The default position for those who consider themselves to be enlightened, pragmatic and free from the superstitions of religion or the prejudices of society is that artificial birth control is a good thing.
And in this age where Planned Parenthood tries desperately to counter the perception that it regularly vivisects babies for a fee, there’s been an effort to cast birth control in the best possible light by those who make their living dispensing it.
I get it. My views on morality can probably be put in the category that includes Noah, his ark and some random pillars of salt.
I think abortion — all abortion — is murder.
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I believe that same-sex marriage is a grave social mistake.
I am not in favor of embryonic stem-cell research.
And I would rejoice if we could permanently shutter Margaret Sanger’s pet project, Planned Parenthood.
As far as artificial birth control is concerned, I’m under no illusion that we will ever go back to the days of chastity and the rhythm method. If I have to give blame for the current state of affairs, I’d have to go back to one of the most consequential Supreme Court decisions of our lifetime: Griswold v. Connecticut. This year marks the 50th anniversary of that decision, rendered during the era when “Make Love, Not War” appeared on a lot of Volkswagen bug bumpers.
In 1965, the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren was presented with a challenge to an almost 100-year-old law that made it a crime to prevent, by artificial means, contraception.
Estelle Griswold in 1961 had opened up a birth-control clinic, hoping to challenge the law.
Griswold and her associate were arrested, tried, convicted and fined $100 apiece. They appealed through the state courts, which upheld it, and then filed for review before the Supremes. In a decision with wide-reaching implications, the court held that a married couple had a “right to privacy” that, even though it wasn’t spelled out in the Constitution, was a real thing. In the majority decision, William O. Douglas wrote that:
“We deal with a right of privacy older than the Bill of Rights — older than our political parties, older than our school system. Marriage is a coming together for better or for worse, hopefully enduring, and intimate to the degree of being sacred. It is an association that promotes a way of life, not causes; a harmony in living, not political faiths; a bilateral loyalty, not commercial or social projects. Yet it is an association for as noble a purpose as any involved in our prior decisions.”
The decision, as you can tell from Douglas, was strictly limited to the right of married couples to use birth control. But once Douglas and those who agreed with him found a “right to privacy” in the shadows of the great document, they opened the door to finding a right for single people to use birth control, a right to abortion, a right to commit sodomy and now, this year, a right to gay unions.
The Griswold case gave Americans the right to be left alone in our most intimate decisions. Many people think that is something to celebrate.
I look upon Griswold as a case that essentially fragmented society, and turned us into the islands that John Donne warned against.
Women are now free to exercise their sexuality and govern their reproductive lives without concern for the quality and character of their sexual partners (because hey, they don’t need to worry if he doesn’t stick around for the results of the pregnancy).
We now look upon unborn life as expendable masses of tissue, not human creatures with dignity and soul. We think that marriage is no longer a social contract that implicates our connection to the community and future generations but, rather, a fundamental right that can be redefined to accommodate our feelings.
Clearly, artificial birth control is not a wholly bad thing. Ninety-nine percent of us have used it at one time or other. It is necessary to curb overpopulation in countries that do not have the resources to feed, clothe and nurture more children. When used judiciously, it can be a good and necessary thing, despite my Catholic upbringing.
But Griswold v. Connecticut went far afield in attempting to reaffirm the dignity of the married couple. Ironically, it managed to weaken that couple by making marriage less necessary to the nuclear family and in pumping steroids into the concept of privacy rights. It aided and abetted the sexual revolution.
In 1965, the Supreme Court gave us the gift of privacy. Fifty years later, I’m not sure we should be celebrating.
©2015 Philadelphia Daily News