As a national debate rages in the US over whether contraception-something accepted as a human right in much of the world- should be defined as essential preventive care and thus made more affordable….I am heartsick about the news that Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of reality TV fame are expecting their 20th child-even though, during her previous pregnancy, she developed preeclampsia, a dangerous rise in blood pressure and the baby was premature.
No, I'm not heartsick because I think I have the right to tell people not to have large families. It's because this couple uses their family life to tout the pernicious ideology of Quiverfull, which calls for the abandonment of all efforts to forego or even space pregnancies, even natural family planning. Birth control is conflated and equated with abortion.
While touting itself as the very height of us-against-the-world G*dliness and virtue, Quiverfull denies women much of anything but submission to endless pregnancies. Anything else is selfishness, wickedness, and defiance of G*d, hatred of children and life itself.
Even for the countless women like me, for whom pregnancy is or would be a matter of serious health risks to ourselves and/or our babies. No, we cannot try to protect with family planning our very lives and those of any children we might otherwise conceive, or the loved ones we would leave behind if we died.
Granted that the Duggars' TV show is somewhat in the dubious entertainment tradition of the freak show, and only a tiny minority of the population actually practices Quiverfull. But Quiverfull expresses and perpetuates much more broadly held attitudes that, for example, are deployed to sabotage expanded contraceptive coverage: "Oh, you're saying that pregnancy is a DISEASE," or "What next, manicures and pedicures?" or "But contraception is abortion!"
Vyckie Garrison is a refugee from Quiverfull who warns of its wider cultural influence. She talks about about the ideology's breathtaking trivialization and denial regarding pregnancy-related medical risks and her own submission to more than one life-threatening pregnancy.
And if a woman or baby dies? So what. It's G*d's will. It's a martyrdom any woman should be happy to undergo. If she balks at it, why, she is a monster of narcissism.
For me, this is one heavy instance of the personal-is-political.
Yeah, monstrous narcissism fully explains why, some two decades ago, I made the most prayerful decision to have a tubal ligation, with my husband's full support. While I do not regret giving life to our daughter in the least, I had already undergone one unplanned pregnancy due to failure of a conscientiously chosen and correctly used reversible family planning method.
I did not go through that pregnancy out of obedience to some ovarian-destiny duty decreed and inflicted by some nasty Sky Daddy G*d. I resisted abortion-which a doctor tried to pressure on me- because I did not want to take my daughter's life. Going through with the pregnancy was the only way to accomplish that end. if there had been some other way, I would have sought it out.
I had known since developing severe endocrine problems in childhood that reproduction would be tricky for me, but I had a lot of "wombs-on" learning during those nine months about just profoundly incompatible my body and life were with pregnancy.
I developed hyperemesis gravidarum-severe and unremitting vomiting, much better known and treated today than it was back then-which greatly complicated the management of my endocrine problems, dehydrated me and unbalanced my blood electrolytes, and threatened my daughter as well. I developed preeclampsia. I went through 52 hours of complicated labor. My baby and I were in and out of the hospital for much of the pregnancy. The whole time I lived in dread and panic for myself and the baby, and for my husband and other loved ones should they lose either or both of us.
And then I lived in dread and panic that such an ordeal might happen again, no matter how much my spouse and I tried to guard against it. As much as I loved being our daughter's mother, as much as I loved and felt a responsibility for all children I also knew that I did not ever want to conceive again, in part because of my beliefs regarding abortion. I did not want to end up in a situation where I might desperately think of it, or where it might become necessary to save my life.
The answer that arrived was tubal ligation. I made very sure beforehand that this is what I really wanted to do. As a disability rights advocate with disabilities, I was all too aware of the shameful history of sterilization abuse against "my kind." But voluntary sterilization is something else altogether. For some women with disabilities, it is quite literally a lifesaver.
Unfortunately, though we had a health plan, it specifically excluded this surgery, even in cases of medical necessity. We were already struggling financially, but the alternative to the surgery was much worse. The month I had it, we skipped paying our rent and got behind. It took us six years of even further financial struggle to pay off the hospital bill.
Our health plan was able to exclude tubal ligation because of a cultural climate that, like Quiverfull, even if not so blatantly, dismisses the right of all women to seek or not seek out conception as they see fit, and that minimizes the very real medical danger of pregnancy for so many women and babies.
Though I am not a prostelytizer or very sectarian, I believe in G*d and try to live out G*d's Love in and through my life. But I can't believe for one moment that such indifference and hostility to sacred human beings-whether on the part of Quiverfull or something less intense but still problematic-is G*d's will or "respect for life." And I hurt and fear for those who do mistake those things for G*d's will and respect for life. Including Michelle Duggar. I worry about her unborn baby, too.
Most of all, I worry about what will happen, so unnecessarily and preventably, if the opponents of expanded contraceptive access get their way with this country. How much death and suffering will be on their hands?