John the Baptist and Contraception

I was excited when I showed up at Mass on Sunday and learned that it was the Solemnity of the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist. I love the story of John the Baptist — from the happy visit between the pregnant cousins Mary and Elizabeth to the  radical wild-eyed, wild-haired passion of this Saint/cousin. (John baptized Jesus; see the image.)

Of course, my delight was dashed — we are in the midst of the Fortnight for Freedom — when the deacon ended his sermon by somehow connecting the happy pregnant belly of Elizabeth with the Church’s latest attempts to reframe the contraception conversation. This is a false argument. As if, those of us who want women to have access to contraception and reproductive healthcare somehow also cannot rejoice in the miracle of St. John the Baptist’s conception. Or possibly, he was clumsily arguing that there wouldn’t be a John the Baptist if Elizabeth had been on the pill. Elizabeth, of course, was post-menopausal so the argument is absurd.

The vast majority (98% according to some studies) of Catholic women use contraception. Many of us are mothers who have delivered life from our wombs. Many of us bask in the beautiful symbol of motherhood found in the stories of Mary and Elizabeth, yet also recognize that each of these women were mothers to only one child.

We have all seen the absurd photo of the wall of men testifying (the words testify and testicle are related*) to Congress about our reproductive health. It is this exact absurdity that empowers men to weigh in on reproductive health issues from the altar when they have no experience. If they did have experience, they would realize that they are presenting false arguments.

*Garry Wills in his book, Why I Am a Catholic, explains, “In Roman law a testis was a ‘standby’ who gave supporting testimony, and one testicle ‘stands by’ the other” (47).

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