One of the writers of African set books, Ken Walibora, in his book “Siku Njema” wrote that the only permanent thing is change. We change, technology changes, principles and ideologies evolve with time. One such concept that has evolved so much with time is the ‘Women’s Rights’. It started as a concept to fight against oppression upon women and the girl child. In medieval Greece, it was a fight for freedom from ownership by “oikos” i.e husbands, in Rome, it included the fight for life since children could be killed if the father of the child said so since the principle was “Father knows best’ and a right to own property since she herself was property, among others. With time women started fighting universally for inheritance rights, voting rights, a right to basic education for girls, political rights i.e. right to vie for political posts, abolition from slavery and equity among other noble demands. In Africa, it has been a fight for inheritance rights, against early marriages, right to basic education, to own properly and more vehemently against female genital mutilation (FGM) a practice that was quite common in the African culture. This has borne much fruits in that nowadays a child is a child regardless of the sex. The child has a right to basic needs and an education among other fundamental rights dictated by the states.
Of the most significant revolution is that which relates to birth control and reproductive rights. Reproductive rights is an umbrella term that may include some or all of the following rights: the right to legal or safe abortion, the right to control one’s productivity, the right to access quality reproductive health care, and the right and access to education in order to make reproductive choices free from coercion, discrimination , and violence. Reproductive rights may also be understood to include education about contraception and sexually transmitted infections, freedom from coerced sterilization and contraception, protection from gender-based practices such as female genital cutting, or FGC, and male genital mutilation or MGM. Reproductive rights are understood as rights of both men and women, but are most frequently advanced as women’s rights.
In the 1870s feminists advanced the concept of voluntary motherhood as a political critique of involuntary motherhood and expressing a desire for women’s emancipation. Advocates for voluntary motherhood disapproved of contraception arguing that women should only engage in sex for the purpose of procreation and advocated for periodic or permanent abstinence. Over the years a human rights-based approach to reproductive health has evolved which emphasizes the rights to health, to have children by choice, and to have a safe and satisfying sex life. In the early 20th Century birth control was advanced as an alternative to the then fashionable terms family limitation and voluntary motherhood. The phrase “birth control” entered the English language in 1914 and was popularized by Margaret Sanger, who was mainly active in the US but had gained an international reputation by the 1930s. The British birth control campaigner Marie Stopes made contraception acceptable in Britain during the 1920s by framing it in scientific terms. Stopes assisted emerging birth control movements in a number of British Colonies. The birth control movement advocated for contraception so as to permit sexual intercourse as desired without the risk of pregnancy. By emphasizing control, the birth control movement argued that women should have control over their reproduction. Slogans such as “control over our own bodies” criticized male domination and demanded women’s liberation, a connotation that is absent from the family planning, population control and eugenics movement. In the 1960s and 1970s the birth control movement advocated for the legalization of abortion and large scale education campaigns about contraception by governments. In the 1980s birth control and population control organizations co-operated in demanding rights to contraception and abortion, with an increasing emphasis on “choice”.
Since the right to family planning was enshrined in 1968 at the Teheran Human Rights Conference, the value of family planning and of individuals and couples being able to make their own childbearing decisions has been widely accepted. Today, 60% of all couples are planning when to have children by using contraception, and family size is falling in most areas of the world.
One of the rights advocated too in the Reproductive health rights is the right to legal and safe abortion. According to Human Rights Watch equitable access to safe abortion services is first and foremost a human right. Where abortion is safe and legal, no one is forced to have one. Where abortion is illegal and unsafe, women are forced to carry ‘unwanted’ pregnancies to term or suffer serious health consequences and even death. According to Human Rights Watch, the denial of a pregnant woman’s right to make an independent decision regarding abortion violates or poses a threat to a wide range of human rights. Abortion is seen as a solution to violence against women which according to Dr. Hiroshi Nakajima, Director of World Health Organization occur in the context of sexuality and reproduction, the health consequences often occurring in the context of reproductive health and seriously contributing to the burden of disease in women and young people.
As a lady, I stand to say thank you for the far that we have come. If I were to choose, maybe I wouldn’t choose to be born in the 1940s. They had challenges to fight. However, we too have challenges of our own to fight. These being those brought about by the same progress in advancement of ‘Rights of women’. I appreciate the right to education as a girl child, I appreciate the voting rights as a form of expression, I appreciate the fact that I cannot be discriminated because of my sex during interviews for jobs, among others. Giving me a right to procure an abortion and absolute access to contraception in the name of reproductive health right may not auger well with me as a Christian and as a girl.
The Catholic Church‘s teaching on birth control is countercultural. All men and women of good will must recognize the role that contraception has played in the proliferation of abortion, divorce, STDs and the sexual objectification of women in our age. One can truly say, with all seriousness, that the Church’s opposition to contraception is one of the most pro-women, authentic feminist stances in our civilization. It’s no coincidence that the majority of early converts to Christianity were women; in Jesus Christ and Church doctrine they found refuge from the infanticide, contraception, abortion, adultery, pedophilia and divorce that were common aspects of the Classical world.
