Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Who Said ‘Butthead’?

When my now grown and very sophisticated niece was about six years old, she looked for opportunities to use words that were forbidden.  She often took advantage of long car rides.  Strapped in her child seat, she would wait for some silence and after there had been no conversation for a few minutes, she would look startled and say, “Who said ‘Butthead’?”  She would look around the car in mock horror as if searching for the miscreant.  If one of the adults would fall for her trick and say, “Emma, no one said ‘butthead’,” she would pounce, “You said it.  You said ‘butthead.’”  Then she would sit quietly again and we would all smile to ourselves.  

The current flap over birth control reminds me of this time.  Led by the ever-so-pious Santorum, the Republicans appear to be pre-teens trying to figure out how to say sexual words without getting into trouble. But the phrase, “birth control” allows people to think about sex—specifically sexual intercourse.  Birth control implies that people are going to have sex—in fact they are planning on having sex and taking precautions not to get pregnant.  What is almost as fun as having sex?  Why, talking about it!  Of course we can’t admit that we like talking about it so we talk about it like we are not going to do it and really don’t approve of it.  But the titillation of this topic amongst this cross section of men—politicians, bishops, priests—cannot be overlooked. 

Much has been written about this—the sexism and misogyny of some of the most powerful people in the Catholic Church, the willingness to do anything to try to discredit President Obama, the fact that no one is being forced to use birth control and the fact that the vast majority of heterosexual women (whether Catholic or not) have used birth control, and the profound invasion of privacy the debate about these policies represents.

It is hard to say what is most extraordinary about this controversy, but one thing has to be the completely irrationality of this anti-birth control position coming from the same people who are anti-abortion. The World Health Organization reported in a massive study released in 2007, “In Uganda, where abortion is illegal and sex education programs focus only on abstinence, the estimated abortion rate was 54 per 1,000 women in 2003, more than twice the rate in the United States, 21 per 1,000 in that year. The lowest rate, 12 per 1,000, was in Western Europe, with legal abortion and widely available contraception.” 

Where birth control is easy to obtain, abortion rates are very low.  A friend of mine who works in abortion clinic told me that after an abortion, women are given a variety of birth control choices and leave with free birth control.  But many women will say, “I am never having sex again,” or “I am never having sex until I am married.”   Sometimes those very women show up for a second or even a third abortion. Because our society is so uptight about sex, these women cannot admit that they have sexual feelings and that they will probably act on those feelings, so they refuse to plan ahead.  Making it harder to get birth control will only increase the rate of abortion, and making abortions hard to get will only increase the rate of illegal abortions.  Today, 78,000 women a year die from the complications of an illegal abortion—about 219 every day. 

What is the relationship between “butthead” and “birth control?”  Just the following: 

I’d like to ask these buttheads if 219 dead women a day is really what they have in mind when they titillate themselves with their talk of birth control?

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