When Massachusetts junior senator Scott Brown last week signed on to support a Republican initiative to nullify President Barack Obama's birth-control compromise, Brown joined the vast and growing right-wing war on women.
Brown's new archconservative position on birth control stands in contrast to the stance he took 10 years ago when, as a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, Brown favored legislation requiring all health-care providers to offer contraception coverage.
That law provided a narrow exclusion for churches or "church-controlled organizations," but it was benign when compared to the pending Republican anti-birth-control legislation. In fact, since 2002, Massachusetts has been operating under what is essentially the Obama compromise.
The GOP scheme would allow any business, not just those allied with a religion, to opt out of providing insurance coverage for birth control if the business deemed contraception to conflict with its moral or religious beliefs.
Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey has rightly called the Republican proposal an attempt to keep women "barefoot and pregnant."
Brown's fellow Republican senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine, may not have found Obama's birth-control compromise perfect, but they have said, in effect, that it is perfectly workable.
Obama's plan allows Catholic institutions — such as universities and hospitals— that are more secular than religious to shift the responsibility for offering birth-control coverage from the church-affiliated entity to its insurer.
The weeks-old controversy over providing insurance coverage for women wanting contraception may initially have raised some interesting questions about the challenge of maintaining religious freedom in an all-but-secular world.
Those days, however, are over. It's time to call the dispute what it is: a steaming crock of malarkey.
No scripture prohibits birth control. That bit about Onan spilling his seed is tantamount to urban legend. Opposition to contraception within the reactionary elements of the Catholic Church is rooted in a long-since-discredited ancient belief that the human body is unclean.
The Vatican itself was on the verge of approving birth control in the 1960s when it was derailed from doing so by a palace coup of fanatics who believed such a position would weaken the authority of the church.
The irony is, of course, that the failure to embrace birth control has seriously weakened the church's authority among practicing and non-practicing Catholics and, in the process, made the Vatican an international object of ridicule.
It may be idle speculation, but still it is hard not to wonder: if the cardinals had put as much energy into keeping priests from bonking altar boys as they did in keeping the pill and condoms out of the hands of the faithful, then maybe the church might enjoy more moral prestige than it does today.
The vast majority of Catholic women have, at one time or another, used birth control — as have most American women.
That would not have surprised Lord Acton, the noted 19th-century British historian who also happened to be a Catholic. When the church declared the pope to be infallible in 1870, Acton thought it a huge practical and spiritual mistake. Nevertheless, Acton believed that there was no reason for Catholics to go crazy every time the pope did.
Scott Brown is, in many ways, a model of modern-day craziness. He denies global warming and Darwin's theory of evolution, so it is not surprising that by some flight of twisted logic he has come to see fit to restrict birth-control access. Wonder what his two daughters think of that.
Memo to Brown: is the Earth still flat?