Pence Amendment not Just About Abortion, but About Thwarting Contraception

In the wake of the House passage of the Pence Amendment, cutting off federal family funding under Title X, the influential religious right think tank the Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society senses an opportunity. Discussion around the Pence Amendment, the think tank argues in a press release, has singularly focused on ending abortion. Instead, it suggests, the discussion be expanded to focus on ending family planning.

In the press release, the Howard Center promotes the most recent issue of its quarterly journal, which is centered on the theme of what the Center contends are the horrific societal effects of family planning and contraception.

From the press release:

“How timely is it that the most recent issue of The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy would highlight the harm and exploitation of women and children under Title X programs,” commented Larry Jacobs, vice-president of The Howard Center for Family, Religion & Society.  Marking the 40th anniversary of the federal government’s entrée into “family planning” through Title X of the Public Health Services Act of 1970, the latest issue of The Family in America: A Journal of Public Policy explores “the U.S. War on Fertility” with hard-hitting essays that quantify the downside of President Richard Nixon’s attempt to outdo his predecessor’s efforts to usher in the Great Society.

Those essays include Robert W. Patterson’s feature linking the ruinous social effects of federal family planning to the failures of the War on Poverty; Jennifer Roback Morse’s examination of the incoherence of federal “sex” policy; and Allan C. Carlson’s examination of how changing Protestant attitudes toward contraception paved the way for “population control” measures like Title X.

The Howard Center is the organizer of the World Congress of Families, whose international gatherings draw religious right, anti-feminist, anti-choice, and other conservative “pro-family” groups from around the world. Its 2009 conference, held in Amsterdam, featured American speakers from numerous influential organizations including Focus on the Family, the Alliance Defense Fund, Concerned Women for America, The Heritage Foundation, the Home School Legal Defense Association, the Southern Baptist Convention, the Family Research Council, Priests for Life, and the LDS Church.

In an essay for RD last year, Kathryn Joyce described the ecumenical alliances that lie behind the Howard Center’s and the WCF’s efforts to end what the Center calls the “assault on American fertility,” as as well as around the world:

The WCF followed the rise of a global conservative movement in response to international conferences in the 1990s, particularly concerning reproductive or women’s rights, which they feared could affect US law back home. At the 1994 Cairo Conference on Population and Development, Pope John Paul II (an early bridge-builder who’d allied himself with Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ in the 1970s) called for interfaith opposition to the conference’s draft program of action due to its support for abortion rights and what the Pope called a “Culture of Death . . . . “

As a result of this call—and elite support from “powerful international players in the Vatican, US business, and politic[s]” who encouraged Catholic, Mormon and evangelical leaders into partnership—UN conferences began to be transformed, from the normally subdued forum for conversation among NGOs to stages for right-wing theater where protesting monks would seat themselves in the formation of a cross, Mormon youth activists seized control of a youth caucus to deliver a right-wing statement “from the worlds’ youth,” and Muslim and Christian NGOs would partner to forward a conservative agenda. . . . 

[Allan] Carlson, the Lutheran head of the Illinois-based Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society, is a compelling conservative historian who uses secular arguments to advance religious right ideas. A chief example of this is “The Natural Family Manifesto,” a guiding document of the WCF community, co-written by Carlson and Paul Mero, head of the Mormon think tank the Sutherland Institute. The ecumenical call to arms extols a conservative lifestyle where fathers lead and women honor their highest domestic calling by becoming “prolific mothers” of “full quivers of children.”

In service of that goal, Carlson, who has helped craft policy for ultra-right Senator Sam Brownback and Representative Lee Terry of Nebraska, hopes to involve the state in a pro-family welfare system, where tax laws encourage large families, and the government encourages a family-and-faith-centered legal system, which repeals “witch-hunting” child abuse laws that restrict parental discipline as well as no-fault divorce; imposes penalties for unmarried cohabitation; and reconfigures Social Security to provide support on a family, rather than individual basis, so that women are recognized not for their work as independent employees but for their roles as spouses and mothers.

The editorial board of advisors of Howard Center’s quarterly journal, Family in America, Charmaine Yoest, head of Americans United for Life, a vociferous supporter of the Pence Amendment; William Donohue of the Catholic League; and W. Bradford Wilcox of the University of Virginia, who sociologist Darren Sherkat has described here as the “dandy darling of the Christian patriarchy movement” who is “part of a growing movement of conservative Christians in the social sciences seeking to reimagine social relations through the lens of their distinctive faith.”

These views are not just touted in remote outposts of conservative religious movements; although elected officials and organizational leaders won’t be blunt about it, they offer no other explanation as to why they won’t support contraception, which prevents unintended pregnancies and hence prevents abortion, if they oppose abortion so much. This is why Michelle Duggar, mother of 19 who will happily (or so she says) continue bearing children until God decides it’s time for her to stop, has become a mainstream heroine in conservative circles. Remember, a crucial part of the Duggars’ life story is their claim that early in their marriage Michelle got pregnant while on the Pill, and that being on the Pill caused her to then miscarry. Since then, she says, they’ve decided to obey God. As she told the Values Voters Summit in accepting an award last year, “Our motto is obey first, understand later.”

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