Skip to comments.Contraception: Why It's Wrong
Posted on 03/19/2007 5:46:55 AM PDT by markomalley
|The recent debate over contraception between Fr. Thomas Euteneuer of Human Life International and nationally syndicated talk-show host Sean Hannity has brought to center stage an issue which most Americans—and most Catholics—simply do not understand. Let’s review what’s wrong with contraception.
The intrinsic moral issue of artificial contraception is a marriage issue. Contraception has little or no intrinsic moral relevance outside of marriage. This contributes to the difficulty our culture has in understanding the problem, because our culture doesn’t understand marriage either. After all, only about half of all couples are formally married. For this reason, it is perhaps best to start with what we might call the extrinsic moral issues associated with contraception, which apply to all sexual relations.
The Consequences of Contraception
I am using the word “extrinsic” to apply to the consequences of contraception as opposed to its own essential moral character. Catholics are not consequentialists, and we don’t determine the morality of an act by attempting to foresee all its consequences. But we do determine the prudence of an act by assessing its potential consequences. For this reason, it is highly instructive to examine the extrinsic moral issues associated with contraception.
Even morally neutral acts can have good or bad consequences and should be selected or avoided accordingly. It is a morally neutral act, for example, to dam a river, but one wants to be pretty sure of the consequences before one builds the dam. So too, many moralists have argued (I believe correctly) that contraception is morally neutral in itself when considered outside of marriage. But contraception suppresses the natural outcome of sexual intercourse, and in so doing it has two immediate and devastating consequences.
First, it engenders a casual attitude toward sexual relations. An action which, because of the possibility of conceiving a child, makes demands on the stability of the couple is stripped by contraception of its long-term meaning. The mutual commitment of a couple implied by the very nature of this intimate self-giving is now overshadowed by the fact that the most obvious (though not necessarily the most important) reason for that commitment has been eliminated. This clearly contributes to the rise of casual sex, and the rise of casual sex has enormous implications for psychological and emotional well-being, personal and public health, and social cohesion.
Second, it shifts the emphasis in sexual relations from fruitfulness to pleasure. Naturally-speaking, the sexual act finds its full meaning in both emotional intimacy and the promise of offspring. For human persons, sex is clearly oriented toward love and the creation of new life. By eliminating the possibility of new life and the permanent bonding it demands, contraception reduces the meaning of human sexuality to pleasure and, at best, a truncated or wounded sort of commitment. Moreover, if the meaning of human sexuality is primarily a meaning of pleasure, then any sexual act which brings pleasure is of equal value. It is no surprise that pornography and homosexuality have mushroomed, while marriage has declined, since the rise of the “contraceptive mentality”. Abortion too has skyrocketed as a backup procedure based on the expectation that contracepton should render sex child-free. All of this, too, is psychologically, emotionally and physically damaging, as well as destructive of the social order.
The Intrinsic Evil of Contraception
Now all of these evil consequences apply both inside and outside of marriage. Within marriage, however, there is an intrinsic moral problem with contraception quite apart from its horrendous consequences. Outside of marriage, sexual relations are already disordered. They have no proper ends and so the frustration of these ends through contraception is intrinsically morally irrelevant. Outside of marriage, contraception is to be avoided for its consequences (consequences surely made worse by the difficulty of psychologically separating contraception from its marital meaning). But within marriage, the context changes and the act of contraception itself becomes intrinsically disordered.
Within the context of marriage, the purposes of sexual intercourse are unitive and procreative (as Pope Paul VI taught in his brilliant and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae). It is worth remembering that there is no proper context for sexual intercourse apart from marriage; this is why it is impossible for human persons to psychologically separate contraception from the marital context. But the point here is that marriage has certain ends (the procreation of children, the stability of society, the mutual happiness of the couple, and their mutual sanctification) and so does sex within marriage. The purposes of the marital act are the procreation of children and the progressive unification of the spouses. These two purposes are intimately related, for it is through marriage that a man and a woman become “two in one flesh”, both through sexual relations and, literally, in their offspring.
