Birth control is an economy issue

Since when is birth control not an economy issue?


Rick Santorum

‘The economy’ ‘versus’ ‘contraception’, contraception as a ‘social issue’, ‘social issues’ ‘versus’ ‘jobs’

—Why is the 2012 political campaign being represented this way?

On a planet inhabited by more than seven billion people, birth control is pro-life.

In a nation like the United States, where population decline does not number among pressing social problems, birth control is the economically viable way forward.

Prosperity and income distribution, after World War II

This is not new. The post-war generation knew it. The overwhelming majority of American families in the postwar baby boom—the families, the parents, who produced my generation—had two or three children. More than four was an exception. The ‘only child’ was an exception. The majority of GIs returning after the war, who married, bought houses, built the suburbs, went to college on the GI bill—or not—and spent decades on their jobs, the overwhelming majority of them—they produced an heir and a spare, as the Brits say of their royals. Or maybe two spares. Having gotten more than a glimpse of the carnage and destruction of World War II, they came home and reproduced themselves with maybe a little something left over. The average number of persons per household in the U.S. in 1964, according to the 1985 World Almanac and Book of Facts, was 3.3. This was before household size declined with rising separation and divorce, before a rise in one-parent households, etc. Where are Ozzie and Harriet when we really need them?


Ozzie and Harriet family

And that was during the BABY BOOM, famous for regenerating the U.S. economy partly by injecting into it—the goat entering the python—large new numbers of potential consumers as well as citizens. Baby boomers’ parents were able to accomplish what they did largely because they had birth control.

The generation of veterans of the Great Depression and World War II wanted and expected to live better than its parents and grandparents. They limited their childbearing, and they did it deliberately, with the social approval of their peers/population cohort. Betty Friedan notwithstanding, gone, after World War II, were the days when it was routine for a married couple to have a child every year to help on the farm, knowing that the number might be held down by infant and child mortality anyway. Gone were the days when it was routine for kids to quit school in second or third grade, or in sixth or seventh grade, to work on the farm. Gone were the days when the number of children in a family was limited only by the mother’s health, and when one wife died after numerous births, another took her place to produce more offspring with the grieving widower. The postwar generation that produced the Baby Boomers? The generation that gave birth to ours? –We may not be hearing much about it on the campaign trail right now, ladies and gentlemen, but they used BIRTH CONTROL.


1950s family in a 1950s ad

Proud of it, too. Birth control may not have been blazoned on billboards across the nation, but you can look at a raft of 1950s advertisements featuring what is represented as the typical family–and the overwhelming majority will picture either two or three children.

If there is a downside to this picture, it is NOT that using birth control roused intense social antipathies, at least not in any neighborhood I knew of. The downside included pharmaceutical companies’ reluctance to adhere to safety and health standards—‘regulation’–and familiar prejudices. People too dumb or too ignorant or too foreign were the ones who didn’t use birth control, was the perception, less often voiced than sensed. People who held human life cheap, as we used to hear. People who lived in such teeming hordes that it was not feasible for them to value human life as we do—this was sometimes the message—they were the ones who didn’t use birth control. In fact, not using it was part of their problem. They did not have access to the advances of Western medicine.

Including birth control (along with television, advertising, and new cars).

The parents I knew employed birth control willingly. It wasn’t talked about much–because it didn’t need to be talked about, let alone defended. I may have grown up in a politically polarized neighborhood, but never in my life did I hear anyone arguing about the use of birth control, ever. Never did I hear anyone in my parents’ generation have to defend using birth control. For one thing, it was nobody else’s business. It was your own business. For another, it was a good idea, and everyone knew it. Even before the days when reproductive treatment was the extent of most women’s health care, birth control was not by any means a left-right or conservative-liberal issue. Every father on my block, when I was growing up, was a proud father. Every one of them was home from World War II, and glad of it. (One dad got deathly ill after going into the Army, spent months convalescing from grave illness in a military hospital, and was sent home honorably discharged.) Not one of these dads went all-out to have as many kids as possible. Not one. It is remarkable that the anti-contraception rhetoric of Rick Santorum and of gag-a-goat Rush Limbaugh is being presented exclusively as a woman’s issue.–To a man, the fathers that I remember from my growing up years wanted the number of kids they could support—and by the way, supporting and bringing up children included at least hoping to send them to college some day. Sending your kids to college, like the freedom to use birth control if you chose, the freedom to move where you chose, the right to be paid for your work, and the ability to buy a house if you saved, was a sign of advancement. They might have given up college for themselves, entering World War II, and without much discussion of the sacrifice, but they did not necessarily intend for their offspring to forgo college.

