“Right,” I said. “Instead of killing babies before birth, they had to wait until they were born.”
“That’s not what I mean,” she said, trying to keep her cool.
“Oh, okay,” I said, and waited.
“Well, you know that of course sex was tied to making babies for all those years,” she said, trying a new tack.
“Right,” I said.
“And now sex is for, well, self-expression and pleasure.”
“Here is where the problem lies,” I said.
“Yes,” she said, impatiently. “So what is the problem? Why does the Catholic Church…”
“…and the orthodox Jews, the Coptics, the Orthodox…”
“…okay, why do all these, er, religions, have a problem with sex being for pleasure? Why do they hate pleasure?’
“Well,” I said, taking a deep breath, “there are of course two ways to look at this question. The first is to be an amateur anthropologist and decide that these are just backward belief systems that need to be brought into the light of modernity.”
She nodded, and waited.
“But that is just imposing a modernist opinion on belief systems that you don’t happen to agree with—and that’s called ‘intolerance.’”
She opened her mouth as if to say something, then shut it again.
“The second is to decide that these are belief systems that have survived because they support a family model that has stood the test of time.”
“Maybe,” she jumped in. “But this model is clearly no longer working. Divorce rates, children out of wedlock—all these things are skyrocketing.”
“Yes, among people who do not adhere to these belief systems.”
“Oh, come on! Catholics divorce just as often as anyone else!” she cried.
“Yes, but there are Catholics and then there are Catholics. In the small subset of Catholics who adhere to the old rules—no sex before marriage, and no sex outside of marriage—divorce rates and out of wedlock children are quite low,” I pointed out. I understand there are similar rates among orthodox Jews, and the other groups I just mentioned.”
She regarded me incredulously.
“Are there still people like that? I mean, besides you and your friends from that Latin Mass you go to?”
“Yes,” I assured her solemnly. “And what’s more, they don’t practice contraception or abortion. Because life is still precious. Just like in ancient Rome.”
She shook her head in wonder.
“How can you—a modern woman—deny a woman her right to reproductive freedom?”
“What does that mean, in practical terms?”
“Well, that a woman shouldn’t have to conceive or bear a child unless she wants to.”
“Okay, so let’s look at abstract arguments on ‘life,’ shall we? Because of course now that pre-natal human life is not categorized as ‘valuable’ unless deemed so by the mother, of course other kinds of human life—handicapped people, sick people, old people—are vulnerable too, right?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, baffled.
“Have you heard of ‘the right to die’ movement? In Oregon it is legal to euthanize adults. In Belgium it is now legal to euthanize children. The only thing that has to happen is that a category of people is declared less deserving of legal protection than others. Like the Nazis did.”
She regarded me, open-mouthed.
“I’ve never heard this before,” she said.
“I know,” I replied grimly, hoping she would listen to reason. But my hopes were dashed in the next second.
“But what about women being forced to bear children they don’t want?” she returned stubbornly.
“Okay, I said. “We’re now working on two generations of embittered women who have had ‘reproductive freedom.’ How is that working? Today, society says that teenage girls having sex should be ‘protected,’ right?”
“Of course!” she answered impatiently.
“But that just means protected from getting pregnant. Not protected from being used and abused. Not protected, in fact, from being trafficked, either. So she has ‘reproductive freedom’ but is she free not to be used and abused? Is she free to be cherished and loved, until death?”