It is intrinsically immoral to frustrate either of these purposes. Let me repeat this statement. It is immoral to choose deliberately to frustrate either the unitive or the procreative ends of marital intercourse. It is immoral to make of your spouse an object of your pleasure, to coerce your spouse, or to engage in sexual relations in a manner or under conditions which communicate callousness or contempt. These things frustrate the unitive purpose. It is also immoral to take deliberate steps to prevent an otherwise potentially fruitful coupling from bearing fruit. This frustrates the procreative purpose.
Because it causes so much confusion, it is necessary to state that it is not intrinsically immoral to choose to engage in sexual relations with your spouse at times when these relations are not likely to be fruitful. The moral considerations which govern this decision revolve around the obligation married couples have to be genuinely open to children insofar as they can provide for their material well-being and proper formation. There is nothing in this question of timing that frustrates the purposes of a particular marriage act.
Statistically, couples who avoid contraception find that their marriages are strengthened, their happiness increased, and their health improved. Some of these considerations are topics for another day. But Fr. Euteneuer is clearly correct and Sean Hannity is clearly wrong. Contraception is a grave evil within marriage and has grave consequences not only within marriage but outside of marriage as well. Both individual couples and society as a whole will mature into deeper happiness by freeing themselves from the false promises of contraception, and from its moral lies.
All Christian denominations, to the best of my knowledge, eschewed artificial contraception until the 1930 Lambeth Conference (Resolution 15) permitted it under limited circumstances.
The author brings up a number of truly good points for consideration. I recognize that those of you who aren't Catholic would not qualify his statements as dogmatic, but it may be something to prayerfully consider as an ethically valid point for you, as well.
Discuss, disagree all you'd like. I would enjoy a reasoned, respectful conversation on the issue. The only thing I ask is to attempt to keep it at least somewhat polite, even if you disagree with the author's line of thinking.
"If the purpose of sexual relations within marriage is to be both unitive and procreative, how is it intrinsically moral to purposely and knowingly avoid a time when the act could bear fruit?"
That's a great question!
As a Catholic, it's a question with which I struggled for years and years. Frankly, I've never found an intellectual argument that is wholly satisfying. My own view is that this is because my own intellect is clouded by sin.
However, a former poster here at Free Republic, Brian Kopp, introduced me to an analogy that made the connection for me. Brian said that the difference between periodic continence and the use of artificial contraceptives is the difference between a healthful and enjoyable diet that leaves one well-nourished and satisfied, and bulimia.
The difference is in the means, the methods, to achieve the goal. The goal - regulation of birth - is not inherently evil (although it can become sinful if it evolves into a contraceptive mentality). But one method is as natural and normal as not eating to excess. The other method is literally a perversion of something that is otherwise good, as bulimia perverts normal dietary habits.
There are others who can present excellent intellectual arguments. Perhaps they might assist. However, for me, Brian's little analogy was persuasive to me in a way that the intellectual arguments were not.
It is also immoral to take deliberate steps to prevent an otherwise potentially fruitful coupling from bearing fruit. This frustrates the procreative purpose.
Keep contemplating the words above from the article, then go one more step. It is not immoral to have intercourse when there is no chance of the act "bearing fruit".
That is the answer to your question.
The answer in Humanae Vitae (paragraph 16) for your question is:
Neither the Church nor her doctrine is inconsistent when she considers it lawful for married people to take advantage of the infertile period but condemns as always unlawful the use of means which directly prevent conception, even when the reasons given for the later practice may appear to be upright and serious. In reality, these two cases are completely different. In the former the married couple rightly use a faculty provided them by nature. In the latter they obstruct the natural development of the generative process. It cannot be denied that in each case the married couple, for acceptable reasons, are both perfectly clear in their intention to avoid children and wish to make sure that none will result. But it is equally true that it is exclusively in the former case that husband and wife are ready to abstain from intercourse during the fertile period as often as for reasonable motives the birth of another child is not desirable. And when the infertile period recurs, they use their married intimacy to express their mutual love and safeguard their fidelity toward one another. In doing this they certainly give proof of a true and authentic love.
