Crimes Against the Positive Choice of Motherhood

Friday 4th of July 2014  |  Category: Opinion  |  Written by: Leoarna Mathias

Here in the UK we ladies probably don’t give much thought to our NHS funded right to contraception. We have, perhaps quite rightly, got entirely used to the notion of being able to ensure that pregnancy is a positive choice, and not a risk we take each time we have sex. For the first wave feminists of the 1970s this was a vital step forward for womankind, a critical factor in our capacity to achieve anything approaching genuine equality with men.

Events in the USA, just this week, got me thinking about how much we take for granted our right to contraception. The US Supreme Court, giving judgement in the Hobby Lobby case, ruled that certain corporations are allowed to exclude provision of the contraceptive pill in their health care plans, on the basis of the corporation’s religious beliefs. The issues within the case are complex, in as much as the relationship between the state, healthcare providers, employers and individuals in the US is so very different to our own systems here in the UK. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t stop and think about what all this talk of women, sex, and contraception means in the modern world.

The case has had the highest of profiles in the US, with proponents on both sides of the debate bringing about water-cooler discussion from the Atlantic to the Pacific. There were those who argued that freely available contraception is undermining of society’s values, and that women are harmed, not helped, by being able to make procreational choices – such as taking the contraceptive pill - in this way. Others found the implications of the court’s decision, that the cloak of religious freedom has be used to deny women the medical treatment they may very well need, to be a dangerous ‘slippery slope’; what if a woman is at risk of eclampsia or other life-threatening illness if she falls pregnant again? What if a woman’s mental or physical health issues mean that she should avoid motherhood altogether? What if a woman feels she is not in the right place in her life to embrace the needs of an infant?

In 1972, in Boston, William Baird was arrested for giving a condom to an unmarried woman at a lecture he was giving about birth control at the University. At the time, his action violated the Massachusetts state law of ‘crimes against chastity’. In this case the Supreme Court went on to give unmarried Americans the right to birth control. Now I am no expert on the progress of feminism, or on procreational choices and policies in an international context. But, what I do know, just as any mother knows, is that it is better, far better, to love the children you have, and be focused on their progress in whole-hearted fashion. Being deprived, through lack of contraceptive choice, of the opportunity to decide how many or how few children you have, is not good for women – and not good for the children of those women. I am sure the fallout from the Hobby Lobby case will be felt for some time to come, but here in the UK, perhaps we should all stop for a moment and be grateful that as a society, we have taken a different road.

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