The current political battle over women’s use of contraceptives and abortion is ludicrous, incredible. The positions of Santorum and the Catholic bishops should be laughed out of town. I am horrified that in all the brouhaha I have only heard faint hints of the importance of contraception in enabling healthy mothers and healthy babies. Where’s outcry about maternal deaths in childbirth: about the terrible physical burden on too-young bodies from bearing children and from mothers bearing too many children throughout their reproductive years? Where is the outrage on behalf of children who are too many to feed adequately, to provide decent health care to? Where is the outrage over babies ending up in dumpsters because their mothers can’t deal with them? Where is the outcry about abusiveness bred in the cramped hardship of large families trying to exist in tiny apartments on filthy streets? And how about some compassion for mother who should not have to bear to term terribly damaged fetuses? Anencephalic babies, for instance.
Let´s mention, just for a moment, the seemingly sunny solution of adoption for kids a family can´t afford: I couldn’t bear to give up a kid. Even more important, where is the rush of families willing to adopt someone else’s kid?
And let’s talk about sex for a minute. How naïve is rick Santorum? Does he think that every married couple that falls into bed for a romp in the sheets without inending to conceive a child is composed of a man and a woman both giving in to their excessive urges? Hasn’t he heard of women whose husbands won’t take no for an answer? Maybe that’s how he got eight kids. The women may hate the sex. Why should they have to bear a child as well?
The variety of sexual experiences for people, married, single, straight, gay, is enormous as I’m sure most adults are aware. Obviously many of the experiences are exciting, ecstatic, and represent a momentary loss of self. What’s wrong with this? What’s wrong with eating chocolate bars with almonds sometimes? And one of the most important functions of sex between loving partners is the nourishing of that love. So why are we giving Santorum and the bishops the time of day?
All this fuss reminded me of a book called Bronx Primitive by Kate Simon. I think it was published in the 1980s. Currently it is not available as an e-book so I can’t download it to refer to it. My father bought it when it came out in the 1980s.
When my mother was spending her four years comatose in a New Jersey hospital in the 1980s, I travelled east several times a year to help my father with bills (which he kept in paper bags), his lawn, his house maintenance, his shopping, and various other things he wandered around trying to do. Sometimes we talked. He had spent his childhood with Kate Simon in the same Jewish Bronx neighborhood, a lower middle class enclave not far from where I spent my first years. He really shocked me one evening by asking me what I thought of the idea of his getting in touch with her. I think at one point when they were much younger my parents had been friends with both Bob and Kate Simon and I think in fact it may have been Kate who introduced my father to my mother. She and my mother both worked at the Book-of-the-Month Club in the late 1930s if my memory serves me. (I have increasing doubts about my memory serving me). At any rate, my father appeared, after a major stroke and a few TIAs to be entertaining romantic thoughts. He brought out Bronx Primitive for me to read as he talked with great fondness about Kate.
So now we can return to Rick Santorum, et. al.
In Bronx Primitive there was a chapter not simply on childbirth, but on abortion. In the days Simon was writing about, during the second decade of the twentieth century and maybe into the 1920s in that Jewish community, men took their wives whenever they wanted. The only time they didn’t want to was when women were menstruating. There was no thought given to birth control because basically, it didn’t exist. Large families were pretty much the norm. My grandmother had five children, one, a blue baby, died as an infant, another died in a tragic fire.
Women weaken after having a lot of children; they wear out, they get sick, they die young. And so Kate Simon described the neighborhood saint, The Abortionist. A woman would send for him before her husband knew she was pregnant, while the husband was at work. After he came, she would spend a day or so in bed, simply saying she was ill-disposed. The Abortionist was apparently a very kind and gentle man, revered in the neighborhood among the women. They considered themselves fortunate not to have to resort to the dangerous methods so common elsewhere.
So I would say to those stirring the flames of hate against women most of whom have good reason for using birth control and abortion service that it is very easy to adopt a cruel morality when you can afford it, maybe when you have no sex drive, when you live amongst people who support you no matter what you believe, like the Puritans did (you ought to look up Roger Williams, by the way).
And finally I would say, doesn’t the Bible talk about who should throw the first stone? Isn’t it God who is supposed to be the judge, not us? If a Catholic University, say, doesn’t have to itself provide payment for birth control, who is so arrogant to say that independent contractors can’t provide it?
And again, why are we talking about this at all while the near east is in flames and the world is heating up?