The Baby Boom generation, be it noted, is the generation of Rush Limbaugh* and Rick Santorum. The unparalleled prosperity produced by Baby Boomers’ parents, using birth control among other sensible material practices, also spawned the mega-millions in media, lobbying and acquisitions that have so richly rewarded Limbaugh, Santorum, and Mitt Romney.

This entire population trend—widespread use of birth control, smaller families, skyrocketing prosperity in peacetime, and an unparalleled expansion of the U.S. economy from 1943 to 1973—was also part of the large over-all transition of America from an agrarian nation to a fully industrialized one. The grandparents of Baby Boomers had more children than did the parents of Baby Boomers. The parents of Baby Boomers often had more children than did their offspring. Each of my four grandparents came from a family of from nine to twelve offspring. My two parents came from families of four and five. My parents had two. I do not recall one instance, not one, of either older generation urging the younger generation to have more children. Not one. Having fewer mouths to feed was an economic advantage. Not only was this common sense such a commonplace as not to need expression, the topic arose, if it arose in discussion at all, mainly in connection with people who did not use family planning. Nobody wanted to live like the Joads.

Where does the GOP get these lunatics?


The anti-birth-control party

But don’t take my word, or recollection, for the above.

Use reason. Friends on the right, ask yourselves the following questions: Did my parents have two or three children? If so, THEY USED BIRTH CONTROL. Did my parents have fewer than five or six children? If so, THEY USED BIRTH CONTROL. Did my aunts and uncles have fewer than five or six children? If so, in all likelihood, THEY USED BIRTH CONTROL. Did other parents in the neighborhood have two or three children? If so, in all likelihood, THEY USED BIRTH CONTROL. As Keith Olbermann pointed out last night, the (newest) ugliness of Rush Limbaugh on this matter attacks the women in his own family. Rick Santorum may have come from a different family structure than Limbaugh’s, but even so, for Santorum to look out over an audience of supporters, most of whom have fewer children than his seven, and criticize the use of contraception as libertinism, is incomprehensible. And no, Santorum is not attacking immorality; he’s attacking birth control. If he wanted to inveigh against premarital sex, he could do so. Instead, he goes after contraception.

Use conscience. In a world periodically wracked by famine, epidemic and wars, playing one’s part in holding down population growth is considered socially responsible. It was considered socially responsible even in the post-war years, when global population was much less than now, when the population of the United States was around 180 million, and when veterans were inclined to replace a population depleted by world war.

Use evidence. Baby Boomers, like their parents, have historically believed in birth control. An interesting datum from my yellowing Information Please Almanac, 1980, appears under the heading “Family Planning”:

“A recent survey conducted by the Alan Guttmacher Institute found that about 4 in 10 married couples have sterilizations within five years after the birth of their last wanted child. Sterilization prevents about 270,000 unwanted births per year.” (806)

This statistic presumably does not include families for whom the family doctor tactfully or accidentally circumscribed future pregnancies. Where is Marcus Welby when we really need him? Enough said.


Marcus Welby, T.V. family doctor

For the same year, the same source indicates that the overwhelming majority of U.S. families were two-person, three-person, or four-person—38 percent of all families were two-person families, 22 percent were three-person, and 20 percent were four-person. In other words, 80 percent of all U.S. families in 1980 had four persons or fewer. Only three-tenths of one percent of U.S. families included more than seven persons.


*Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.) is encouraging a boycott of Rush Limbaugh’s sponsors. Second the motion.

Limbaugh sponsors listed on Facebook include Quicken Loan, Century 21, and Legal Zoom.

Also–Clear Channel, which brings us Limbaugh’s voice, is mostly owned by Bain Capital. No wonder Mitt Romney backed down from his initial responsible, respectful, sensible comment on birth control and the losing Blunt amendment.

How are they going to avoid making in-kind political contributions, when the general election approaches?

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