Belief

Denied Contraception, Catholic Mother of Disabled Child Questions Church Teachings—at Her Peril

Why would religious believers rain such abuse on a woman who is honestly struggling?

Young woman praying in a church
Photo Credit: alexnika/Shutterstock

Sonia Guizar used to attend mass regularly and teach at a Catholic school. But her Catholic employer’s refusal to cover birth control brought her an ill-timed pregnancy and a child with developmental challenges that stretch her family thin. When she publically shared her experience and questioned Church teachings in a Washington Post story, what she got from fellow Catholics was a heap of abuse from people whose urge to defend religious dogma and authority trumped their kindness and compassion.

Guizar’s story may be a very distant echo of the horrendous slaughter being perpetrated by Jihadis shouting “Allahu akbar!”—but it is an echo nonetheless. One of religion’s most heinous characteristics is that it elevates defense of faith above compassion, inspiring mean and aggressive behavior in the names of gods.

The American Supreme Court is considering a “religious freedom” claim by a Catholic charity, Little Sisters of the Poor, that wants to deny contraception coverage to employees in their chain of nursing homes—mostly working poor women who can ill afford either out-of-pocket birth control costs or a surprise pregnancy. They further want to block the same employees from gaining access to free contraception via an “opt out” mechanism, a religious exemption already established under Obamacare.

With the case making news and drawing protests, Guizar shared her own experience of needing birth control that she and her husband couldn’t afford. Fearing she would be fired by her Catholic employer if she tried to get the IUD recommended by her doctor, Guizar and her husband tried to make due with “natural family planning” and ended up pregnant. Their son, born from that pregnancy, has developmental delays and requires therapy multiple times weekly, and the whole ordeal has caused her to question her faith.

Her story is both ordinary and heartbreaking, and most people reading it would ache for her. But in dozens of comments, Catholic defenders of the faith saw fit instead to question the legitimacy of her devotion, or her strength or integrity:

  • This is such an obvious hit piece--no catholic would ever say "I no longer celebrate mass" every catholic knows that only a priest can celebrate a mass. [not true]
  • You couldn't afford birth control? Really? That's ridiculous [not true]....And you call yourself a 'devout' Catholic and NOT following their doctrine? Again, you don't know what either devout and/or Catholic means. —Angie Sharp
  • Then you really were not a Catholic to begin with. Now you just write really dumb stuff! Congratulations you are progressing. I'm sure God will forgive your idiotic apostasy.—Wasachnorth [See No True Scotsman Fallacy]
  • The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked, tortured and thrown in different jails. You? Well you were told to not use birth control and your faith crumbled. —Give-me-Liberty
  • The amazing and great thing about America is that you can change your employment! Yes, I know it sounds incredible, but it can be done! If The Church has a tenet that you do not agree with, and it does, then you can adopt a creed more to your liking or get another job. Problem solved. —Steve Fotos
  • Go find another job. You signed an employment agreement. —Robert PS
  • I can't believe this lady ever was a devout Catholic, she may have though she was, but it is obvious she has little understanding of faith and a great understanding of the secular world. . . . If she were really a devout Catholic she might try to follow the example of Mary in saying yes to God, instead of the example of Eve who said no to God and yes to the Snake! —Yvonne Yadler Bean
  • Natural planning is just as effective as any other birth control method. [not true—1 in 4 annual pregnancy rate vs 1 in 2000.] . . . . If you really are devout catholic, you should known what the church teaches and if you don't like it work somewhere else. —pattyanna
  • Sonia is missing the boat as a "devout" catholic. She says she would have as many children as God intended but cant afford??????????? If her faith in God is solid, then he will take care of the financial "burden" that comes with having kids. As a fellow Catholic . . . .—Hannah Pharis
  • ·Perhaps you should read the bible again. JOB would have loved to have been hit with the issue of contraception as opposed to having this faith tried by the loss of his entire family! But you are devout? —Jane1000
  • If you don't like your faith because your employer doesn't pay for contraceptives, than you've never had one in the first place. Go demagogue somewhere else. —Peter Gray

There are many morals or themes that could be drawn from Sonia’s story: The incredible human cost of the Vatican’s anti-contraception stance when it leaves families struggling to care for children with developmental issues (think Zika). The fact that a modern IUD or implant (both of which have bonus health benefits) can be life-changing for a woman and her family. The crass dishonesty of any person or institution claiming to be a friend to the poor (or “Little Sister to the Poor) while denying poor families the means to delay or limit childbearing. The fascinating psychology of religion that compels people to lie to themselves and others once they accept a dogma. The fact most American Catholics follow their own conscience and use modern contraception at some point despite Papal edict. The fact that Catholic tradition itself is conflicted about individuals making this decision.

But during a month of jihadist violence—executions in Ivory Coast, a bombing in Brussels and a bombing in Istanbul, all by people who see themselves as defending the one true faith—what strikes me most about Sonia’s story is the mundane righteous cruelty of her detractors, the fact that even on a topic as ordinary as family planning or a setting as minor as a Washington Post comment thread, religious belief has the power to trump humanity’s deepest shared ethic—the Golden Rule—and our most cherished moral emotion: compassion.

I have written in the past about “religion’s dirty dozen,” 12 really bad religious ideas that have made the world worse. The idea that religious beliefs themselves matter more than love and kindness, more than our shared humanity, should be at the top of the list.

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington, and the founder of Wisdom Commons. She is the author of "Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light" and "Deas and Other Imaginings." Her articles can be found at valerietarico.com.