The English writer Daniel Defoe is best remembered today for creating the ultimate escapist fantasy, “Robinson Crusoe,” but in 1727 he sent the British public into a scandalous fit with the publication of a nonfiction work called “Conjugal Lewdness: or, Matrimonial Whoredom.” After apparently being asked to tone down the title for a subsequent edition, Defoe came up with a new one ? “A Treatise Concerning the Use and Abuse of the Marriage Bed” ? that only put a finer point on things. The book wasn’t a tease, however. It was a moralizing lecture. After the wanton years that followed the restoration of the monarchy, a time when both theaters and brothels multiplied, social conservatism rooted itself in the English bosom. Self-appointed Christian morality police roamed the land, bent on restricting not only homosexuality and prostitution but also what went on between husbands and wives.
It was this latter subject that Defoe chose to address. The sex act and sexual desire should not be separated from reproduction, he and others warned, else “a man may, in effect, make a whore of his own wife.” To highlight one type of then-current wickedness, Defoe gives a scene in which a young woman who is about to marry asks a friend for some “recipes.” “Why, you little Devil, you would not take Physick to kill the child?” the friend asks as she catches her drift. “No,” the young woman answers, “but there may be Things to prevent Conception; an’t there?” The friend is scandalized and argues that the two amount to the same thing, but the bride to be dismisses her: “I cannot understand your Niceties; I would not be with Child, that’s all; there’s no harm in that, I hope.” One prime objective of England’s Christian warriors in the 1720’s was to stamp out what Defoe called “the diabolical practice of attempting to prevent childbearing by physical preparations.”
The wheels of history have a tendency to roll back over the same ground. For the past 33 years ? since, as they see it, the wanton era of the 1960’s culminated in the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 ? American social conservatives have been on an unyielding campaign against abortion. But recently, as the conservative tide has continued to swell, this campaign has taken on a broader scope. Its true beginning point may not be Roe but Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 case that had the effect of legalizing contraception. “We see a direct connection between the practice of contraception and the practice of abortion,” says Judie Brown, president of the American Life League, an organization that has battled abortion for 27 years but that, like others, now has a larger mission. “The mind-set that invites a couple to use contraception is an antichild mind-set,” she told me. “So when a baby is conceived accidentally, the couple already have this negative attitude toward the child. Therefore seeking an abortion is a natural outcome. We oppose all forms of contraception.”