(cf 1 Cor 7:5 Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. [RSV])
I would also refer you to the Vatican 2 constitution, Gaudium et Spes:
50. Marriage and conjugal love are by their nature ordained toward the begetting and educating of children. Children are really the supreme gift of marriage and contribute very substantially to the welfare of their parents. The God Himself Who said, "it is not good for man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18) and "Who made man from the beginning male and female" (Matt. 19:4), wishing to share with man a certain special participation in His own creative work, blessed male and female, saying: "Increase and multiply" (Gen. 1:28). Hence, while not making the other purposes of matrimony of less account, the true practice of conjugal love, and the whole meaning of the family life which results from it, have this aim: . Who through them will enlarge and enrich His own family day by day.
Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realize that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love. Thus they will fulfil their task with human and Christian responsibility, and, with docile reverence toward God, will make decisions by common counsel and effort. Let them thoughtfully take into account both their own welfare and that of their children, those already born and those which the future may bring. For this accounting they need to reckon with both the material and the spiritual conditions of the times as well as of their state in life. Finally, they should consult the interests of the family group, of temporal society, and of the Church herself. The parents themselves and no one else should ultimately make this judgment in the sight of God. But in their manner of acting, spouses should be aware that they cannot proceed arbitrarily, but must always be governed according to a conscience dutifully conformed to the divine law itself, and should be submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel. That divine law reveals and protects the integral meaning of conjugal love, and impels it toward a truly human fulfillment. Thus, trusting in divine Providence and refining the spirit of sacrifice,(12) married Christians glorify the Creator and strive toward fulfillment in Christ when with a generous human and Christian sense of responsibility they acquit themselves of the duty to procreate. Among the couples who fulfil their God-given task in this way, those merit special mention who with a gallant heart and with wise and common deliberation, undertake to bring up suitably even a relatively large family.(13)
Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation; rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between persons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when despite the often intense desire of the couple, offspring are lacking.
51. This council realizes that certain modern conditions often keep couples from arranging their married lives harmoniously, and that they find themselves in circumstances where at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased. As a result, the faithful exercise of love and the full intimacy of their lives is hard to maintain. But where the intimacy of married life is broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality of fruitfulness ruined, for then the upbringing of the children and the courage to accept new ones are both endangered.
To these problems there are those who presume to offer dishonorable solutions indeed; they do not recoil even from the taking of life. But the Church issues the reminder that a true contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws pertaining to the transmission of life and those pertaining to authentic conjugal love.
For God, the Lord of life, has conferred on men the surpassing ministry of safeguarding life in a manner which is worthy of man. Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes. The sexual characteristics of man and the human faculty of reproduction wonderfully exceed the dispositions of lower forms of life. Hence the acts themselves which are proper to conjugal love and which are exercised in accord with genuine human dignity must be honored with great reverence. Hence when there is question of harmonizing conjugal love with the responsible transmission of life, the moral aspects of any procedure does not depend solely on sincere intentions or on an evaluation of motives, but must be determined by objective standards. These, based on the nature of the human person and his acts, preserve the full sense of mutual self-giving and human procreation in the context of true love. Such a goal cannot be achieved unless the virtue of conjugal chastity is sincerely practiced. Relying on these principles, sons of the Church may not undertake methods of birth control which are found blameworthy by the teaching authority of the Church in its unfolding of the divine law.(14)
All should be persuaded that human life and the task of transmitting it are not realities bound up with this world alone. Hence they cannot be measured or perceived only in terms of it, but always have a bearing on the eternal destiny of men.
Children are inconvenient and are a financial drain, right?
