Artificial Contraception

Moral Concerns

Over the last two weeks, I have briefly defended the Church’s teachings on artificial contraception by examining societal and scientific/medical concerns. This week I want to briefly examine the moral concerns.

Once again, it will be impossible to concentrate on all of the moral concerns associated with artificial contraception. I encourage the reader (and especially the dissenter) to engage in research on the issue. But I caution: if one reads nothing but opinions disagreeing with the Church, then all one does is reinforce one’s own ideas.

I want to approach the moral concerns on three levels (1) the contraceptive mentality; (2) the slippery slope of dissent; and (3) the inevitable consequences.

Most people who have a vague understanding of the Church understand that its teachings are based on the natural law and the dignity of the human being. Without going into all of the “why’s,” the Church has consistently taught for 2,000 years that sexual relationships are exclusively for husband and wife (6th Commandment) and are ordered toward the unity of the spouses and the procreation of children. Use of our sexual faculties solely for pleasure is disordered, in the same sense that eating solely for pleasure (bulimia) is disordered. Sexual activity for the sole purpose of pleasure is called hedonism.

The current worldview of many in our society rejects the natural law view of human sexuality. In fact, there is a “mentality” in our society that contraception is harmless. A “mentality” is something difficult to correct because it is formed by unconscious assumptions and preserved by sheer force of habit. A “mentality” is also very difficult to resist. Carl Jung offered a powerful example when he described the “slave mentality” which permeated the Roman Empire and caused every Roman to become inwardly and unwittingly a slave. Because a Roman lived “constantly in the atmosphere of slaves, he became infected through the unconscious with their psychology.” In our time we might notice a “consumer mentality,” a “social media mentality,” or a "contraceptive mentality.”
Contraception is the prevention of the possible natural and procreative consequences of sexual intercourse. Its purpose is to separate intercourse from procreation so that the contracepting partners can enjoy the pleasures of sex without the discomforting fear that their sexual activity could lead to the procreation of another human being. The "contraceptive mentality" results when this separation of intercourse from procreation is taken for granted and the contracepting partners feel that, in employing contraception, they have severed themselves from all responsibility for a conception that might take place as a result of contraceptive failure. Somewhat ironically, this practice of using contraception to relinquish responsibility for one’s own offspring is, in the minds of many, consistent with “being responsible” and even with “responsible parenting.”

A consequence of this mentality is the slippery slope of dissent. Because of the importance of the contraception issue before God and man, contraception can truly serve as a “keystone issue” for many people when they come to the point of deciding whether or not they desire to follow the teachings of the Catholic Church. The contraceptive issue can powerfully determine a person’s opinions and attitudes on all other life and family issues. Catholics who contracept are usually well aware that they are in defiance of Church teachings; and while the first step is always the hardest, they can soon reject Church teachings in other areas of morality as well. And once a person, Catholic or non-Catholic, has adopted the contraceptive mentality, other disordered views and behaviors can follow in the wake. Ultimately, the issue is one of trust. If one does not trust God and the Church founded by His Son, then one tends to trusts one’s own ideas, whims or fancies. This mistaken trust creates an “ego-based” mentality: “Since I know what’s best, I’m going to do what I want.”

And where does this mentality lead? What are the consequences? Attempts to solve difficult ethical problems without the light of God’s truth always reap harmful fruits. Contraception is a vivid example. One reality is that contraception actually leads to more, not fewer, abortions. Since the use of contraception requires a disordered outlook on human life and sexuality, the “contraceptive mentality” of selfish hedonism, disregard for the preciousness of human life and a denial of the dignity of marriage always leads to an increasing “need” for the back-up of abortion. It is well documented in the United States, for example, that more than half of all women seeking abortion were using contraception when they became pregnant. Since no method of contraception is 100% effective, a contracepting couple often feels automatically entitled to use another unnatural and purely technological solution – abortion – to solve the “problem” of pregnancy. The human dynamic of life-giving love in a context of the covenant of marriage can become mechanized, degraded, de-personalized, and trivialized in such a way that when there is a failure in the artificial "system," the couple seeks another mechanical, degrading "solution" for the "system failure" – the abortion of a living human being. This is the "contraceptive mentality" in its frighteningly stark and destructive reality. Here we see clearly that contraception promotes the evil attitude that children are merely “objects” to be avoided or disposed (or at some point “acquired), according to one’s desires. Each of the more than one hundred nations that have abortion-on-demand began by legalizing contraception. Since contraception fails, it automatically leads to a demand for abortion, even if illegal.

It is easy to point out some examples of the terrible cascade effect that inevitably results after the two essential elements (unitive and procreative) of the marital act are separated. After all, if the procreative aspect can be discarded, why not the unitive? Thus, it can be demonstrated that high rates of divorce and abortion rapidly follow the widespread acceptance of contraception. Another deadly step in the downward spiral after widespread contraception and abortion is the infanticide of handicapped infants, such as children with Down’s Syndrome. Euthanasia, or the "mercy killing" of the elderly, is never far behind.

Since these last three articles have focused on the negative concerns of artificial contraception rather than the positive aspects of a healthy, holy unitive and procreative relationship between husband and wife, I will include one more article next week about the beauty of the sexual relationship in the context of a holy, healthy marriage.