Contraception, abortion, and rape all have something in common, and it has to do with the Catholic Church and right-wing politics.
In a recent article for RH Reality Check, Bridgette Dunlap goes over the histories of progressive advocacy in Catholic universities such as Notre Dame, Fordham, and Catholic University of America. Of particular note is the year 1965, when scholars from Notre Dame drafted a statement for the Pope, declaring "there is dependable evidence that contraception is not intrinsically immoral, and that therefore there are certain circumstances in which it may be permitted or indeed even recommended."
Her point is that, despite this seemingly progressive history, these universities as of late have been pushing a far more conservative agenda. In 2013, Notre Dame challenged the federal contraception rule that came out of Obamacare requiring health care plans to cover contraception in the form of a lawsuit.
The author highlights a grave gap between Catholic institutions and their constituents, the authorities of the Church, and church-goers.
There is a rising sense that conservatives around the Western world are experiencing a kind of moral panic around women’s reproductive health and sexuality that completely ignores the actual experiences of women, children and the poor around the world.
According to a 2000-2001 survey from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 99% of sexually active women between the ages 15 and 44 have used birth control. If we were to just account for Catholic women, the statistic becomes 98%. Furthermore, the Church’s stance against contraception inteferes with efforts to prevent the spread of AIDS all around the world, especially in African countries where the Catholic Church has a dominant presence.
Then there are all those sexual assault cases regarding Catholic clergymen. Despite its stance on valuing life at all costs, the Catholic Church has shown multiple times that it does not value women and children’s lives in particular.
With the recent resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, John Patrick Shanley wrote in the New York Times, "[Pope Benedict EVI] was utterly bereft of charm, tone-deaf and a protector of priests who abused children. He’d been a member of the Hitler Youth. In addition to this woeful résumé, he had no use for women." While the Pope hides in the Vatican for fear of being charged for possible crimes against humanity, other surprising news come to mind from 2012 when the Economist revealed that the Catholic Church spent more than 3 billion dollars in the past 20 years on various sexual-abuse cases.
What is this all about — the blatant hypocrisy involved in valuing babies and contraception over the lives of women, children and the poor?
However, this kind of hypocrisy at the Church level can be seen in conservative politics as well. Just a couple weeks ago the Senate passed the Violence Against Women Act, and the twenty-two senators who voted against the act were all Republican men. In the last year, Cosmopolitan seemed to have a jolly good time recording all the "stupid things" right-wing politicians (seventeen of them) have said about women’s rights, rape, and abortion. How can we forget when Republican Senator Allen West talked about Planned Parenthood and the fear of such organizations and women "neutering American men"? Or when Republican Senator Chuck Winder suggested that women use rape as an excuse for abortions? Or Republican Joe Walsh when he claimed that the life of the mother should be no reason for abortions? The list goes on to the likes of Paul Ryan, Todd Akin, and Richard Mourdock.
I don’t want to be redundant about the connection between the Catholic Church and right-wing politics, and particularly their stances on contraception and sexual assault. However, the contradiction between the two stances seems to address the real tension between the Church’s need to uphold the idea that every life is sacred and the reality that these clergymen and right-wing politicians have no respect for women’s lives. The current moral panic around women’s bodies seems to be about upholding and protecting the power of the institution of the Church than anything else.