That attitude in of itself is a disordered attitude. But that attitude is one that is the norm today in the world. We have commercialized our society to such a degree that we are horribly concerned with providing the best of all material things to what children manage to be born in this society. Of course, when all parents are expected to buy the latest Calvin Klein products for their kids, to make sure that the kids have the right type of bling when they go to school, to enroll the kids in the right, distinguished day care facility (because the mother needs to get back to her high paying job and leave the inconvenient interruption of motherhood behind), and to push their kids toward maximizing their potential in every way, rather than to be a kids, then kids will be a huge problem.
Of course, having 12, 15, 20 kids might be seen as a problem in these days. Even having 5 kids is considered odd nowadays. So we have families with none (DINKS: dual income no kids), one, two, or, if really brave, three. And what has happened to those kids that are in that type of family. They are the rulers of the roost. They're spoiled. They have no sense of community, as the domestic community of the home is gone, replaced by Nick, PSIII, and the 'Net. It's hard to go to Abercrombie and Finch and buy clothes for 10 kids. Of course, it's unreasonable to expect those 10 kids to wear hand-me-downs, now isn't it?
...and so on...
|2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).
|2370 Periodic continence, that is, the methods of birth regulation based on self-observation and the use of infertile periods, is in conformity with the objective criteria of morality. These methods respect the bodies of the spouses, encourage tenderness between them, and favor the education of an authentic freedom. In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil:
|Making Babies: A Very Different Look at Natural Family Planning|
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You know what though, God being all-knowing, the fertile-infertile cycle WAS probably by design to allow for humans to still maintain a bit of choice. I almost feel like a dolt for questioning his design.
What if a pregnancy is highly unlikely to produce a living child because of a medical condition? What if the mother's health and life are at grave risk?
What if the family's resources are so strained (real poverty, caring for a sick or handicapped family member) that pregnancy and another child to care for would require extraordinary effort, that might prove beyond their capacity?
Why should the husband and wife be denied the unitive aspect of sexual relations, if the procreative is forclosed by circumstances?
I am talking about serious reasons, not "We won't be to afford summer camp for four children."
As a religion forum topic, I'd say more power to all who choose to never use birth control for religious or personal reasons. As 'society as a whole', may you never ever try to impose this belief on others, either actively or passively, through legislation.
I'm guessing the whole "contraception is wrong" thing was a man's idea? ;-)
Are you asking rhetorical questions, or working through this?
I don't think we can infer that God gave us the fertile/infertile cycle so we could use it - not when we were ignorant of it for millennia, and pregnancy was so much more dangerous when medicine was primitive.
Yeah, we were ignorant.
The ovum wasn't discovered until mid-nineteenth century, rhythm in the twentieth, sympto-thermal method later in the twentieth.
Some women might have noticed that they conceived early in the cycle, when they were in the mood and the secretions were clear, and not when they were close to the period and not in the mood, but it wasn't generalized or publicized.
And women had fewer periods back then - nursing tends to stop them, and when the cycle starts up again - they're likely to be pregnant quickly. So fewer opportunities for observation there - but more opportunities for observation with more pregnancies, I guess.
Maybe when the human race suffered from dire poverty and early death and primitive medicine, we needed to have more babies, so God didn't let us find out about the cycle until later...but I am suspicious of interpreting design from every fact.
Wouldnt the analogy be more appropriate if it were talking about scientifically engineered foods vs natural foods as opposed to bulemia. I mean we're not necessarily talking about gorging ourselves and then purging. Rather its more like utilizing scientific developments of diet soda and vitamin enriched cereals to help manage the desired outcome of a nutritious healthy diet.
"You know what though, God being all-knowing, the fertile-infertile cycle WAS probably by design to allow for humans to still maintain a bit of choice."
This suggests that perhaps you believe that Catholic teaching is that human beings may not legitimately exercise any choice whatsoever in the matter of child-bearing. This would be an incorrect conclusion.
