Radiant Beams from the Gospel of Life

Chapter Three: The Contraception-Abortion Duo

The Pope tells two hard truths about a connection between contraception and abortion. He proclaims them despite his awareness that many believers, many priests, and even many bishops may not yet understand them, or worse, might not yet accept them. He articulates the reality that: 1) Contraception is intrinsically evil, therefore never good, never permitted under any circumstances whatsoever. 2) The widespread practice of contraception does not historically decrease abortion, but increases it. Coming level with us, the Pope says in effect that promoting contraception in order to decrease abortion is like scratching an itch until it bleeds.

Priests have told me: "Abortion is a lesser evil than contraception. To prevent abortion, allow contraception." Or: "For economic development in the third world a deceleration of demographic growth rates is essential. The masses won't do natural family planning; so allow contraception." Or simply: "The Church has a hang-up on sex. She ought to leave these matters to the conscience of couples."

Priests, being celibate, do not experience at first hand the sharp focus on truth which sexual intercourse occasions for married couples. Perceptive marriage counselors, however, know that the marital act is an almost brutal litmus test between partners, exhibiting whether they are acting the truth with their bodies, or whether they are surreptitiously telling lies. And they see that the lie of the body which is communicated by each contraceptive act can gradually spawn a whiplash of disgust, loathing, revulsion, even hate for the marriage partner, as well as shame about one's own self-image. This tends to gnaw at the bond of the marital union itself. The end result is frequently divorce. Sexologist Dr. med. Wanda Poltawska writes how distressful contraception can become for some women:

Sexual intercourse with contraception takes place in the climate of fear of a child - a kind of neurotic reaction...The woman, who is biologically more involved in parenthood than the man, is also the more paralyzed by this fear and cannot surrender herself entirely in the sexual act. In an ambivalent situation of affection the union does not bring her joy, nor even orgasm, but very often a neurotic reaction of aversion. At first she directs this aversion toward the parts of the man's body from which the "danger" of pregnancy originates. It is very strange that many women show aversion to their husband's genital organs, being unwilling to touch or even look at them ("The Psychology and Psychopathology of Fertility," see Natural Family Planning, 1980, p. 129).

Priests are too easily "taken in" by women who complain about natural family planning, writes Dr. med. Elizabeth Wojcik of Austria. Satisfied users don't usually talk about it to priests, but "couples who don't know NFP or who don't want to use it, may tell the priest it is impossible, and talk a great deal about their difficulties" ("What some priests don't know about NFP" in Natural Family Planning, 1980, p.32). In a later section of EV the Pope asks us to rid ourselves of old prejudices against methods of NFP: "An honest appraisal of their effectiveness should dispel certain prejudices which are still widely held" (#97). The Pope bids all, including priests, to shuck outdated bias against NFP. We will treat about NFP more fully in another section.

The Buddhist attitude in general is that their religion has no position on whether contraception is good or bad. "Religion and fecundity are not connected" (LeFleur, 115) in Buddhist thinking. Even the position against abortion which is inherent in the Buddhist teaching that nothing living is to be destroyed, is soft enough to accommodate religious services for aborted children (mizuko kuyo), now a multi-million dollar business at Japanese temples. To the Buddhist mind, it will take some effort to understand why the Pope teaches that contraception is bad morals, and is a defeatist strategy when employed to reduce abortion.

The media, so far as I know, paid relatively little attention to #13 of Evangelium Vitae which states that "despite their differences of natural and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree" (#13). But the Pope and the media are surely at loggerheads on this point: "It is frequently asserted that contraception, if made safe and available to all, it is the most effective remedy against abortion. The Catholic Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion because she obstinately continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception."

The Planned Parenthood Federation of America would gleefully say just what the Pope unsays here, of course. But we should remember that PPFA employees and cooperators view their contention through $sign glasses. Their "business enterprises" of contraception, abortion, sterilization, and sex mis-education, yielded fees totaling $151 million in 1992, of which $33 million were for 132,000 abortions. Foundations and other donors added a largesse of $121 million. And they siphoned off your taxes for another $145 million; this totals a $446 million income for 1992 (Jim Sedlak in HLI Reports, Nov. 1994). This remarkable NGO (Non-Government Organization) has practically maneuvered itself into the position of pseudo-spokesperson for the United Nations in regard to the policy of family planning, especially at the Cairo (1994) and Beijing (1995) Conferences. The world has yet to learn to treat PP with the same savvy as housewives deal with clever door-to-door peddlers who sell magic cures and wonder wares and snake oil and what not. We look for the day when the esteemed United Nations will mute this powerful NGO which has hi-jacked its policy on family planning. This NGO cajoles the UN into hatching PP's cuckoo eggs.

