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The Sunday Times (London, U.K.), August 30, 2009

Cherie Blair plea on birth control

Former prime minister's wife accuses Catholic church of holding back career women

By Jason Allardyce

CHERIE Blair has criticised the Catholic Church's position on contraception, suggesting it could be holding some women back from pursuing a successful career.

The wife of the former prime minister said she believed the Catholic church should be "more positive" about permitting women to use artificial birth control as a means of regulating their fertility.

Despite being a devout Catholic and encouraging her husband to convert from Anglicanism, Mrs Blair said she used contraception.

Last year Pope Benedict XVI launched a strong defence of the 1968 Papal Letter Of Human Life, a controversial document written by Pope Paul VI which set out the church's case against artificial birth control.

Speaking at a Sunday Times sponsored event at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, she said the Catholic Church was out of step with the needs of career women.

"I feel that if you look at what progress women have made in the world one of the reasons they have been able to make progress is because they have been able to control their fertility.

"I personally don't think there is anything wrong with that, and indeed without that being able to control I wouldn't have been able to achieve the things that I've been able to do.

"I think it's a really important issue and personally I would prefer it if the Catholic Church took a more positive attitude towards contraception because I think there's a lot of difference between preventing a life coming about and actually extinguishing a life when it has come about."

The barrister, who was promoting her memoirs Speaking for Myself, was responding to a question asking how she squared her views on contraception with being a Catholic.

While admitting that meeting two Popes was among the highlights of her time as the prime minister's consort, she added: "If you look at the birth rates in France and Italy and Spain it seems as though I might not be the only devout Catholic who likes to control her fertility."

In her autobiography, Mrs Blair said she had not packed her "contraceptive equipment" for a visit to Balmoral, which resulted in her pregnancy with her youngest son Leo. A spokesman for the Catholic church in Scotland, said: "Increasingly women are finding that postponing or preventing pregnancy to focus on a career leaves them unable to conceive later in life, causing many to suggest that 'kids then career' might be a more sensible choice than 'career then kids.

"When the Catholic church reaffirmed its opposition to contraception, it warned that four major problems would ensue: a general lowering of moral standards throughout society, a rise in infidelity, a lessening of respect for women by men, and the coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

"The last four decades have testified to the wisdom of this analysis. He said the Catholic church did not oppose regulating fertility but recommended a natural approach, rather than ingesting high doses of synthetic hormones in the form of oral contraceptives which had physical, emotional and environmental side effects.

"Additionally, while Cherie Blair is right to point out that there is a great difference between 'preventing a life coming about and actually extinguishing a life when it has come about', she is wrong to suggest that oral contraception doesn't extinguish life. That is exactly what the morning-after pill does while the conventional pill can potentially do the same."

The church also argues that greater availability of contraception has led to a rise in promiscuity and underage sex.

Mrs Blair's position was backed by the Family Planning Association, which said: "It's incredibly important that women have safe and convenient access to contraception because it has a big effect on their life.

"It's also important that women have the choice of all 15 methods of contraception so they can choose what fits them and their lifestyles best."

Since leaving Downing Street, the former prime minister has created an inter-faith foundation and converted to Catholicism, with his wife Cherie as his sponsor. Before becoming a Catholic he had attended mass regularly with his family and took communion with Pope John Paul on the eve of the Iraq war.

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