In reading Humanae Vitae, one will find that the Church requires human discernment and judgment on the part of married persons in this matter. Humans aren't mere animals, and married women aren't mere baby machines. While being open to life, and having an attitude of generosity to new little persons, Catholic couples aren't required to churn out as many babies as physically possible. That's a bad and false stereotype of Catholic teaching.
Part of the difficulty of this teaching is that its discussion is warped by the question of artificial contraception. Part of the difficulty is that the focus is on means, rather than on ends. This leads to the conversation getting wrapped around the axle of moral means, and winds up making the means the ends.
I'm going to go back to the analogy of eating. It works for me on a lot of levels.
I've always had to battle my weight. Pretty much all my life. So, to me, "food" always raises in my mind the word "diet," as in "eating less to lose weight."
Only in recent years have I come to realize how darned distorted that is.
Eating is first about survival. If you don't eat, you don't survive, at least not for very long (although I could go longer than most ;-) ). There is also a component of pleasure to eating (just ask me!). Ideally, these two aspects exist in harmony. One is encouraged to eat in part because it is a pleasurable experience. When one eats properly, good things happen.
But it's about balance. If one eats too little, one's health will fail, and eventually one will die. If one eats too much, one's health may fail from that, as well.
But again, ideally, it's to be hoped that one will naturally achieve this balance without too much worry or through great effort. My father-in-law was such a man. He ate as much as he wanted, and then no more. He maintained balance, almost effortlessly. When he turned about 40, he noticed he was putting on a few pounds, so he cut back a little at lunch. He discerned the appropriate action to keep balance.
But he wasn't all-consumed with his diet. He ate what he liked, and enjoyed it. His nature was to eat in moderation, and thus he enjoyed a healthy, normal, stable weight his whole life. When things got a little out of balance, he was able to address it with a modest change to his natural habits.
He didn't approach the question of what to eat, when to eat, and how much to eat from the artificial question of what we call "dieting," but from the more normal approach of keeping things in balance, enjoying what is good in moderation, and using one's judgment to keep good balance.
Translated to the topic of sex and marriage and children, the analogous attitude is that two persons will marry, and will delight in marital relations! And delight with what children God sends their way!
But perhaps after a few years of marriage, the woman might say, "Husband, we're so blessed with our three children! But three in five years has me feeling like the harder I run, the more behind I get."
And the husband might reply, "My beautiful wife, maybe we should pray about this and discern whether we should take a little pause. What do you think?"
"I think that's a wonderful idea," she replies. And they pray. Also, the husband encourages his wife to see the doctor to make sure that there are no underlying health problems, and he makes a note to be more attentive to her, and try to assist her more with their children.
And they decide to avoid pregnancy for a couple of years or so, but nonetheless, submit their judgment to God's, and thus do nothing that subverts their own natural functions.
Like someone who may be otherwise healthy but needing to lose a few pounds, they moderate a behavior in such a way as to get things back in balance. Nonetheless, they don't use means that are intrinsically evil.
After a few years, as the children get to school age, and are now at a point where they can assist with chores around the house, the couple prayerfully decide that they've postponed any future children long enough.
A few more children come their way over the course of another seven or eight years, the couple taking a bit of a time-out after each child is born, as the wife ages and needs a little more of a rest between little fellows. Except for the surprise of little Marie, who came almost precisely a year after her brother - she just couldn't wait to get here.
And then the children cease to come. Well, she's 40, she's had six children - blessings all - but perhaps natural fertility is waning. The couple are perhaps a little disappointed - they'd sort of always dreamt of being able to field their own baseball team with maybe one or two relief pitchers in the bullpen - but no efforts are made to try to grasp at further fertility.
The couple accept that God thought that six was what they could handle. And concern themselves little about tracking cycles, etc.
And then, four or five years later, the wife awakens one morning, sick as a dog, in a way that occurred six times previously to her. She and her husband celebrate that night their unanticipated joy.