Population, Environment, and Growing Up Catholic

religionsMy Planned Parenthood story started almost 50 years ago, in the late ’60s, while I was attending college. They were heady times, full of excitement and confusion from all the competing movements and ideas blowing in the wind.

More specifically, it started on July 25, 1968, when Pope Paul VI issued his Humanae Vitae encyclical, which, among other things, rejected most forms of contraception as “artificial.” This rigid, unyielding interpretation of Catholic doctrine was for me the final straw that sent me on the secular journey I travel today.

Planning for parenthood — isn’t that what all future parents should be doing?

Raised in a strict Catholic family, I had always taken my faith seriously, despite the fact that my mother insisted I was going straight to hell whenever she caught me masturbating. For her, sex was a simple equation: Any sex, even thinking about it, outside marriage was a sin. I received no help from my dad, who kept his views largely to himself. Like most Catholic boys, I spent much of my early years inventing new ways to describe the “m” word in the confessional. High school dating became a constant battleground between God and the evil lust stirring within me. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I fully realized how much this warped view of sexuality had stunted my emotional growth as a child and teenager, delaying my appreciation of a fuller, richer view of human sexuality.

While battling lust, I was also searching for meaning. At one point, I actually contemplated a religious vocation, based upon my own personal version of Pascal’s Wager. If the God of my Catholic faith really existed, then to risk an eternity in heaven for the brief pleasures of a mortal life would be folly. Why not go for the sure thing and become a monk? The idea of a simple monastic life fully given to God was one I devoutly wished to believe in — I also liked the robe. It would make choosing what to do with my life so much easier. For years, I sought an answer, taking courses in philosophy and comparative religion, and going on retreat with a Franciscan friend. After much study and reflection, however, I found all the arguments used to support Catholicism, and other religions as well, unconvincing. They required that I renounce my rational side and take a leap of faith to embrace their extraordinary claims. It was a deliberate and personally painful process, but in the end I came to reject religion. Having gone through this struggle, I think I better understand not only myself, but the powerful appeal that religion still holds for many people.

At the same time as I was losing my religion, the modern-day environmental movement was sweeping college campuses. I had grown up with a deep appreciation for nature, which eventually led me to pursue a college major in natural resource management. I came to understand the critical stress that an exponentially growing human population places upon any resource. Though world population has slowed down to a current 1.1 percent annual growth rate, during the ’60s it was growing at over 2 percent. It became clear to me that in order to protect and conserve the planet’s resources and quality of life, our species must find better ways to address population growth.

This is where Planned Parenthood comes in. Like most males of my time, I was only dimly aware of this organization and its history, limited mainly to the fact that it had a lot to do with whether or not my girlfriend used birth control pills. Little by little, however, I began to see Planned Parenthood as an integral part of any effort to manage our population growth. Its very name struck a chord with me. Planning for parenthood — isn’t that what all future parents should be doing? To achieve this goal, abortion and all forms of contraception must be widely available.

In the summer of 1968, the Catholic Church put a final nail in the coffin. Humanae Vitae rejected all effective, proven methods of birth control, while advocating only ineffective methods such as abstinence and rhythm. Abortion was absolutely forbidden, even for therapeutic reasons. I was dumbfounded. How could the Church say it wished to protect the sanctity and dignity of human life when it denied to billions of people the world over — many already unable to feed themselves or their children — effective means to plan and control their family size to achieve a more dignified life? It was unthinkable to me that the Church would care more about defending its doctrine than the lives of real people. From that day forward, I understood the dangers of fundamentalist thought in all its forms.

My involvement with Planned Parenthood would have to wait, however. I was young and had a lot of things to work out, including the fact that I was still very much a product of the male-dominant, Playboy culture in which I had grown up. Fortunately for me, Josie — feminist, charter subscriber to Ms. Magazine, and now my wife of 40 years — came along and helped with my education. Through her love and friendship, I came to better understand the issues that women still face, including the control of their reproductive rights. I learned about Gloria Steinem, who’s been a hero of mine ever since. And I came to better appreciate the important role that Planned Parenthood plays in providing reproductive health care for all, men and women, and promoting a healthier, science-based view of human sexuality.

Upon retiring to Tucson from careers in both the public and private sector, I was anxious to devote more time to my writing, but also wished to volunteer. I asked myself which organization inspired me the most. I recalled the anger I felt when another health clinic was burned or an abortion provider killed. Or when another extremist bill was passed, supposedly to protect women’s health but having the opposite effect. It’s taken me a while, but here I am finally, ready to serve an organization I’ve grown to truly care about and admire. Thank you, Planned Parenthood!