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Illustration by Krieg Barrie

Metaphysically deceived

A generation that grew up with Helen Gurley Brown has lost 'the experience of plenitude'

Issue: "Syria's pain," Sept. 8, 2012

Helen Gurley Brown may be dead, but the spirit animating her sexual revolution ("Good girls go to heaven, bad girls go everywhere.") is alive. The author of Sex and the Single Girl popularized infidelity and demolished virtue in the guise of frank discussions about sex. I, like many entering teen years then, came of age soaking in the sexual revolution exploding from the covers of Cosmopolitan and its spawn. I imbibed the new narcissism scarcely knowing it. Then spent years shedding it, honestly, after Christ in His spirit took hold of me. So it shouldn't surprise me-despite the documented wreckage from the Gurley Brown ethos-that its forceful brew of selfishness and self-destruction courses on.

The latest campaign launched under the label of women's choice: the choice to be childless. "Brewing under the radar," claims a headline in the August issue of Vogue, is "the right not to have children."

The article describes the plight of a 27-year-old who at age 20 began asking doctors for a tubal ligation, unmarried and sexually active yet convinced she never wanted to have children. Five different doctors over five years refused to do the procedure.

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"That women are denied access to tubal ligations is another form of reproductive injustice," Vanessa Cullins, an OB-GYN and vice president at Planned Parenthood, declares. "This is a choice issue." According to Vogue, it may become "a growing issue" because of the number of women in America who are childless today-one in five compared to one in 10 in the 1970s.

That statistic somehow implies that women are choosing to be childless, yet in my encounters with women of childbearing age, some see it as their calling to be childless but most long to be mothers. In line with that, the final paragraphs of the Vogue article include other statistics: that 10 percent of women who have tubal ligations decide to have them undone, and that women who get their tubes tied before they're 30 are twice as likely to regret it and eight times as likely to have a reversal or an evaluation for in vitro fertilization.

So let's recite the history of the sexual revolution: Having secured the right to all kinds of birth control, having won in the courts the right to abort an unwanted baby, having liberalized the divorce laws into meaninglessness in most states, having broken the cultural barriers to having sex and babies outside of marriage, the neo-feminists now want young women to be guaranteed the right to surgery to prevent them from ever having children and the right to reverse that procedure should they change their minds. Never mind that under a national healthcare law these decisions have public costs; the great irony is that the liberation of women from children sounds an awful lot like it's turned women into children.

We older women fool ourselves to think that younger women, and women in our churches, and we ourselves, aren't infected still with false ideas about "choice." Over years of childbearing and parenting and all that's in between, I've fled repeatedly to the wonderful 1993 essay by theologian and ethicist Gilbert Meilaender, "The Meaning of the Presence of Children":

That something rather than nothing exists is a mystery that lies buried in the heart of God, whose creative power and plenitude of being are the ground of our life. That life should have come into existence is in no way our doing. Within this life we can exercise a modest degree of control, but we deceive ourselves if we forget the mystery of creation that grounds our being.

To form a family cannot, therefore, be only an act of planning and control-unless we are metaphysically deceived. It must also be an act of faith and hope ... "a fundamental generosity."

Meilaender dethrones the idea of "choice" that has defined a Gurley Brown generation and elevates the "fundamental generosity" of family life, of committed relationships-i.e., marriage-in which husband and wife are pledged to see the callings of the other thrive, and of "the 'experience of plenitude,' from which procreation, as its best, springs."



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