My television cable company offers about 200 channels, with hundreds more choices on demand, but my always go-to channel is Turner Classic Movies. I love those old films and often watch what we once thought was too shocking for our innocent eyes and wonder what all the fuss was about.
I remember as a small child hearing people gasp over Jane Russell in The Outlaw, and when I asked what was the matter with it, they averted their eyes, pursed their lips and refused to answer. The few Catholics in my small, Baptist-dominated east Texas town picketed the innocent little chick flick The Moon Is Blue, reportedly because someone used the word "pregnant" and several male characters tried (quite unsuccessfully) to seduce the resolutely virginal woman played by Maggie McNamara.
And, in 1947, the Catholic Legion of Decency (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) rated Miracle on 34th Street "C" for condemned "because of the sympathetic treatment of a divorced mother." Oh, the shame of it.
So for a moment last week, I thought I had surfed across one of these 1940s, '50s or '60s movies when I saw a panel of four nicely dressed, mature men raising their objections to birth control. Perhaps it was an episode of Mad Men, AMC's 1960s office drama in which secretaries are playthings and wives are often reluctant baby machines.
But, no, it was only the Republican Final Four expounding on what women should do or should not do with their own bodies.
I recalled my own 1960s birth control experience, when I lived in Catholic-dominated south Louisiana and was engaged to be married. My husband-to-be was still in college, and we needed my job to pay the bills, and a baby was out of the question. So a month or two before our wedding, I called my doctor to get a prescription for the best birth control available then, the pill.
No dice. He said that it was against his church's teachings, and he couldn't break the rules.
I went through the telephone book and could not find a single doctor who would prescribe the pill. One said he "might," but only after I was safely married. I knew that it took awhile for the pill to take effect, and I wanted to start early, but, again, no dice.
A few months later, college completed, we moved to Houma, La., and, again, I couldn't find a doctor who would prescribe birth control pills. I finally found one (locals called him a quack) who never saw me but prescribed by phone pills that were so potent I grew a mustache and got brown blotches all over my face.
I think of that time when I hear friends and colleagues blithely take for granted that they can safely and securely postpone motherhood until it fits into their plans and budgets. I want to give them a good shake and say, "Don't take that for granted. There are men out there — and a few women (probably past menopause) — who believe that sexual relations are strictly for procreation, and they don't want you to do anything to get in the way of that."
Their theme song must come from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life, in which Michael Palin's character, a father surrounded by scores of his little offspring, sings Every Little Sperm Is Sacred.
Apparently, that's what those four fellows on TV believe. Rick Santorum opposes all family planning programs; Ron Paul opposes any government funding for such programs; Newt Gingrich has vowed to eliminate non-abortion family planning services for millions of low-income women; and Mitt Romney, as usual, believes one thing one day and something else the next, so we really don't know.
I thought this election was going to be about the economy and our various foreign wars, but, obviously, the war some people are talking about is the one on women's reproductive choices.
Perhaps this is what their jobs program is all about: hiring millions of monitors to sit in people's bedrooms to see whether they're using birth control and to accompany women to the doctor's office to make sure the doctor doesn't do or say anything they don't like when it comes to reproductive planning.