In 1966, Massachusetts became the last state in the U.S. to legalize the sale of contraceptives. When the state legislative voted to repeal the law prohibiting their sale, the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts celebrated—and said that the victory was due to the cooperation of the Boston Catholic archdiocese.
Legislation calling for an end to the ban on contraceptive sales was originally introduced in 1965 by a young legislator named Michael Dukakis—who would eventually become Governor of Massachusetts, and the Democratic candidate for the U.S. presidency in 1988. When the bill finally passed, a year later, Dukakis too said that the Archdiocese of Boston was responsible.
Is it really possible that a Catholic archdiocese was instrumental in promoting legislation that allowed for the acceptance of contraception? That is the thrust of an an astonishing article published in Boston College Magazine.
In my book The Faithful Departed, I wrote that Cardinal Cushing was the first prominent American Catholic to advance the now-familiar argument that it is morally permissible to vote for acceptance of a practice that the Church regards as gravely immoral. Today, that “personally opposed, but…” argument is regularly invoked by supporters of legal abortion. But in the 1960s, it was used by Cardinal Cushing to justify acceptance of legal contraception.
In 1965, as the state legislature discussed the repeal of the contraceptive ban, Cardinal Cushing said that he personally opposed the use of contraceptives. But he added, significantly: “I am also convinced that I should not impose my position—moral beliefs or religious beliefs—on those of other faiths.” To legislators weighing the merits of the bill, he said: “If your constituents want this legislation, vote for it.”