God Bless the Pill: Contraception and Sexuality in Tri-Faith America

by Samira K. Mehta

Feb 27, 2020

"God Bless the Pill: Contraception and Sexuality in Tri-Faith America" charts the illuminating and unexpectedly complex history of the contemporary debate over abortion, contraception, and religious freedom. For the contemporary period, we think of battles over contraception as occurring between conservative Christians (Protestant and Catholic) and secular Americans. However, these debates have a much more diverse religious history in which liberal Protestants and Jews played a prominent role. For instance, in 1958, the chairman of the New York City municipal hospital system prevented a Jewish doctor from providing a diabetic Protestant woman with the contraception she needed to prevent a life-threatening pregnancy. In response, the New York metropolitan area's Jewish and Protestant clergy launched a campaign that changed hospital policy. This two-month-long public relations battle used both arguments about religious freedom and theological and halakhic defenses of contraception. Theirs were not the first religious voices to speak publicly for contraceptive access, but they set the tone for a public alliance between Jews and Protestants against more conservative Catholic teaching on the pill and shifted much of the debate from the morality of contraception to contraceptive decisions as an arena for religious freedom.

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