The Church’s ban on birth control stems from its understanding of marriage. The Bible teaches that human sexuality is designed for both union and procreation. Couples who use artificial birth control deliberately frustrate the procreative end. What is not so obvious is that they are also frustrating their mutual self-giving. They are withholding something important. The man says, “I love you, but not all of you. I fear your fertility.” If either the unitive or the procreative aspects of a marriage are intentionally removed, the wholeness of the marriage is damaged. The great prophet of our time, Pope Paul VI, rightly saw that when the procreative aspect of marriage is removed sex becomes recreational and selfish; and men naturally seek sex from women without any feeling of responsibility or love.
The Church has always held sex to be so sacred and special and that it is reserved for married couples alone. Pope Paul VI foresaw that that the “birth control mentality” would lead to the exploitation of women by those who look upon them only as objects of pleasure. As per the Human Vitae, a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods 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. By the Contraceptive mentality too, the conjugal instinct in a man or a woman is totally suppressed in favor of sexual instinct (Cormak Burke, 1990). People are hence made aware of their sexuality as an enjoyment or a source of pleasure for even people as young as 9 years. It also harnesses the idea that we can have sex with whomever we want, whenever we want to. When we cannot get access to this kind of fulfillment, we can then excite ourselves through pornography and masturbation. This is contrary to the conjugal instinct that needs to be inculcated in our well being, where this instinct draws man and woman to total commitment to one person, to a permanent association or covenant of love and to be faithful to that freely assumed commitment. Since this kind is understood, developed and matured, it tends to facilitate strong sexual control since it induces sexual respect, hence a young man or woman can cultivate chastity as a virtue. The Pope also saw that contraception would create a false sense of “safety,” whereby one acts as if sex has forever been divorced from pregnancy. We know, however, that contraceptives fail at some point and a woman eventually becomes pregnant. The pregnancy being unanticipated breeds ground for abortion.
The Bible shows disapproval of two forms of birth control: coitus interruptus and sterilization (Gen. 38:9-10, Deut. 23:1). Also Rev 22:15 condemns Pharmakoi who at that time prescribed drugs to induce abortion or regulate birth.
Is the Church justified to stand firm against Birth Control? I would say yes, with the voice of hundred women. First because it is forbidden in the Bible, and besides inhibiting the procreative aspect of marital act, birth control not only makes a couple more open to abortion, it is abortion. We know, that many forms of birth control e.g. Depo Provera, Norplant, the Pill, the IUD work not only by preventing conception, but also by weakening the lining of the uterus so that a human embryo will not implant but be expelled hence leading to destruction of tiny human lives. Chemical birth control i.e. hormonal pills, besides inhibitions of the woman’s reproductive hormones, weakens the endometrial lining of the uterus such that if conception takes place, the new human life cannot implant, thus it dies and is expelled at the next menstruation. This mechanism mentioned is no secret, although doctors seldom explain it to their patients. In March 2007, the national government of Argentina started distributing emergency contraceptive pills (‘morning-after pills’) or E-Pill to all public health services, but the idea was resisted by a good number of health personnel. This may be due to the fact that abortion is illegal in Argentina, however the bigger factor is that the use of the E-Pills puts at risk the life and health of all women. Health professionals worldwide therefore recognize the fact that the E-Pill is an arbotifacient. Some doctors have also explained that the Pill atrophies the glands that produce cervical mucus, hence contributing to fertility problems. A Certain Doctor Karanja recently wrote in the Standard “Its life” column that he is currently treating women who are as young as 25 who have menopausal symptoms which he is trying to reverse so they may have children. He was cautioning women against use of the hormonal pills.
The “Birth control Mentality has also brought about social issues. Since the Pill was introduced in the 60’s, infidelity has skyrocketed along with marital breakdown leading to divorce. Nowadays we meet men who are keen on fatherhood, looking forward to being one or are proud to be one already. On the other hand, we women are fewer who are keen on motherhood; fewer girls have a sense of the fulfillment of motherhood.
The effects of abortion on the other hand are numerous. They may be physical for instance sterility, miscarriages of proceeding pregnancies, stillbirths, menstrual disturbances, bleeding, infections, perforated uterus, peritonitis, passing blood clots among others or psychological i.e. low self esteem, self destructive behaviors, inability to forgive self/guilt, nightmares, feelings of being exploited e.t.c. According to the World Bank, a full one-third of the illness among women ages 15-44 in developing countries is related to abortion, reproductive tract infections, and human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (HIV/AIDS) and 1 out of 20 teenagers contract a sexually transmitted disease.
As Blessed John Paul II said, The Church proposes, she imposes nothing. She teaches, she tells it as it is, she points towards the right direction. According to Fr. Cormak Burke, we live in a historical period when sexual differentiation is becoming confused, sexual character is of little value and sexual identity is in danger of being lost. All the after effects of this “birth control” mentality affect me the girl/woman more. How I wish that the birth control propagators issued brochures with the advantages and disadvantages of what they propagate. However, it is my responsibility to stand firm against it all. Can the girl in me stand up and do the right thing? Will girl in me please stand!