The Last Word: Birth Control is a Medical Issue, Not a Religious
"The Irish, a fiercely independent people ruled by another country for
centuries, have a unique appreciation for irony. As an advocate for reproductive
rights in Ireland, I saw the travesty in a church-sanctioned anti-contraception
policy that harmed women and families in the name of saving them from sin. Here,
in the country that espouses religious freedom, these problems, long overcome in
Ireland, are being echoed in the U.S. bishops’ battle against contraception
coverage. The supreme irony is that the bishops are waging their battle under
the banner of religious liberty.
The Irish are very familiar with the long, painful conflicts that ensue from
the mixture of politics and religion. I’m not just speaking of Northern Ireland,
but about the Catholic hierarchy’s bitter opposition to making contraception
readily available to the public. From 1935, the sale of contraceptives was
criminalized. I should know. In 1992 I was arrested for selling condoms at a
Virgin Record store; prophylactics were illegal except for married couples with
“bona fide” needs. Irish wits baptized it “the case of the Virgin condom,” but
the real paradox was that anyone could see Ireland’s “bona fide” need for
contraception..."Today Ireland is with JFK: “If we cannot now end our differences, at least we
can help make the world safe for diversity.” One of the conditions of a safe,
just society is the ability to follow one’s conscience in accessing
contraception. Mature nations and faiths can accept a diversity of responses to
this freedom guaranteed on principle. I do hope that the U.S. government follows
the Irish government in seeking to free itself from the shackles that the
Catholic hierarchy would impose."
Jon O’Brien is the Irish-born president of Catholics for Choice. Click here for more information.
Bridget Mary's Reflection
As an Irish born woman, I agree with Jon O'Brien's analysis and conclusion. The Ireland of my parents' generation had large families. My grandmother had 8 children in a two room tiny cottage. Her neighbor, Katie Whelan had 15 children. When asked how she coped with so many children, she said, "Ah sure it was heads and toes together, boys and girls!" But the reality was many parents suffered great hardship in raising large families in a rural society. The Irish Catholic Church was no help as many feared to approach the Parish Priest! My Dad, Jack, played in a band in the Rathdowney area. He often tells the story about the time the band had to drive miles out of their way to avoid passing the church during a Mission. It was the custom of the Parish Priest to walk up and down the town "herding" people into the church to hear a "hell and brimstone sermon."
Now in Ireland, contraception is legal and used widely! Ireland has let go of its fear of the hierarchy! Indeed, when Taoiseach Enda Kenny challenged the Vatican for its role in the coverup of the sexual abuse scandal, he set the stage for other national leaders to do the same. It is time for U.S. Catholics to let their bishops know that they are no longer "sheep" who pay, pray and obey, but responsible, faithful Catholics who love their church and who will follow their consciences- no matter what the hierarchy says. In the current contraception coverage issue, women's health and lives are at stake as well as the religious freedom of conscience of all- not just the male, celibate, Catholic hierarchy. Ireland has come a long way, let's hope that the U.S. does not allow the Catholic hierarchy to drag it back to the Middle Ages when women did not have access to contraception. It seems to me that the real issue here is the bishops' attempt to control women's bodies and reproductive choices in family planning. Let's respond to the U.S. bishops by standing up for the religious freedom of conscience of all!
Bridget Mary Meehan, ARCWP
Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests