Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Politicization of Birth Control: Terri Gross interviews Jill Lepore on Fresh Air.

So anyway...yeah.  Terri Gross interviewed Jill Lepore on the history of the birth control movement on her program Fresh Air last Thursday.  Lepore recently wrote the article "Birthright" for the New Yorker on this dirty, hairy subject.   I listened to the interview while sewing together these 'camila' sunglasses holders.

Gross asks her why she's chosen to write about the history of birth control, and Lepore gives this eloquent response, "It is the great tragedy of American politics that this issue divides us so profoundly....there is a surprising lack of basic human charity when people talk about this issue no matter what their position...and I do think that that when we are often not talking about abortion that we are talking about abortion." (And why is it, I wonder, that when people are talking about birth control and they are so often also talking about abortion, as in this instance of Lepore's response?)

They discuss Margaret Sanger, who opened the first birth control clinic in the US in 1916.  Sanger thought that women needed to have control over the amount of children they had, since childbirth was very dangerous at the time.  (She grew up in a family of 11 children and her mother died age of 45 while her father live to be 80, and also witnessed many difficult childbirths during her work as a nurse on the Lower East Side.)

Interesting to note that in opening her birth control clinic in 1916, Sanger intended only to provide birth control to married women; and not to provide abortions, making me wonder what Sanger might think about her legacy in the modern-day Planned Parenthood.

They also discuss the politicization of birth control.  For example, in 1970 Nixon signs Title 10 which provided government funding for family planning services.  In his re-election, however, he reversed his support of Title 10 and, in an attempt to divide the Democrats by securing the Catholic vote, speaks eloquently about the sanctity of human life (Humane Vitae had been published in 68).  Probably a smart move for him to make, as in the last several decades all successful presidential campaigns have won Catholic vote.

Lepore unfortunately only superficially mentions the Catholic Church's opposition to birth control with publication of humane vitae in 1968, and never discusses its prediction that widespread use of birth control would create a culture where men "may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection." ~A consequence that can widely be seen in this Western culture today, where 'living in sin' has become the status quo, and sexual trafficking has increased dramatically.

A surprisingly good interview.  Gross' questions did not reveal an overt agenda, as they so often do when she discusses religion or politics.

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