The Pope indeed has his ear to the ground and discerns keenly what we can expect from the promotion of contraception. The practice has negative values, he asserts. And more: when you sow contraception, you reap abortion:

It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation to abortion. But the negative values inherent in the "contraceptive mentality" - which is very different from responsible parenthood lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act - are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is neglected (#13).

Japan led the world in what has subsequently become a worldwide tramp toward a mirage on the horizon mistakenly seen by so many - that shimmering but deceptive promise that contraception is an apt means to curb abortion. After contraception and limited abortion were legalized on July 13, 1948, pundits soon noted, with apparent dismay, that the people chose abortion as the prevalent method of birth control. The Government of Japan, by Cabinet decision, then made a statement on 26 July 1951, that it is necessary to promote contraception even more intensely than had been done hitherto, to curb abortion:

The number of abortions is increasing each year... The Government has already provided the Eugenic Marriage Consultation Offices and trained instructors in the teaching of contraception, etc. For the welfare of the people, however, this information should be more widely disseminated and means for making it more effective should be studied.

Recommendation: Abortion has undesirable effects on maternal health. It is therefore necessary to disseminate contraceptive information to decrease these undesirable effects (See Chikao Honda, 35-36).

This only had the effect of pouring more gasoline onto the abortion conflagration. Statistics gathered by the Ministry of Welfare (see Honda, 25) indicated an explosion in abortion numbers just at the time when contraception was being promoted to curb them:

Year Reported - induced abortions
1949 ---------- 246,104
1950 ---------- 489,111
1951 ---------- 638,350
1952 ---------- 798,193
1953 ---------- 1,068,066
1954 ---------- 1,143,059

Doctor Yoshio Koya argued in 1958, when the reported number of abortions was 1,099,000, that an intensive training in contraception in an area has demonstrated that the number of pregnancies and of abortions had decreased there, but that "when women who are motivated to limit births become pregnant accidentally, they cannot be dissuaded from resorting to induced abortion" (Koya, 31). And Dudley Kirk noted in an introduction to the Koya study that

Even among the low socio-economic groups with whom he worked, Dr. Koya found the women so determined to limit the number of children that much as he abhorred abortion (from a medical viewpoint) and advised against its repeated practice, he was largely unsuccessful in dissuading them from resorting in artificial termination of an unwanted pregnancy (see Koya, 9).

What Japan experienced since 1948, namely that government agents and social engineers who promote contraception are not unlike shepherds who, with whip and goad, drive the masses into the corral of abortion, is the wearily repeated experience of other nations as well. China, which sews the dragon teeth of IUD's and Pills to enforce the one child per family disaster upon the hapless population, reaps the whirlwind of over 10 million abortions per year. (Read "The horror of attendant consequences" as related by Fr. Matthew Habiger, OSB, in The Wanderer, 14 Sept. 1995).

And the USA, where Planned Parenthood moral bandits pose as educators in school-based clinics, to propagandize inexperienced teenagers that "sex is nothing bad," there too the contraception- abortion blight has become pandemic and chronic, with no sign of relief. Once the contraceptive bandit shoots his way in, look immediately for his common mate and side-kick, abortion. The two then settle in to stay forever. Peter J. Riga makes the point, citing the reasoning of Supreme Court Justice Kennedy:

Those who think that contraception and abortion are not mutually dependent, should read the plurality opinion of Justice Kennedy in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), the case which reaffirmed Roe v. Wade. [We must] "... face the fact that for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized [their] intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail" (see Linacre Quarterly, August 1995, p. 31).

