Saturday, April 4, 2009

Outlaw contraception? Wifey and I had dinner with some friends the other night, one of whom teaches RCIA in our parish. We got into the conversation, as is pretty common, about pro-life issues. He told us that when he discusses the history of abortion he'll point out the three major US Supreme Court cases that have led to the current state of affairs, Griswold v Connecticut, Roe v Wade and Casey v Planned Parenthood. What is most interesting is the connection between contraception and abortion. If we are to have a serious discussion of the problems, we must recognize this relationship:

This link between the contraceptive mentality and abortion was well illustrated in the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey which confirmed Roe v. Wade. This decision stated that "In some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception. ... For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized 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."

Commenting on this Supreme Court decision, Professor Janet Smith said: "The Supreme Court decision has made completely unnecessary any efforts to 'expose' what is really behind the attachment of the modern age to abortion. As the Supreme Court candidly states, we need abortion so that we can continue our contraceptive lifestyles. It is not because contraceptives are ineffective that a million and a half women a year seek abortions as backups to failed contraceptives. The 'intimate relationships' facilitated by contraceptives are what make abortions 'necessary.' ... Here the word 'intimate' means 'sexual'; it does not mean 'loving and close.' Abortion is most often the result of sexual relationships in which there is little true intimacy and love, in which there is no room for a baby, the natural consequence of sexual intercourse."


Well, wifey brought the subject up in the CatholicVote chatroom and was called fascist, theocratic, and foolish for wanting to outlaw contraception.

The question is, though, is that wrong? First off, let's point out that the words "should, could, would, ideal, practical and likely" all have different meanings and are not interchangeable. This seems to be the mistake my wife's scoffers made.

The case is often made that abortion and contraception are not the same thing; they don't have the same moral weight. Well, that's sort of right. In the eyes of the Catholic faith, both are mortal sins; however, abortion is more grave matter because it is the direct taking of an innocent life and automatically brings excommunication. Contraception, on the other hand, is intentionally making infertile the marital act, preventing an unintended pregnancy.

These differences alone will make it obvious that the response of law to these two actions should be different. While abortion should clearly be against the law, and such a case can be made without any recourse to a theological basis, the burden of argument is on the side that would outlaw contraception. This is in part because it can be shown that there is civil interest in protecting the integrity of every individual, but it is more difficult to show the civil interest in preventing every act of contraception. It is not, however, sufficient to note the differences between these two actions. As the Supreme Court decision points out, they are geared toward the same end: sex without responsibility.

Contraception affirms that a couple wants to have sex and avoid the responsibility of bearing a child. Abortion affirms that the couple is so strong in their desire to avoid that responsibility that they are willing to end the child's life. Keep in mind, my choice of language here is not to convey lack of compassion for the circumstances in which many women make the decision to abort their child, but I am convinced and will try to convince you also, that it is always the wrong decision. Euphemisms about what the decision involves will serve no one in reaching the truth.

Let's try a thought experiment here for a moment. What happens if abortion were outlawed in the U.S. today, including surgical abortions, Plan B pills, RU-486, and even contraceptives that are known to have abortifacient properties, but other forms of contraception were allowed to continue? I think the answer is obvious: there would be a lot more pregnant women.

Let's consider that proponents of contraception-awareness argue about its effectiveness (ignoring the arguments made by the abstinence-only community), claiming that education and availability of contraception leads to fewer unintended pregnancies. But if that is actually the case, why are there 1.7 million abortions every year in the U.S.? Did these women (and their husbands/boyfriends)change their minds after becoming pregnant? No, they never intended to be pregnant, but they nonetheless engaged in the only natural activity that makes one pregnant. And the existence of widely-available contraception makes for a culture in which individuals need no qualms about recreative or non-committal sexual encounters.

So let's go back to our thought experiment for an analogy. Say, for instance, I call the local gas company to install my new stove. In the process, something goes wrong and the gas ignites, exploding my house. (Let's assume no one is hurt.) I can sue the gas company for redress of wrongs. I paid them for a service; they burned my house down. I have recourse when I buy a product or service that fails to live up to its expectations.

But what recourse is there for a couple that contracepts in their sexual activity and finds that the contraception fails? In our world without abortion, there is no recourse to avoid responsibility. Either the child must be supported and raised, or given to others who will support and raise her. (Or there is the awful alternative of illegal abortions.)

I think it is not likely nor wise (at this time) to even consider outlawing contraception, but we need to be absolutely clear that a contraceptive culture is an abortive culture; to end abortion we need to make the case that we need to leave contraception behind. The only way to do that responsibly is to promote chastity.

I know this is not the last word on this subject by me or any of you, but I hope this sparks some reasonable conversation. I welcome your comments. God bless.


Anonymous said...

There are married, loving, non-Catholic couples that contracept using various methods, but if contraception fails, they don't abort the child. They end up by having normal families, with 1-2-3-4 wanted children, without having to abstain from "recreational" sex. Is something wrong with this picture? Why should they be taught to be chaste?

Mike in CT said...


To belabor the point, explain why this couple is open to life yet is contracepting?

Let's consider for the moment that you're suggesting the couple using condoms only, not the multitude of chemical contraceptives that can actually work as abortifacients prior to and including at implantation.

The point is that contraception is a form of using one's spouse/ sexual partner. It says in action that I want to express my love without having to think about responsibility.

I would recommend Dr. Janet Smith's talk entitled "Contraception: Why Not?" available here:

She discusses the negative effects of contraception on marital relationships, and the benefits of Natural Family Planning, regardless of whether the couple is bound by faith to be obedient to the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church.