By Jim Tonkowich
On Tuesday, a federal judge ruled that girls as young as 15 must have access to over-the-counter “emergency” contraception, to the so-called “morning-after pill.” According to NPR, while Planned Parenthood was pleased with the decision, other pro-abortion groups were incensed and vowed to fight so that children 14 years old and younger can buy all the contraceptives they want.
Now “Plan B” is not an abortion pill. That is, it works to prevent pregnancy if taken soon after sex, but will not cause a miscarriage if a woman is already pregnant (at least not usually). For that, you still need a prescription — at least for now.
I read this story in light of the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview‘s annual Wilberforce Award banquet that I attended on Saturday. Named for William Wilberforce (1759-1833), the great British Christian, politician, abolitionist, and social reformer, “the Wilberforce Award recognizes courageous leaders who are making an impact on the social ills of the day, showing perseverance and selflessness in combating injustice and making a positive change in the values and character of society.”
This year the honor went to Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, “in recognition of Dolan’s efforts on behalf of life, traditional marriage and religious liberty in America…”
While Cardinal Dolan didn’t mention the morning-after pill, his remarks upon receiving the award speak directly to the culture — or possibly the utter lack of a culture — that believes so urgently in contraception for little girls.
“The human project,” he told us, “is about babies. A man and a woman are made for babies. Culture is all about babies. Our lives are at their best when centered not upon ourselves, but upon babies.”
After discussing the sending of a baby as God’s plan for our salvation, he went on to comment, “Culture is simply humanity’s best effort to protect the baby, the mother, the father. Culture’s purpose is to embrace, nurture, and protect the baby, the mother, the dad and to see that this precious infant has the embrace of the community to grow in age and wisdom until — guess what? — the baby is an adult, can tenderly and faithfully love a spouse, have his or her own baby, and the sacred cycle begins again.”
If that’s true, he said, and it is, then our culture is in jeopardy. We are redefining “the nature of the relationship that procreates the baby,” that is, marriage to suit adult proclivities. We zealously promote abortion pills in our health insurance laws and across the globe. Babies have become “choices based on convenience or desire to complete a lifestyle.” Nowhere is that more obvious in the manufacture of babies “unchecked by ethics.” And we are increasingly inhibited from passing on our faith, convictions, and morality to the next generations.
This, he insisted, “is not a culture at all. It might be a brave new world, but it is not a culture.”
While there is a great deal of darkness to curse, Cardinal Dolan lit candles. “To renew and transform a culture,” he said, “calling it back to its basic role of protector of the baby, mother, father, and family is, I propose, very much in the spirit of William Wilberforce.”
We need to reassert, he said, “the law of the gift,” something popularized by John Paul II, yet “as old as God’s Word” and available to everyone in the nature of reality. “The law of the gift holds that we are at our best, we act most in concert with what our Maker intends when we give away in love to another what we most prize in ourselves.”
This law of the gift perfectly obeyed by Christ, he said, is “the battery that energizes the engine of culture.” Using that law to transform “a culture gone astray is a most heroic purpose indeed.”
A culture that wants to be sure that kids 14 and younger have access to contraceptives is wildly disordered. A culture that does not have the moral sense to protect its babies and its children is, as Cardinal Dolan suggested, no culture at all.
But as church historian Robert Louis Wilkin has written, “Christianity is a culture-forming religion, and the planting and growth of Christian communities led to the remaking of the culture of the ancient world along with the creation of a new civilization, or more accurately several new civilizations.”
It can happen again if Christians will live out the law of the gift in our homes, marriages, families, churches, schools, workplaces, communities, and world. It won’t be easy, but it can happen again. And if that seems hard to believe and you need some inspiration, a biography of William Wilberforce is a great place to begin.
This blog post originally appeared as an article on the Religion Today website.