Artificial Contraception

Societal Concerns

A great deal has been written and discussed recently concerning the recent directive of the Department of Health and Human Services to require Catholic institutions to pay for sterilizations, abortion-inducing drugs and contraceptives. While much of the commentary has focused on how the policy affects the freedom of religion of the Catholic Church, the press discussion of this issue has also prompted discussion of artificial contraception.

Over the next three weeks, I want to briefly present the Church’s teachings on artificial contraception through three different areas of concern: (1) societal concerns; (2) scientific/medical concerns; and (3) moral concerns. It’s helpful for us to understand the teachings of the Church rather than accepting the attacks of the secular media.

First of all, do you realize that there was not a single Christian denomination in the world that permitted artificial birth control until the Anglican Communion did so in 1930? And prior to that time, there was no period of history, no document of the Church, no theological school, scarcely one Catholic theologian, who ever argued that contraception was not always seriously evil. The teaching of the Church in this matter is absolutely constant.

As many Catholics know, the Church’s teachings on contraception were affirmed and cogently explained in 1968 by Pope Paul VI in an encyclical called Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”). In that document, the Holy Father goes into great detail to examine the beauty and purpose of human sexuality. But despite the positive tone of the document, the Holy Father does indeed warn society of the consequences of the widespread use of artificial contraception. Artificial contraception has harmful consequences because it reduces the human act of sexual love into a mere act of pleasure rather than an act of self-giving between husband and wife. And the three consequences Pope Paul VI mentioned were: (1) marital infidelity and a general breakdown in public morals; (2) the reduction of woman by men to an instrument to satisfy sexual desire; and (3) governments claiming control over sexual reproduction.

At the time of the encyclical, Pope Paul VI was ridiculed as an alarmist. How can such a simple thing as contraception possibly cause such drastic consequences in our society?? Perhaps some specifics can help us see the prescience of the Holy Father’s prophetic words.
In 1960, 5.3% of all births in America were to unmarried women. By 2010, it was 40.8%. In 1960 married families made up almost three-quarters of all households; but by the census of 2010 they accounted for just 48 percent of them. Cohabitation has increased tenfold since 1960. Nearly 40% of marriages end in divorce. Through all of these statistics, it is clear that marriage and sexuality are becoming divergent, causing many children to grow up without the stability of a nuclear family. Most people would agree that this incredible demographic shift reveals a general breakdown in public morality.

And what about the “objectification of woman” about which Pope Paul VI warned? It doesn’t take too hard of a look at woman’s fashion, the music industry, television and cinema to see that sexuality sells more than true love. Many men exploit women, and many women accept this exploitation in the pornography industry to the tune of over $15 BILLION a year in the United States alone. Do you realize that the US pornography industry generates more revenue than the revenue of ABC, CBS and NBC – combined? Some feminists might claim this to be a beneficial result of “woman’s liberation,” but the women in the pornography industry are being objectified, used and discarded when they are no longer attractive. As the Holy Father warned, “a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

And the final consequence? Pope Paul VI warned of “the danger of this [contraceptive] power passing into the hands of those public authorities who care little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a government which in its attempt to resolve the problems affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as are regarded as legitimate by married people in the solution of a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public authorities from favoring contraceptive methods that they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.”

Some would argue that the government should limit the number of people in the world, because the current growth rate is “unsustainable.” This is based on what is called the “Malthusian model,” something that has been debunked time and time again.
In the end of the day, human progress is based upon humans. We are made in God’s image for a particular purpose. And one of those purposes is to be fruitful and multiply, building each other up in charity, with true love and devotion. Artificial contraception has caused societal effects far beyond anything ever imagined. It has transformed our society. But how can we claim that these transformations are for the better?