Truly, as the Pope pointed out in Evangelium Vitae #13, "the close connection which exists in mentality between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious." If it is true that about 340 million couples in the world now practice contraception of sorts, and if it is also true that they have about 50 million surgical abortions per year, the association is quite obvious. Rob women of pride in motherhood, prod them to do sex with condoms and pills, and what do we have? Fifty million sad events annually.

Why is Contraception Gravely Immoral?

Contraception "contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love" (#13). The Pope did not consider it necessary or expedient to repeat a fuller doctrine about contraception in Evangelium Vitae, preferring rather to note almost in passing that the Church "continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception" (#13). He uses the word "continues" strategically here, and it is significant. Paul VI had declared previously that:

Similarly excluded is every action that, either in anticipation of the conjugal act or in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences, would have as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible (Humanae Vitae #14).

Pope Pius XI had condemned contraception as a grave evil in ringing tones. He responded to the Anglicans who had departed from their tradition to give it some approval at the Lambeth Conference, August 14, 1930. Note that Pius XI calls contraception a "grave sin":

The Catholic Church, to whom God has entrusted the defense of the integrity and purity of morals, standing erect in the midst of the moral ruin which surrounds her, in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, raises her voice in token of her divine ambassador ship and through Our mouth proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of grave sin (Casti Connubii #56; 31 December 1930).

The present Pope proclaimed, for example:

As the Encyclical Humanae Vitae teaches: "every marital act must be open to the transmission of life" (n. 11). For this reason contraception and sterilization for contraceptive purposes are always gravely illicit (Address to audience of a million faithful, Caracas, Venezuela, 27 January 1985).

Why Contraception is Evil in its Core

The Pope has proclaimed consistently that contraception is intrinsically evil, for example, in Veritatis Splendor #80. And on another occasion: "Contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God" (Address to Priests, 17 September 1983). But since God is always God, contraception is always intrinsically evil. And since we are images of God, we ought to be able to recognize this. Why is contraception intrinsically evil, as sure as two plus two are four?

The insight that contraception tends to destroy marriages, whereas natural family planning, for the most part, strengthens them, is a truth which is achieved in the long run by fine moral tuning. The practice of virtue clarifies its values, whereas vice dulls our moral sensitivity (cf. Rom 1:24-32). The malice of contraception can also be obscured by mass media and a prevalent public opinion. This frequently excuses couples from subjective guilt, in whole or in part, but subjective ignorance does not entirely shut down its objective damaging consequences to one's moral life and to one's marriage.

It was surely in good faith that hemophiliacs in Japan used blood products imported from the United States which were contaminated with the HIV virus. Nevertheless, despite good faith, the 2000 hemophiliacs who used contaminated blood are now fatally stricken with the incurable disease, or are already dead. Good faith did not save them from objective damage. The government, acknowledging its neglect in not screening contaminated blood even when the AIDS danger had become known, decided to award 45 million yen ($450,000) to victims who filed a suit; but cash will not save their lives. Nor can good will, ignorance of the evil of contraception, social approval, stop contraception from contaminating moral lives and fatally destroying marriages.

Dietrich von Hildebrand, whom Pope Pius XII called "the twentieth-century Doctor of the Church" (Hildebrand, 103), tells how the perception and acknowledgment of good and evil is the pillar on which our cosmos stands or falls:

The fact of the universe is falsified as soon as one ostracizes the fundamental category of morally good and evil, which is the axis of the spiritual universe and human life and which plays the same role for them as the sun does for the material world surrounding us (77).

It is not difficult to see the abyss which yawns between the concept of sexual intercourse as the satisfaction of a mere bodily instinct like hunger and thirst, and the concept of bodily union as the highest, most mysterious fulfillment of spousal love in the bond of marriage. It is not difficult to see in which concept sex bears a higher value.

But this cannot be grasped without also seeing that the abuse of something so deep and mysterious is a grave moral fault. We see the moral disvalue of the desecration of that which is destined to be the deep and mysterious fulfillment of spousal love. We now must add that it is an enormous degradation of sex - not only drawing it down to a much lower level, but depriving it of all its true value - if one tries to exempt it from the moral sphere, to separate it from its moral significance. This is tantamount to dispossessing sex from its capacity to be a source of real happiness (pp.79-80).

