Both sides of the birth control debate agree that birth control artificially prevents or interrupts conception, allowing women to control their own fertility and allowing heterosexual men and women to enjoy unconstrained sexual liberty. However, the decision in Hobby Lobby omitted all discussion of this central function of birth control, and contained no mention of arguments for or against birth control that assume it.
This piece examines and criticizes the two major arguments opposing and supporting birth control on this understanding of its function and core social meaning: first the neo-natural lawyers’ argument against birth control advanced in a papal encyclical in the 1930’s and in contemporary law review articles by John Finnis, George Bradley, and Robert George, and second, the “sexual-libertarian” argument supporting the use of birth control, culled from Griswold, Eisenstadt, Lawrence and their advocates and supporters in the academy.
The focus of the piece is on the competing conceptions of heterosexual morality that underlie these two arguments. My central claim is that both sides fail to address women’s actual felt desires either for sex or pregnancy. Natural law advocates generally celebrate all non-contracepted marital sex regardless of women’s desires for either the sex or the pregnancy that is its foreseeable consequence. Likewise, sexual libertarians celebrate all consensual sex regardless of women’s desires.
This erasure of the relevance of women’s desire, or lack of desire, to the morality of heterosexual intercourse and pregnancy causes women harm, and is a condition of women’s subordination. The current legal clashes over birth control have marginalized the harms. This piece seeks to re-center them.
Scholarly Commons Citation
West, Robin, "Hobby Lobby, Birth Control and Our ongoing Cultural Wars: Pleasure and Desire in the Crossfires" (2015). Georgetown Law Faculty Publications and Other Works. Paper 1504.