The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, superlative conservative, has progressed to the consideration of a bill providing for legalized birth control. Thirty-one states have already passed a law resembling that which is causing so much agitation on Beacon Street. Nor is the move as sectionalized as the stir in the local press would have it. The Judiciary Committee of the United States Senate is now considering a bill permitting doctors to give contraceptive information to their patients at their discretion, to publish such information in medical journals and to send and receive it through the mails.
While the hearing at Washington is so far privy to the world, the discussion is more in public focus at Boston. As was expected, the Roman Catholic Church is furnishing most of the opposition. The attitude of Catholics is wholly understandable. It follows logically and intelligently from the first premises of Catholic theology. The Church of Rome, consciously limiting itself to the sphere of faith and morals, takes no cognizance of the economic and social aspects of the question. It regards the problems of chastity and procreation as it did in the seventh century and as it probably will a thousand years hence. Ageless and universal, it cannot and will not change its doctrine. Birth control, according to its tenets, must be practiced only by abstinence.
The proponents of the bill are undoubtedly actuated by the highest of principles. They are trying to solve a modern economic and social condition with the methods of the twentieth century. More individualistic than the Catholic pronunciamento their view is nevertheless not primarily a defense of the right of the individual, but rather an answer to a problem of society as a whole. The industrial age has brought about a condition absolutely reversed from the categorical scheme of an Utopia; it works a totally unnecessary hardship on the poorer classes.
The contrast between the two factions is in the different manner in which they approach the solution of this hardship. To attempt to solve it, as would Catholicism, by the application of a code of morals which ignores the curse of industrial conditions, can in the end only prove disastrous. Sincere professing Catholics are governed by an inflexible law. Since they accept it, they need have nothing to do with a human law which will satisfactorily meet the needs of those of other sects. There is nothing in the bills before the Massachusetts and Federal Legislatures that would make the giving or receiving of contraceptive advice obligatory. For the rest of the people, there will be relief from the present indiscrimination against the classes most in need of information.