The one who desecrates the mystery of sex by seeing in it a harmless satisfaction of a bodily instinct, who approaches the world having extinguished the light of morality, moves in a dull, falsified world without depth, without thrill, without grandeur. His world is the magnified office of a psychoanalyst. He is not tragic; rather, he is immersed in hopeless boredom because it is the moral light, the great tension of good and evil, which elevates and widens human life beyond the frontiers of our earthly experience. As Kierkegaard said, "the ethical is the very breath of the eternal" (Hildebrand, 81).

If sex becomes tedium because spouses deprive it of moral significance, they should not be surprised if their marital union takes on a boring relationship. Sexual ennui, bred by contraception, catapults divorce. Perhaps the bishops of the United States are awaiting a more favorable time for a teaching moment in the future, when they will forthrightly proclaim that contraception is intrinsically evil, even though the majority of Catholics in the USA may disagree. The same applies to episcopal conferences of Japan and other nations.

Whether it be a pastoral duty for the bishops to speak plainly now, or to wait, that is the question. "The eclipse of the sense of God and of man inevitably leads to a practical materialism, which leads individualism, utilitarianism and hedonism" prophecies the Pope (#23). When error invades the sacred realm of human sexuality and conjugal life, and the bishops do not seek to check it during a longer period of time, a large number of its perpetrators pass on the error to their offspring, so that the next generation is no better than the present. In the meantime the older perpetrators pass away and correct their error in eternity instead of having done it during their lifetimes of earth.

The Pope, appointed by Christ as chief shepherd of the flock, pioneers the correct pastoral pattern which all the bishops can follow safely and with confidence. Paul VI in Humanae Vitae #29, and John Paul II in Familiaris Consortio #33, stand erect before the bishops and guide them as follows: "To diminish in no way the saving teaching of Christ constitutes an eminent form of charity for souls." But as Msgr. William B. Smith ruefully observed, he fears that many pastors "have that exactly backwards." Meaning that many pastors act as though it were an eminent form of charity for souls, to diminish the teaching of Christ as it is in Humanae Vitae:

They have cultivated a studied silence about this doctrine, or, under the camouflage of an alleged "responsible dissent" or so-called pastoral solutions, urged or eased the contradiction to this doctrine in practice. Instead of preaching and teaching the doctrine, some teachers of the faith cushioned and compromised the doctrine. Some go so far as to complain that it is a great "burden" to carry the Apostles' Creed on one shoulder and the Ten Commandments on the other shoulder and at the same time be truly "pastoral"...

In God's plan, all husbands and wives are called to holiness in marriage, and this vocation is fulfilled to the extent that husbands and wives respond to God's command with confidence in God's grace and in their own conscious choices and abilities (Smith, pp. 329-330).

Smith also notes that some will be inclined to leave souls in a state of invincible ignorance out of pastoral concern, but that Cardinal Ratzinger had thoroughly refuted this easy way out:

It is precisely the distortion so thoroughly refuted by Cardinal Ratzinger, speaking to the U.S. bishops in Dallas, Texas (Feb. 1991) of those who see some benefit in invincible ignorance so as to spare others the "burdens" of practicing the Faith. It is a distortion of charity to say, even to suggest, that ignorance rather than truth is salvific (Smith, 328).

The hoped for pastoral benefits to be achieved by contraception are disappointing in the long run, like the chase for the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Msgr. Smith points out that Sidney Callahan, wife of Daniel Callahan had, in 1969, predicted in glowing terms the hoped for benefits that she expected "responsible" contraception to bring: "greater human growth and fulfillment; better family relationships because of less tension; more stable marriages because of less stress; more economic freedom, thus more choices; improved status of women" (see Smith p. 328). To which Smith replies that it is clear now, with the perspective of 25 years, that the prediction of Humanae Vitae #17 had it straight, whereas Mrs. Callahan's predictions turned out wrong; for we have not fewer abortions but more; not fewer divorces but more, even in the Catholic community; more unwed pregnancies; more broken families, more unnatural infertility; and more sexually transmitted diseases. "We have more of all of these in our `First World' which did not listen to nor live up to the true doctrine of Humanae Vitae" (Smith loc. cit.). Pastors who, out of false compassion for the faithful dodge the duty to teach Christ's message in full, share the responsibility for what then happens to families who cave in to the contraceptive spirit.

