An Open Letter to Karen Heller

Devon, PA.  Cursed with a lousy city newspaper rife with good coupons, I sat down with my coffee this morning to read Karen Heller’s latest column, “What?  Birth Control?  Again?”  You can read it here.  What follows is a note I sent her that I thought merited reprinting in this venue.  For, while the attack on religious freedom manifest in the HHS mandate is patent and worthy of vigorous resistance, it may serve as a blessing insofar as it prompts Christians and others concerned with living in docility and joy within the natural order to consider more seriously what it is we have wrought in an age of biological and cultural sterility and technocratic absolutism.

Dear Mrs. Heller,

I am sure you have received many emails and letters in response to your misleading, crude, and thoughtless column in the Inquirer this morning; and so, I thought I might as well add my voice to the chorus and make a few answers to your rhetoric.

You point out that most “people employed, attending, or using church-affiliated institutions don’t have objections to contraception,” and then cite a Catholic politician whose position is both a violation of Church teaching and a compound of silliness.

Where to begin? What does it mean to “use” a “church-affiliated institution”? The mission of the Catholic Church is to proclaim the revealed truth of Christ. It does not make itself available for our use, like a therapist’s couch, but proposes truths to be followed if we would live well in this world and by happy in the next. It offers a truth we may serve, not one intended to be “used” by us at our convenience. The truth can be difficult to follow, and so, if many Catholics do not object to contraception, then that is merely a sign that the gospel needs to be proclaimed with greater force and phrased in a language that can penetrate the typical consumerist solipsism of our age.

The representative you cite, Rosa DeLauro, claims to be a “committed Catholic,” but it is unclear what that phrase means. Does not commitment in such a context mean fidelity to the truths Catholicism teaches? Or does commitment in her sense of the term mean just that she attends Mass on those Sundays when the weather is agreeable? Her claims justifying contraception coverage are patently bogus. It is not “gender discrimination” for medical insurance not to cover contraception while it covers treatment for, say, cancer. What distinguishes a drug to repress a woman’s fertility from a drug that kills cancer cells is that one frustrates a process that is a natural and normal development in every person’s life, while the other frustrates a process that is specifically unnatural, i.e. the perversion of normal cell growth from its proper course. It is the object of treatment, not the patient treated, that would evidently determine the differentiation in coverage here. So, it is condition discrimination, not gender discrimination.

Further, consequences of contraception are sufficiently documented to indicate that women’s health is not improved by its use. Granted, if by “women’s health” one means simply keeping women’s wombs free of babies so that they may not be distracted by the gifts of their own nature, then contraception would seem, at least in principle, to benefit women’s health. But if one means the actual prevention of disease, blood clots, hormonal imbalances that hurt mental health; if one means a healthy body and a healthy environment (i.e. the hormones in birth control pills have been found to pass through women’s urine and contaminate ground water, which in turn adversely affects marine wildlife); then most contraception clearly works contrary to women’s health rather than for it.

How sad it would be if “98 percent of Catholic women, have used some form of contraception banned by the Vatican.” I would contest the figure, but let’s grant it for the moment. I bet you that 100 percent of all Catholics have said an unkind word to their mothers; I bet you every Catholic has had an ill or lustful thought. Is ubiquity the sole criterion of morality? The Church does not have to teach us what lousy things human beings do — we know them all too well already and, at our best, confess them to the Church. But, the Church partly fulfilles its responsibility when it teaches us, again, what we must do if we would live well. And the obvious truth in regard to our sexuality is that it is an act proper to and fulfilling of marriage; that it is naturally fruitful, and that one function of marriage is to provide the natural context for that fruitfulness. To separate sexuality from marriage and from an openness to children is to violate the proper end of the act, degrading it along with the man and woman in the process.

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