Have the culture wars jumped the shark?

“Sexual union in marriage,” says Dr. Joseph Stanford, “ought to be a complete giving of each spouse to the other, and when fertility (or potential fertility) is deliberately excluded from that giving I am convinced that something valuable is lost.” Stanford is a public figure — he sits on the FDA’s Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee — and his statement takes a public stand on a matter many consider intensely private. What couples — even married ones — do in the bedroom has come under intense scrutiny in recent months, with statements like Stanford’s collected into what some journalists are calling a “war on contraception.” Is this war on contraception a new chapter in our country’s ongoing culture war? Or is it the beginning of the end for that conflict?

McCarthy’s witch hunts stopped when he began attacking the Army. In televised hearings that turned the tide of public opinion against him, McCarthy accused Army Attorney General Joseph Welch of employing a man who belonged to an organization that had been accused of Communist sympathies. Welch asked, “Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

I do not mean to draw a direct comparison between the McCarthy hearings and the efforts and conservative groups to tighten sexual mores. I do believe, however, that the leaders of some of these groups have lost their decency.

Consider the FDA officer who cautioned that teenagers might “form sex-based cults centered around the use of Plan B.” Or the Utah state resolution praising families that are “open to a full quiver of children.” What these statements exemplify is a willingness to make prescriptions in the public sphere about aspects of the reproductive life traditionally considered private — and, in the first case, a willingness to use perverse sexual scenarios to make these prescriptions.

The fact is, though some families are “open to a full quiver,” a large majority of couples use some form of birth control. Many women, even married ones, want to plan their pregnancies, for a number of very legitimate reasons — money, health, or work-life balance. Many people choose to be childless. And many always have and always will choose to have sex before marriage.

The common thread connecting these choices and preferences is that they are intensely personal. It is no wonder many consider the government’s interest in this area to be an intrusion; for a topic traditionally confined to individuals, families, and their doctors, a move into the sphere of public policy is shocking indeed. I think that ultimately, this shock will have the effect of moving contraceptive choices back where they belong — with couples themselves.

I don’t believe that abortion will cease to be a political issue very soon. I do believe, however, that we are nearing the end of an era, an era in which it was acceptable to publicly critique and condemn the sexual habits of consenting adults. I believe that to legislate a couple’s private reproductive decisions shows a fundamental lack of decency. And I believe that, in the coming years, more and more Americans will recognize this fact.

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2 Responses to “Have the culture wars jumped the shark?”

  1. YR Says:

    The Army counsel in the Army-McCarthy hearings was /Joseph/ Welch (who later played the judge in the classic James Stewart movie Anatomy of a Murder). Jack Welch, aka “Neutron Jack,” was the CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001.

  2. Anna Says:

    Thanks for the headsup, YR.

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