What Is Wheaton College’s Theological Objection to Contraception?

What theological objection does Wheaton College, the Christian college that won a stay from the Supreme Court yesterday from having to even fill out a form to exempt itself from the contraceptive mandate, have to contraception?

The answer: none. Unlike the Catholic Church, which formally bars the use of contraceptive in the Humanae Vitae encyclical, evangelicals have no doctrinal objection to contraception. They are allowed to refuse to provide contraception because the Church Amendment, the granddaddy of all reproductive health “consciences” clauses, allows refusals for either religious or moral objections, language that has been carried over to most modern exemptions and which creates a huge loophole from the provision of reproductive health care.

Technically Wheaton is objecting to the provision of emergency contraception and the IUD, which it claims can act as abortifacients. But as I have written before, the ginning up of EC as an abortifacient was an elaborate ruse by the Catholic Church to create a wedge to allow it to counter the move to require insurers to cover contraceptives.

This wedge has been implemented brilliantly by the Becket Fund, which would have been laughed out of court if it tried to argue that employers shouldn’t have to provide “regular” contraceptives to their employees. But by arguing that EC is an abortifacient in Hobby Lobby, it got all the way to the Supreme Court and won.

But as Justice Kagan noted in the oral arguments, once the court said Hobby Lobby could opt out of providing one or two types of contraceptives, there was no reason that other employers couldn’t use the same logic to refuse to provide all contraception. Her prediction came true on Tuesday when the court ordered the reconsideration of several other suits that had been rejected by lower courts which objected to the provision of all contraceptives, surprising many who figured the conservative Catholic justices would at least wait until the ink was dry on the Hobby Lobby decision before figuring out ways to broaden it.

The irony in all of this is that until the early 2000s, it was rare for evangelicals to object to contraceptive use. The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest organized evangelical group, accepted contraception use for married couples. Even the National Right to Life Committee took no official position on contraception. But as the culture wars heated up during the Bush administration, evangelicals were increasingly drawn to the hardline anti-contraception position of the Catholic Church, recognizing that rejecting the use of contraception was a coded way to express disapproval of women’s reproductive autonomy.

In 2006, Albert Mohler, president of the influential Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is the closest thing the Baptists have to a Vatican-like teaching authority, acknowledged the transformation of conservative Christian thought on birth control in an essay entitled “Can Christians Use Birth Control?”

Mohler noted that although “birth control use has been an issue of concern only for Catholics…[a] growing number of evangelicals are rethinking the issue.” He urged evangelicals to reject the “contraceptive mentality” and “look closely at the Catholic moral argument as found in Humanae Vitae,” agreeing with Pope John Paul that widespread use of the Pill and the delinking of sex from reproduction has led to “near total abandonment of Christian sexual morality.”

Many people are expressing surprise that contraception has become so controversial in 2014. But as I wrote in Good Catholics, they shouldn’t be:

That’s because the forty-year fight over reproductive rights had never really been about abortion; it had always been about women and sex—specifically, the ability of women to have sex without the consequence of pregnancy….Women who wanted to have sex—especially outside of marriage— and control their fertility were doing something fundamentally illicit and shouldn’t expect anyone else to pay for it. To conservatives, birth control was just a lesser form of abortion.