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Contraception: A Big Ape Ruling

The recent decision on contraception was not about the sanctity of human life, non-interference in religious freedom, or scriptural high ground. It was a victory, pure and simple, for those who want to control women's bodies.
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Let's get this much straight: There is nothing remotely spiritual or religious behind Monday's Supreme Court's decision protecting a boss's privilege to decide if his (female) workers may have access to birth control through their health insurance. Although couched in the language of rights to exercise religious freedom, this decision is really about the right of men in dominant roles to control subordinate women's bodies. Let's take it apart.

Biblical passages supposedly prohibiting abortion are often used as arguments against the particular methods of birth control cited in the decision, intrauterine devices and the morning-after pill. But in Biblical times there was no birth control of any sort. There may have been infanticide, but that's another subject, one which one Psalmist, at least, seems to have had no particular aversion to, so long as it was committed against another tribe. Take Psalm 137 (NIV),

8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is he who repays you
for what you have done to us-
9 he who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.

So much for "Thou shalt not kill." What then could be meant when people speak of a Biblical stance against abortion? That would be scripture declaring that all human life is known by and beloved of God from before birth. Besides the sixth commandment, the scriptural passage quoted most frequently by Conservative Evangelicals and Catholics and apologists for the Hobby Lobby is Psalm 139. The section they refer to is in verses 13-15

13For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
14I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
15My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place,
when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16Your eyes saw my unformed body

This is one of my favorite Psalms speaking to the wholeness of life in God. It says that no matter where we go, even if we feel we have fallen from God's love and grace, God is with us. It tells us that God is greater than our limited views and abides everywhere, a radical idea that got Dominican monk Gordiano Bruno executed by the Roman Inquisition in 1600. It says each of us is known and loved by Creation Itself, that indeed we cannot fall from the web which is all life. But does it mean that every seed planted must grow to fruit?

Biology and agriculture would dictate otherwise. In nature there are many cases of abortion. In certain species of rodents the mother actually reabsorbs the fetus under adverse social conditions. The arguments that life begins at conception are not even scientifically accurate. The Dictionary of Biology defines the fetus as the unborn mammalian offspring following the embryonic stage. There is no fetus or even an embryo with the morning after pill or with any of the intrauterine devices ruled on because these devices prevent implantation. What you have is just a fertilized egg that never gets past the fallopian tube.

Of course reproductive science was unknown to the early Israelites; they had only recently learned of the male role in reproduction. Essentially the ruling, using a scriptural excuse, is tantamount to saying it is the sperm itself that is sacred, and that once it enters the mother's body should not be interfered with. It asserts the primacy of paternity. Even though the ruling is justified on the grounds of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which Alito's opinion said prevents the government from "taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion," that is just a cover. As Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "What we saw today was five male justices essentially rule that discrimination against women is not discrimination at all." Alioto's decision is primate chest-pounding in its most bald-faced form: the urge to dominance by controlling the means of reproduction. The rest is rationalization, a sneaky attempt of those self-righteous frontal lobes to justify the urges of the limbic system.

It makes me wonder what is it about women's bodies that has made so many men in so many different cultures obsessed with controlling them?

Feminist primatologist, Sara Hrdy (Yes, Virginia, there is a feminist primatologist) answers with an anecdote describing Republican Rick Santorum in a congressional debate on abortion in which

"the rush of blood and pounding heart beneath the senator's coat and tie spoke volumes more about motivations far deeper, far older, than members of Congress ordinarily consider...Like other high-status males primates before him, he was intent on controlling when, where and how females in his group reproduced...Passionate debates about abortion derive from motivations to control female reproduction that are far older than particular systems of government, older than patriarchy, older even than recorded history, Male fascination with the reproductive affairs of female group members predates our species."

(Sara Hrdy, Mother Nature: A History of Mothers, Infants, and Natural Selection, Pantheon:1999, 1999, pp5-6)

This same set of motivations accounts for female genital mutilation and the stoning of women for adultery. It hangs women after raping them and turns them away from their homes as unclean. It is the same motivation that drives the new alpha in certain species of primates to commit infanticide against the progeny of the old alpha: the primitive primate urge to control what happens to his sperm after it escapes his precious bodily fluids. His compulsion to control the female body as mere receptacle and reproductive system is his attempt to assure his own genes survive and prevail.

Evolved men support women's right to control their own bodies. They understand that genetic directives that helped them prevail in the ancestral environment are no longer serving survival, Spirit, or even themselves, if they want genuine partnership and love with women. Humans no longer need to multiply and fill the earth to survive, be the decree biological or Biblical. To the contrary, reproductive choices to have fewer children and to nurture them more consciously provide the keys to a positive future for the human race. This is and has always been, the province of the female and her role in natural selection. It is she who must determine under what conditions she will give birth to young and what constitute adequate conditions for their rearing, including cooperative mates, clean water and education. This is necessary not only for her own dignity but for the evolution of the species and the dignity of life.

So don't be fooled. The recent decision on contraception was not about the sanctity of human life, non-interference in religious freedom, or scriptural high ground. It was a victory, pure and simple, for those who want to control women's bodies. After all, if its proponents were really so concerned about preventing abortion they would be promoting the most efficacious method of doing so: contraception.