I’ve mentioned before that I was writing an article on contraception for Salvo Magazine, provisionally titled: “Sex, Drugs and Reproduction: Is Birth Control a Blessing or a Curse?” It was published this week (you can read it here), but the version you will find in Salvo is very different than the version I submitted.
As originally written and accepted for publication, the article attempted to balance and hold in tension two opposite aspects of the social impact of the rise of contraception. On the one hand, it discussed some of the more disturbing social results of widespread contraceptive use (though it also, more briefly, recognized the positive goods that modern contraception has provided). On the other hand, the article discussed the long and tragic history of reproductive coercion whereby far too many women have had their rights and dignity curtailed “for the good of society.”
Unfortunately, just days before the magazine went to print, I was informed that the Editorial Board had thoroughly rewritten the article, with the title: “Sex, Drugs and Reproduction: Birth Control Is a Messy, Messy Business.” As the new title implies, this draft stripped the article of every positive argument made for contraception and, worse in my opinion, removed the entire argument concerning sexual coercion. The result is an article that seems much more like a polemic against contraception than the balanced discussion I intended. With only days to review it, I had little choice but to allow them to print the new version (though they did allow me to make a handful of minor revisions), and the result may be read here.
In response to this matter (and other longstanding concerns that I will not detail), I resigned my position as a Contributing Editor on the 3rd of this month. I wish them all the best, but I doubt I will be writing for them again. I do not think it would be appropriate for me to post the original version of my article (if for no other reason than that that my contract forbids reprinting an article for at least three months), but I did want to post the original conclusion, in hopes that it will provide some context for understanding my view of the published version:
Such observations cannot rule out all contraceptive usage – indeed, comparing our present array of birth control options with those available to pre-moderns, it’s hard not to feel thankful – but they all point to an underlying problem: the impossible attempt to solve a fundamentally moral set of issues – abuse, oppression, sexual immorality – through purely technological means. Promiscuity, absent or abusive fathers, abortion – these are perennial moral concerns that cannot be solved merely by reducing a few of their physical consequences through contraception, nor even by passing better legislation. Unless we are willing to change ourselves – our choices and lifestyles – contraception will never be more than a stop-gap measure, maintaining the illusion that we needn’t become better people; all we need are better technologies. Such is an inevitably self-defeating attitude, since our use or abuse of technology itself will always be a direct correlation of the kind of people we are.
Yet many who have considered these matters have feared that emphasizing such broad-brush dangers and social consequences risks stripping real men and women of the rights and dignity to make their own reproductive decisions. If history is any guide, this fear is warranted, as society has often justified the reproductive coercion of individuals on such grounds. But the dangers inherent in forcing people to live morally are too often allowed to excuse immoral living as a choice. Liberty requires the freedom to decide for oneself (within reasonable limits), but it does not free us, as individuals, from the obligation to choose well. Beneath all the risks and statistics, therefore, the real questions we each must face are these: Will we treat contraception as a means of living better, more ethical lives, or simply as a fruitless attempt to undo the consequences of our actions? Will we choose to treat our fertility as a disease or a gift, our children as a threat or a blessing? Will we view birth control – however we choose to pursue it – as an aid to virtue, or a substitute for it?