Opposing the Culture of Contraception

In his encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI warned of the effects of cultural effects of contraception:

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.

Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that 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.

Paul VI wrote those words in 1968, at the height of the sexual revolution and five years before the Roe v. Wade decision.

Of course, abortion and contraception are not the same thing. You could coherently oppose one and not the other. Moreover, it makes sense that abortion is a legislative priority but contraception, for the most part, is not. Abortion involves killing a human being. A simple ultrasound image is enough to expose its evil. Not so with most forms of contraception. Contraception severs the link between sex and conception, thus preventing a new human being from forming in the first place.

Its moral problem is more subtle. It tends to reveal its character only at the end of a longer chain of inferences.

Catholics should be careful not to alienate their evangelical brothers and sisters in the pro-life movement—and vice versa. But just because abortion and contraception are different doesn't mean they are unrelated. All Christians should consider the possibility that we will never fully restore a culture of life until we have extracted ourselves from the culture of contraception.

5/20/2011 4:00:00 AM