now granted proper noun status at The Pill.  Tributes and analyses have been written ad naseum over the weekend, but for a Catholic blog it is important to take a step back and realize that, despite our intense moral objections to this form of birth control, it more than any other person or thing may have been the most influential part of Catholicism in the last fifty years.

The Pill was “invented” by a then-Catholic doctor whose goal in creating the birth control option was to find a way to regulate women’s menstrual cycles that mirrored the traditional Catholic rhythm method.  As Church and American Catholic historians well know, Pope Pius VI created a committee to offer an advisory opinion, then allegedly went against the committee’s recommendation in Humana Vitae and lumped The Pill in with other forms of artificial contraception.

Some authors have said that this moment was a defining point in Catholic America’s history: millions of devout Catholic women were prepared for the pope to “legalize” The Pill and when he didn’t, simply carried on with their birth control plan anyway.  I think this is slightly naïve, as the assimilation of American Catholicism with mainstream American habits was well underway.  But it did become the main talking point about the lack of faithfulness of the American Church – almost every article on The Pill notes that US Catholic women use The Pill at the same rate as other women.

On this anniversary, I think it is important to think about how Catholics should respond to what, at least according to our museums, is now a part of medical history.  Obviously Catholic teachings say we should oppose artificial birth control while celebrating life through natural family planning.  This message does not resonate in a society that yearns for things “Better than Nature.”  But I want to expand on a point Donald McClarey made in this post that when we as a society celebrate the major advances in birth control, we also need to lament the downfall of a society that values children.

Consider today’s birth control commercials and advertising.  One commercial that grabbed my attention is a woman shown standing in front of her house with her husband, children, and dogs.  But she is standing a few feet in front of them, as if to show a distance.  She then proceeds to list the things she wants to do, moving from the more active (hiking) to the least active (reading, taking a breath).  All the while, the scene shifts to show in the background the kids and husband doing family activities, which is designed to give you a sense of being overwhelmed.  The narrator then comes on to talk about the birth control pill that allows women to do what they want, then decide when they want to have children.  In our modern society this is called freedom.

But what strikes me if the family in the background.  It is clear that the commercial means to show them as a hindrance.  The audience is supposed to shake their head and go “it’s too bad she doesn’t have time for herself.  Kids just get in the way.”  Next time you watch TV take a critical look at how media portrays children.  So often you see parents roll their eyes at mention of their children or use them to show how bad things are in their household.  This goes for both TV shows and commercials.

How often do we smile and praise our children when talking to others?  Not to sound like a homily, but we as pro-life and pro-family Catholics should talk more about the joys of children.  Maybe this is how we should celebrate The Pill – by celebrating what it cannot give.

7 Responses to Happy Birthday The Pill

  1. Zach says:

    I’m confused by the content of this post. It’s not clear to me that you understand the pill to be the great evil that it is. I don’t think there is any sense in which we can legitimately “celebrate” the pill, nor do I think we should be wishing the pill happy birthday. Perhaps it’s not your intent to come off as if the pill is no big deal, but I come away from this article thinking that there is something the pill has given us for which we ought to be thankful.

    It’s not just that Catholics have “intense moral objections”; the use of artificial birth control by a Catholic with full knowledge of its moral gravity and full consent of the will can send souls to hell forever.

    Sure, we should recognize the pill has had a profound influence on American society in the 20th and 21st centuries. We should also simultaneously recognize the great evil that it has wrought.

  2. Mr. Smith says:

    Zach –

    My apologies if I did not make myself clear in this post. I am not praising “The Pill” and recognize the Catholic teaching on it. But I think we have to admit two things (1) it and artificial contraception rightly or wrongly has been one of the biggest issues in American Catholicism in the last fifty years and (2) Catholics need to combat the culture of ME that drives the modern attitude to many things, including birth control.

    My post was meant to be somewhat satirical; if you click the links above I tried to model them off the Post and Times gushing editorials (which frankly were silly).

  3. Zach says:

    My misunderstanding is probably my own fault – thank you for indulging this conversation.

    You’re right that it’s important that we understand (1) and (2). M whole comment is really just nitpicking things, but I think we need to be unequivocal in our rejection and condemnation of sin, especially grave sin.

    Since I’m nitpicking, I’ll continue so long as you don’t mind… I see you write that you “recognize” Catholic teaching on contraception. I think there is a difference between recognizing a teaching and accepting it. Just curious, do you merely recognize or do you accept the teaching?

  4. Greg Mockeridge says:

    I think you mean Pope Paul VI not Pius VI.

  5. Mr. Smith says:

    Zach –

    I am a banner-waver for natural family planning and I embrace the Church’s teaching on artificial birth control.

  6. Tim Shipe says:

    Can anyone recommend some good links to studies indicating the cancer risks of the pill- I have had a doctor in my classes talk about some of this- he said that some cancer risks are lessened by the pill but others are elevated- and I think that the risks that are elevated are for the more destructive cancers like breast- anyone have more info- maybe they could post it as a separate entry if they have time. Thanks

  7. American Knight says:

    The Rockefeller (I.G. Farben)funded research that led to the development of The Evil Pill was the natural post-Enlightenment love of technology to solve all problems as our elite masters see them.

    In order to free our libidos and our consciences from guilt we need risk-free sex. Where in risk is a human baby and not syphilis or HIV or Hell.

    Sexual liberation always feeds into financial manipulation and ultimately into political control.

    Chastity leads to God and fornication leads to Hell – it is pretty simple. But we can’t help biting of the yummy apple.

    The Pill is a great tool for the moneyed, trans-national WASP elite (I don’t mean to demonize white people or Protestant heretics, just WASPs). It allows them to keep being sexual perverts, permits usury through fiat currency and they retain their imperial political control. The biggest threat to them was and is always the Catholic Church and faithful Catholics. The Pill solves both problems.

    Anyone that buys the pill-is-liberating lie is a controlled tool and destined for a horrible life followed by a bad death. Freedom is in chastity and fidelity and then death is a beautiful passover. Any other view is a lie.

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