I think contraception is an insult to women…. [W]omen basically apologize for their fertility. “I’m sorry. When I have sex I may get pregnant. Sure, I’ll be glad to mess with my body to correct this humiliating and inconvenient feature of my sex.”
–Dr. Janet Smith, from “Contraception: Why Not?”
Well, no one ever said that Dr. Janet Smith didn’t tell it like it is!
- Dr. Janet Smith is a moral theologian whose writing and research have earned her the respect of her peers; and
- Dr. Janet Smith is a popular communicator who has brought her persuasive, matter-of-fact presentations on Catholic sexual ethics to parishes, schools and groups across the United States and around the world.
Dr. Janet Smith is the author of Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later and of the Right to Privacy, editor of Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader. She has coauthored Life Issues, Medical Choices, Questions and Answers for Catholics, with Chris Kaczor, and she has authored many articles in professional journals and magazines.
She holds the Fr. Michael J. McGivney Chair of Life Ethics at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit; but she was teaching at the University of Dallas when I first encountered her talk “Contraception: Why Not?” on cassette tape.
Today, “Contraception: Why Not?” is in its third revision, and has been distributed to nearly two million people across the United States and around the world. Janet explained that the talk should probably be revised every five years, as more and more studies are published about the effect of contraception on a woman’s health (the combination pill is a Group 1 carcinogen), about the effect of hormones on relationships, and about the effectiveness of natural family planning.
I asked Janet why she had chosen to focus her research and teaching on the topic of human sexuality; and she cited three major reasons:
- She came to understand the connection between abortion and contraception, and realized that as long as we are a contraceptive culture, we will be an abortion culture. Abortion is a back-up to failed relationships. Contraception enables people to have sex without commitments to one another, or to a baby conceived; so contraception has been behind the sexual revolution, which in turn is behind abortion, unwed pregnancy, poverty, etc.
- She also came to realize how much more intimacy and trust there is in relationships in which contraception is not used. Those marriages last, and are strong and happy; and she wanted people to have that.
- She realized that many people fail to fully embrace their Catholic faith because they don’t accept the Church’s teaching on contraception. She wanted them to understand how wise the Church is and to become joyful, fully faithful Catholics. She thought some people might even convert to the Church—and she was happy to report that this has happened.
As a seminary professor, Dr. Janet Smith is helping to shape the next generation of priests; and I asked whether she thought future priests would find their voice on this important issue. Yes, she said—she hoped so and thought so. She acknowledged that many priests do not speak out with clarity on moral issues; yet a recent study showed that 72% of women get most of their Catholic instruction from the homily. There is a need, Dr. Smith noted, to train seminarians and retrain priests to use the homily for instruction—speaking clearly on all sorts of issues, including contraception.
What does the future hold for Dr. Janet Smith? Well, she continues to speak nationally and internationally on the Catholic teachings on sexuality and bioethics. She has been speaking on the Church’s teaching on homosexuality, which is even more controversial than the Church’s teaching on contraception; and she explains that the two issues are connected. She is currently writing an introductory text on moral theology and working on the question of whether it is ever moral to tell a falsehood. And she is serving a third term as a consultor to the Pontifical Council on the Family, and serves the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity as a member of the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
You can obtain an updated version of “Contraception: Why Not?” and a series of talks “Sexual Common Sense” through www.mycatholicfaith.org.
Lighthouse Catholic Media has released the following preview of Dr. Janet Smith’s talk, “Contraception: Cracking the Myths.” You can download the 10-minute preview at https://www.lighthousecatholicmedia.org/previews/LH19_1-contraception-cracking-the-myths.mp3
To see the list of all 100 “Best Catholic Speakers” for 2012, go to brandonvogt.com/scsm12.