Faithful Roman Catholics are routinely criticized (this book is no exception) for their unwillingness to condone the use of contraception. Although it is commonly believed that opposition to contraception is unique to Catholic doctrine, it was only recently that Protestants gave up the same fight. As recently as the 40’s and 50’s, the Anglican C.S. Lewis, in two of his most important books (That Hideous Strength and The Abolition of Man), portrayed contraception as something diabolical.

In 1930 the Lambeth Council of Anglican Bishops approved artificial contraception as a method of limiting family size provided “this was done in the light of . . . Christian principles.” One year later, the Federal Council of Churches in America formed a committee on “marriage and the home” which endorsed “careful and restrained” use of contraception. While the Catholic clergy did roundly criticize the decisions, the Washington Post, also rebuking the “modernistic plan for the mechanical regulation or suppression of human birth,” as well as “schemes for the scientific production of human souls,” printed a harsh editorial, pulling no punches:

Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee’s report if carried into effect would sound the death-knell of marriage as a holy institution, by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. If the churches are to become organizations for political and “scientific” propaganda they should be honest and reject the Bible, scoff at Christ as an obsolete and unscientific teacher, and strike out boldly as champions of politics and science as modern substitutes for old-time religion.

What the Post predicted—the trail from “careful and restrained use” and “Christian principles” to condom distribution in the public schools, socially sanctioned sodomy, and the “right” to kill an unborn child—follows directly down the slippery slope.

The latest text in the field is Mr. Garrow’s. That he rejoices in the steady erosion of social morality, born of civil disobedience (Garrow’s specialty, it seems) and blessed by the federal courts, hardly matters. Christians who favor contraception while opposing abortion, whether unable or unwilling to acknowledge the theological connection joining the first to the second, might try reading what must be the most detailed, if unoriginal, account to date of the legal and political links. By wading through the not uncomplicated machinations that led to the legalization of contraception, created a right to kill unborn babies, and ended (dare we hope?) with the social approval of virtually every possible sexual deviance, they will gain a clear enough picture of the worldview of the author, and of his heroines and heroes, to make the relationship obvious: refusing to accept the mysterious but inseparable bond between intercourse and the creation of life malforms the conscience to such a degree as to make acceptable the most bizarre and immoral behavior. Civil disobedients, murderers, eugenicists, sodomites, fornicators, and menage d trois participants, all idolizing “privacy” as they chew through the Decalogue, make up just some of the people whom Garrow describes in his “Acknowledgments” as “wonderful and impressive.”

The temptation to give Garrow credit for not having whitewashed the opinions and actions of his protagonists is easily overcome. Why should he have? In his world, from which all standards of decency have been stripped, what behavior can possibly require the airbrush? Where intolerance, judgment, “hate and anger,” and imposing one’s morality on another are the only sins, deceit, eugenics, civil disobedience, sodomy—to say nothing of murder—are, if not virtues, at least morally neutral. It may well be that the only “truth” Garrow would be willing to embrace is the “right” of each American to pursue immoral behavior, unfettered by either conscience or consequence and protected by the federal courts. If this massive book had any value, then, it would be as a clinical investigation of the minds of those people—perhaps the majority of Americans—who understand neither the framework of the natural law nor the way in which our Constitution was intended to operate therein. Very few readers, I suspect, will actually take the time to slog through some 700 pages (plus another 200-odd of footnotes), beginning with a litany of every social gathering, meeting, piece of correspondence, speech, protest, court appearance, and petty catfight of a platoon of unhappy “upper-class, northeastern women” with ill-fitting lUD’s and ending with ACLU attorneys running to the defense of a Virginia couple who photographed their escapades of fellatio with a Jamaican immigrant named “Earl Romeo Dunn.”

There are, to be sure, inspiring moments which recount the convictions of those who defend chastity, purity, and life, episodes which Garrow presents as examples of the goofy and excessive things God-fearing people do and say. We learn of Catholic hospitals with the courage to dismiss doctors who publicly support Planned Parenthood and of clerics unafraid to defend publicly the tenets of their faith. One Hartford priest, Father Andrew). Kelly, whom Garrow labels “vociferous,” described advocates of contraception as “suicidal individualists . . . [who would] change, and by change I mean liquidate, the eternal moral code which makes man, in all his human acts, responsible to his Divine Creator.” The whole book, in fact, is laced with citations of sound legal and theological objections to the very positions its author tries to defend.

Garrow’s exhaustive research has uncovered a plethora of arguments in defense of contraception, abortion, and many other immoralities. However, his failure to formulate his own (new or used) justification for infanticide and judicial tyranny forces the reader to deduce his position, not from any stab at a logical argument, but simply from the rhetoric he employs in the depiction of people he admires. Margaret Sanger is a “crusader”; the collective efforts of her coven are described as a “struggle,” or “activism,” and their striking down of social and moral codes “victories,” or, at the very least, “progress.” The beneficiaries of their work are “the downtrodden,” “the poor,” “the needy” and, of course, “ethnic immigrant women.” (The same classes of people, by the way, that the Lambeth Bishops claimed they were helping.)

Onward they march, their eyes fixed on their true goal: federal protection of the “pursuit of happiness.” One early counselor for Sanger makes it clear exactly what that is: “A right of copulation without conception is asserted upon behalf of women in general.” And lawyers for Michael Hardwick (whose defense receives the gushing support of Julia Roberts in the film version of The Pelican Brief) state it even more clearly: “sexual conduct in private between consenting adults is protected by a fundamental right of privacy guaranteed by the first, third, fourth, fifth, ninth, and fourteenth Amendments.” James Madison, patron saint of ACT-UP today, NAMBLA tomorrow.

Total sexual license, observed both G.K. Chesterton and Aldous Huxley, is the only freedom the totalitarian state offers its masses, because it is a cheap and effective method of reducing them to slavery. Give us pleasure without consequence, and in time our consciences will dull sufficiently that we will not protest as the state takes our property, our wives, and our children. We will not even notice, in our endless flight from suffering and our perpetual pursuit of the right to feel good, that the hands gradually tightening the irons around our ankles are our own.


[Liberty & Sexuality: The Right to Privacy and the Making of Roe v. Wade, by David J. Garrow (New York: Macmillan) 981 pp., $28.00]