The appointed health officials of Japan did the hemophiliacs no favor by giving them access to blood contaminated by the HIV virus. These victims of an administrative medical error are now infected despite their good faith, despite their invincible ignorance; many of them have already died an untimely death, and others are ill and on the way to the grave. No "medical sympathy" prevented them from the dire truth of infection by contaminated blood transfusions. Likewise, if teachers of moral theology "have the grave duty to instruct the faithful - especially future Pastors - about all those commandments and practical norms authoritatively declared by the Church" (Veritatis Splendor #110), all the more do the bishops have the obligation "to teach the faithful the things which lead them to God" (Veritatis Splendor #114). How they teach and when, they must decide with prudential judgments and pastoral concern.

Pope St. Gregory the Great (590-604) confessed that he himself falls into the weakness of being a Shepherd who is remiss in duty, though he does so unwillingly: "We abandon the ministry of preaching and, in my opinion, are called bishops to our detriment, for we retain the honorable office but fail to practice the virtues proper to it. Those who have been entrusted to us abandon God, and we are silent. They fall into sin, and we do not extend a hand of rebuke" (ICEL, Reading of Saturday, Twenty-Seventh Week in Ordinary Time; PL 76 1139 ff.). Under the prodding of the Pope's encyclical on The Gospel of Life, there are signs now that more and more bishops judge that the time has come to say what the Pope says to their individual flocks; namely that contraception is never allowed. Not even if the neighbors do it; not even if a majority of Catholic families do so. Contraception is an offense against God and His law, and no good can come from it.

It is my opinion that contraception is the basic sin which bestrides and over-shadows the Catholic Church today, and much of humanity. Until we deal with that evil, the hemorrhage of Sunday Mass attendance will not be blanched; nor trivialization of sex before marriage, and abortion and divorce and lack of vocations - signs of God's displeasure and of a penury of divine grace. Contraception is a direct transgression of God's commandment, and He will not allow the Church to go on its course as it ought until she comes clean about this sin. Contraception stalls the Church's pilgrimage today, as the sin of Achan stalled the Israelite army from gaining victory against the town of Ai. Until Joshua and all Israel together rid themselves of the disobedience exemplified by Achan, things went ill with Israel. But after they had identified the sin, had repudiated it together and resolutely, only thereafter did they march forward with the Lord favoring them again. The story is exactly indicative, I believe, of what the Church must do today in regard to contraception.

Joshua and all Israel with him were grieved when their 3000 troops turned tail and fled from the defenders of Ai, who chased them away and killed 36 of them. "And the hearts of the people melted, and became as water" (Joshua 7:5). When Joshua consulted the Lord he received the answer: "Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant." He was ordered to tell the people: "You cannot stand before your enemies, until you take away the (forbidden) devoted things among you." The culprit was found to be Achan, who had disobeyed divine orders. Joshua then dealt with Achan the sinner resolutely, saying: "Why did you bring trouble on us? The Lord brings trouble on you today." At Joshua's direction, all Israel stoned Achan and his kin to death, burnt them, and heaped stones over them. "Then the Lord turned from his burning anger" and the army of Israel began to move once more; they obtained a decisive victory over Ai and marched on to other conquests on schedule. Note that it was not Joshua alone who stoned Achan, but all Israel with him; all needed to be convinced, all had to exercise their conviction in action.

Rampant divorce and other recent evils are a defeat for the Church and for all humanity. The defeat is a sign for us, as was the initial defeat of the Israelites at Ai, that a sin is to be corrected before we can move on. That sin is contraception. Half of humanity now engages in it, and is not repentant; is not sorry about it, but indulgent if not defiant. Half the Catholics in the world, and half of the rest of humanity, are guilty of this offense. They oppose God, His design and commandment. If contraception is intrinsically evil - which it is; if it destroys marriages - which it does; then the bishops - the Joshuas of today - can now, with confidence in the Lord, address the problem of contraception in all candor, awakening that mighty saving pastoral power which their words have for the faithful.

Next Page: Chapter 4: Natural Methods of Regulating Fertility
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