Sunday, January 5, 2014

Contraception and the New Fisherman

What's going on in Rome, lately? Is there a new voice crying in the wilderness? Pope Francis declaring the Church has become obsessed with birth control, abortion, and gay marriage? Shades of Anthony Quinn.

Who's Anthony Quinn? He was an actor probably best known for his roles in Zorba the Greek (1964) and The Guns of Navarone (1961). He was also cast as the first Russian pope in the film, The Shoes of the Fisherman (1968). What brings him to mind was his character's willingness to drain the Vatican of its wealth and holdings in order to feed a starving Chinese nation and stave off World War III. For him, charity took precedence over tradition. I wonder if that may be true for Pope Francis as well.

Whether it is or it isn't, he's certainly not afraid of going out on a limb. In an interview published in September, 2013, he stated: "A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: 'Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?' We must always consider the person."* This is fairly radical, it seems to me, bending Church doctrine around the needs of people rather than the other way around. 

Such a pope might prove to be a powerful ally at a time when faith-based groups are arguing for exemption from the stipulations of the Affordable Care Act regarding coverage for contraception. Bearing in mind their legitimate concerns about conscience, it helps to bear in mind another, equally legitimate concern, namely, of the four million births in the United States in 2011, 393,772 were to mothers ages 15-19. What is that, about 10%? The picture is complicated by the fact that teen pregnancies are associated with greater risks for low birth weight, preterm birth, and death in infancy.

How many of these births could have been avoided had their mothers had access to contraception? All of them, potentially. What if one was your daughter or mine? Which would we prefer, to discover she was having unprotected sex whether we approved of it or not, exposing herself to sexually-transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy? Or to be assured that even if she was having sex, her future (and ours, by the way) was far less likely to be altered, negatively, by an unwanted pregnancy? 

I don't think there's a parent on the planet who welcomes the thought of their daughters or sons being sexually active teenagers, but it happens. It happens to the best of families in the best of communities. It happens to families of faith as well as families with no faith. It happens to Democrats and Republicans, Whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, and everyone else. It just happens.

Effective parenting is not ideal parenting because there are no ideal parents. There's only us and we try to do rightly by our children and sometimes that's not enough. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Admitting the truth is hard, but the consequences of denial are much harder. Preparing our children for adulthood entails protecting them from the impact of their own impulses. I can't be with my children 24 hours a day and expect them to grow into independent, functional adults. I've got to give them a measure of freedom and that means taking a few risks. Of all the ones I must take, an unwanted pregnancy is not one of them. I hope it turns out, the New Fisherman agrees with me.

*Citation from The New York Times, 9/20/2013.

(Creative Commons image by twm1340 via Flickr)
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