When I graduated from a Catholic grade school in 1971, I was determined to never look back. I got off to a bad start in first grade and every year after that got worse. I was more than ready to move on. I looked forward to starting high school with a blank slate and an entire new group of teachers who had never heard of me.
I was actually excited on the evening my dad drove me to the public high school to register for classes. I had it all worked out in my mind. I planned on including a “study hall” in my schedule so I could get my studying done during the day, rather than after school when I had more important things to do.
When I met with the student advisor, he encouraged me to register for choir instead of study hall. He told me and my dad that study hall was a waste of time, because very few students ever used the time to study. He said they usually ended up playing games or using the time to visit with each other. He was confident that I would enjoy being a part of the choir.
I took the advisor at his word and signed up for freshman choir. As I look back, I consider it a great blessing that I ended up meeting with that particular advisor. I found out later that the music teacher was friends with the advisor and had asked him to try to get as many boys to sign up for choir as possible. (Boys usually sign up for sports, not music.) When my dad and I walked into the school cafeteria to register, there were at least a dozen tables set up for registration. We just happened to walk over to the table that was manned by the music teacher’s friend. The best part of my high school experience was my participation in the music program.
During the spring semester of my junior year, a student teacher named Craig was brought in to assist the music teacher with the Concert Choir. At that time, Craig was a senior at Bradley University. When he wasn’t assisting the teacher, he sat next to me in the bass section and sang with the choir.
One day prior to class starting, Craig and I got into a discussion about the morality of abortion. The previous year (January 22, 1973), the U.S. Supreme Court had shocked the nation with its 5/4 decision that legalized abortion in every state. Prior to the decision, abortion was legal in limited situations in some of the states, but a majority of states still had laws on the books that made abortion illegal.
Craig was in favor of a woman’s “right” to an abortion. He repeated the standard arguments that were being used at that time: (1) a woman had a right to control her own body; (2) in the case of rape or incest, it wasn’t fair to force a woman to go to full term with a pregnancy caused by the violent act of a man; and (3) abortion was necessary in situations where the health of the mother was at risk.
My argument was the same argument that had been used for centuries – that an intentional abortion (as opposed to a spontaneous abortion) was the killing of a human being. I pointed out that in the rare case of a pregnancy caused by rape or incest, the violent act of the perpetrator did not justify the killing of an innocent child. I acknowledged that an abortion that was performed for the sole purpose of saving the life of the mother (e.g., a cancerous uterus) could be justified; however, any abortion that was performed for the emotional, psychological, or mental “health” of the mother was not justified.
Of course, Craig claimed my arguments were not credible because they were based on my own “religious beliefs.” When I pointed out to him that the law that prohibited me from killing him (Craig) was based on religious beliefs (the Ten Commandments), he told me I was comparing apples to oranges. He then announced that he wasn’t going to talk about it anymore and turned around and walked away from me.
I wasn’t finished arguing my case. When I got home from school, I asked my mom if she had any information that would help me convince Craig that he was wrong. She opened up one of her desk drawers and pulled out an envelope with some literature that had been mailed to her. Inside the envelope was a color brochure that showed gruesome pictures of mangled and dismembered aborted babies.
The next day, I walked into the choir room and handed Craig the brochure and said, “Take a look at this and then try to tell me that abortion doesn’t involve the killing of babies.” He looked at the brochure and the expression on his face changed. In an abrupt tone of voice, he said, “I told you yesterday I wasn’t going to talk about this anymore.” Then he threw the brochure on the floor and walked away. I picked up the brochure and proceeded to show it to a group of students who had seen the exchange between me and Craig.
Craig was right about one thing. My position on abortion was based on a set of beliefs, but those beliefs were developed more as a result of the environment I grew up in, rather than the religion I was taught in grade school. It was obvious to me that my parents followed the teachings of the church on birth control, because my mom continued to have children long after she had what our society defined as “the perfect family” (a boy and a girl).
Craig’s position was also based on a set of beliefs. Unlike me, he probably didn’t grow up in a large family. He may not have had a mother and father who welcomed additional children into the world with open arms and open hearts. He most likely didn’t have a younger sister who, despite being born with a handicap, was loved and cherished as much (or more) than the other children in the family. Assuming his parents practiced birth control, he was smart enough to figure it out on his own without being told. When a mother in her 20’s stops having children after she’s given birth to 2 or 3 children, it’s not hard to figure out that she’s using birth control. Without really realizing it, most children adopt and embrace their parents’ beliefs about birth control and family size.
Regardless of the beliefs of Craig’s parents, he grew up in a culture that sang the praises of “sexual freedom” and “free love.” It was a culture that welcomed and celebrated the Playboy philosophy. A culture that encouraged men to view and use women as playthings. A culture where teenagers and young adults were encouraged to defy traditions and to “make love, not war.” The only problem was that there were times when the method of birth control failed or “protection” wasn’t used and the plaything got pregnant. When a plaything has a baby growing inside of her, there has to be a way to get rid of the baby.
I don’t blame Craig for his beliefs and I don’t blame the majority of Catholics for their beliefs that the Church is wrong about birth control. Their beliefs were formed by the environment they grew up in. By the time the pill came along in 1960, a large number of Catholic couples were already practicing birth control. After I got married and started having children, my grandmother, Cecilia LaHood, told me that in the 1930’s and 1940’s, after she had her first two children (a girl and a boy), most of her Catholic (female) friends ridiculed her for not using birth control (condoms).
I don’t like defending the Church’s position on birth control. Why? Because it is the one topic that angers Catholics the most. No one likes their beliefs questioned. Although it didn’t bother me when Craig got angry with me, it does bother me when my fellow Catholics get angry with me. I guess you can chalk that up to my own pride. I want to be liked and accepted just like every other human being.
As a devout Catholic, I’ve had to learn how to manage criticism and rejection. That’s exactly what our Lord, His apostles, and the saints had to do – manage criticism and rejection. I take solace in the fact that I’m in good company.
Do you believe in the Church’s teaching that birth control is a grave sin? If your answer to that question is “No” then my next question for you is, “Where did your beliefs concerning birth control come from?” They didn’t come from a bolt of lightning or some sudden revelation. They came from your parents, grandparents, teachers, peers, and the other people who were in a position to influence you.
This could be an issue that haunts you in eternity. Every Catholic should spend time reflecting and praying about this issue. The practice of birth control is either a grave sin or it isn’t. It’s one or the other. For your own benefit and for the benefit of your children, grandchildren, and your Church, you need to be on the right side of this issue.