former journalists discuss a profession in crisis

When Did Contraception Become Controversial?

In Blog on January 5, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Tell me, when did the media decide that contraception was controversial?  When I did a search on Google News, I found that the words contraception and controversy occurred together more than 4,000 times, often in broadcast and print news accounts.

Contraception is not some bizarre practice that most Americans avoid.  Yet, ideologues and the Catholic hierarchy have managed to brainwash reporters, most of whom I’ll wager practiced birth control at some point in their lives, and persuaded them to treat the term gingerly.  Contraception used to be called family planning. That term better reflects the well-established concept that people have the right to determine how many children they can love, raise and financially support.

Most sexually experienced  Catholic women of child-bearing age – an estimated 98 percent — have practiced contraception at some point in their lives.  As a reporter colleague of mine once put it, “We’re Catholics, but we’re not idiots.”  The statistics are pretty clear that most Catholics don’t see anything wrong with contraception.  Only 15 percent find it morally wrong.  Even among Catholics who attend weekly mass, two-thirds don’t find contraception objectionable.  Count me among that group.  Heck, I even sing in the choir at my church.

And as a few media outlets have tried to point out, federal regulations long on the books already had made the availability of birth control pills a requirement for most employers that provide health insurance.  Many state laws had imposed similar requirements on Catholic institutions. Catholic institutions that fought these rules were often blocked by the courts.

But by and large  journalists have done a terrible job of making the point that contraceptive use is the norm in this country, and that federal regulations and state laws have been quietly requiring that it be a part of employer-provided health insurance for years.

I will also acknowledge that the Affordable Care Act regulation, as originally proposed, could have put religious institutions in the awkward position of directly paying for benefits they did not believe in. But when the President shifted that burden to insurers, that should have been the end to it.  I do not believe that employees surrender their consciences when they choose to work at large Catholic institutions.

But the U.S. Catholic bishops and lawsuit-happy Catholic institutions, joined by evangelicals and conservative business owners,  have fed and prolonged the ACA fight, and the media let them.  The bishops said it was controversial, even though the controversy only played out in their own heads. Their flock long ago had stopped listening.

So why did the media listen?  Because the bishops are politically powerful and media savvy, some Republican presidential candidates and elected officials took up their cause, and reporters are drawn to controversy. Granted,  journalists  must report on the court challenges, but that doesn’t mean that they have to ignore the fact that contraception, for millions of families, is just plain common sense.

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