The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA

The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA

3147.0: Monday, November 17, 2003 - 10:45 AM

Abstract #61836

"It's a bigger sin to bring children into the world to suffer": Contraception, Catholicism, and bargaining with God

Jennifer S. Hirsch, PhD, Department of International Health, Emory University, 1518 Clifton Road, NE, Atlanta, GA 30322, 404-727-9976,

This paper explores how women in rural Mexico and Mexican migrant women living in the Southeastern U.S. reinterpret Catholic religious doctrine in order to justify their reproductive behavior. Drawing on data from life history interviews with 26 women ages 15-50, as well as on 15 months of participant observation, participatory methods, and discourse analysis, this paper shows that religion continues to shape Mexican women's fertility behavior in significant ways. I describe women's attitudes about fertility control, method preference, and abortion, exploring the way they create a "morality of praxis" that allows them to be both good mothers and good Catholics. I also discuss how the Catholic church's influence operates differently in Mexico than it does among Mexicans in the U.S.. That these Mexican women choose to negotiate their contraceptive use through their religion, rather than in spite of it, has implications for family planning programs and for the prevention of maternal mortality in Latin America, as well as in Africa, where the Catholic Church is experiencing significant growth. More broadly, the idea that people in modern societies continue to use religious values to understand their sexual and reproductive choices suggests that by relying solely on a discourse of health rather than, for example, supporting these efforts at lay theologizing by engaging with ideas of holiness and sin public health programs will fail to connect with some of the most critically important factors shaping contraceptive use and fertility globally.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Contraception, Religion

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Global Exchange: Domestic and International Reproductive Health Programs

The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA