Were there to be no support in the whole history of ethical and moral thought, were there no acknowledged confirmation from medical science, were the history of legal opinion to the contrary, we would still have to conclude on the basis of God's Holy Word that the unborn child is a person in the sight of God. He is protected by the sanctity of life graciously given to each individual by the Creator, Who alone places His image upon man and grants them any right to life which they have.
Friday, July 26, 2013
Spirit & Life - Contraception: What the Church Teaches
This week's Spirit & Life is by Arland K. Nichols, director of education and evangelization for Human Life International.
Spirit & Life is the weekly e-column of
Human Life International.
This week, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops sponsored a Natural Family Planning Awareness Week
to focus attention on NFP methods and the Catholic Church's teaching on
using NFP. Misconceptions about Natural Family Planning techniques are
still often repeated in the media, and even many Catholics are
unfamiliar with modern NFP methods and the advancements made in
fertility science within the the past few decades. Confusion about NFP
often coincides with a lack of understanding of what the Church actually
teaches about the use of contraception.
On our Truth and Charity Forum
this week, HLI's Arland K. Nichols published a primer on this topic
that I wanted to share with you. If your family and parish are not
already actively engaged in a dialogue about these issues, I hope you
will use this article to spark those discussions. As HLI Founder Father
Marx often said, abortion is the fruit of contraception. The Church's
clear teaching on contraception and the sexual act within marriage is
something we must all be familiar with in our work to bring about a
Culture of Life.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Father Shenan J. Boquet President, Human Life International
Contraception: What the Church Teaches
learning that the Church has a teaching about contraception, it is not
uncommon for some to question why the Church is interested in such
matters. Further, because the Church's teaching on contraception is
rarely given the level of attention and discussion it deserves, it is
often unclear what exactly the Church teaches. This article is a brief
introduction to a beautiful teaching that I believe, when understood,
will be embraced with great joy.
Why does the Church have a teaching about contraception?
The Church has the solemn responsibility to uphold truth, to protect
marriage, and to seek the good of spouses. She has a vested interest in
the good of Her people and society at large. Her teaching regarding
contraception is made "in the light of an integral vision of man and of
his vocation, not only his natural and earthly, but also his
supernatural and eternal vocation" (Humanae Vitae 7). We have
been made by God and for God, and the Church proclaims and proposes the
truths necessary to aid men and women to live this life in His light and
love so that they might enjoy eternal life with Him. The Church teaches
because she loves every member who, as Scripture reminds us, is set
free by truth alone both in this life and for the next. Far from a
never-ending list of "no's," the Church's teachings about contraception
and marriage are primarily an affirmation of great goods to which the
Church proclaims a resounding "Yes."
What is marriage?
Scripture affirms that marriage is not a creation of man, but an
institution of nature that has been divinely ordained by God. Marriage
is a beautiful life-long covenantal relationship between one man and one
woman. It is exclusive and open to new life. Marriage is "the wise
institution of the Creator to realize in mankind His design of love" and
the marriage between the baptized has been raised by Christ to the
dignity of a sacrament (HV 8). Through marriage, spouses might enrich
one another's lives through union in love, and so that their mutual love
might give rise to new life. This is expressed beautifully in Scripture
by Adam who, upon seeing Eve, exclaimed "at last this one is bone of my
bone and flesh of my flesh," and it is enriched further by God's first
command to "be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:28).
So what does the Church teach about contraception?
The marital act is and must always remain open to new life. The union
of spouses through conjugal love must never be made deliberately closed
to life or love. As Pope Paul VI explained, "The Church...teaches that
each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic
relationship to the procreation of human life" (HV 12). In God's divine
plan the marital act unites them in love and gives rise to new life. God
has established an "inseparable connection" between these unitive and
procreative purposes of marital love, and when a couple rejects one of
these beautiful purposes of their sexual union they harm their spouse
and their marriage-even if their intentions are good. Contraceptive
intercourse involves a choice for the kind of act that is against the
possibility of new life so as to prevent pregnancy. It deliberately
makes infertile a sexual act within marriage that should be fertile. The
couple who freely and knowingly does this commits a mortal sin.
It sounds like the Church teaches that contraception is anti-life?
Yes, this is one reason the Church recognizes contraception to be
immoral. Contraception contributes to a culture of death by creating an
environment in which potential children are treated as an unwelcome
burden, an impediment to personal goals, or even worse, an enemy to be
avoided at all costs. This negativity toward new life is why a child
conceived following a contraceptive intercourse is described by society
as "un-planned," "an accident," or "un-wanted." Blessed John Paul II
noted that contraception and abortion are "fruits of the same tree."
"Indeed," he writes, "the pro-abortion culture is especially strong
precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected" (Evangelium Vitae
13). Recent studies have confirmed that higher rates of contraceptive
use do not reduce demand for abortion, but rather increase abortion
rates because it becomes a sort of "Plan C" after a woman becomes
unexpectedly pregnant. Perhaps most importantly, new life is the
"supreme gift" and "crowning glory" of marriage, and couples should
always be open (and never opposed to) the fruit of their love.
But what about our need to express love to one another?
Recall that Jesus revealed to us that the true and full nature of love
is that love is self-gift. Husbands and wives are called to foster love
and unity within their marriage. Every couple seeks marriage precisely
because they ardently desire to love deeply and fully. But, love is a
choice, and love is hard. Instead of facilitating love, contraception
actually makes it more difficult to love. In Blessed John Paul II's
Theology of the Body, he explains that we communicate with our bodies.
Marital intercourse (no contraceptives) allows for spouses to fully give
and receive one another - there are no barriers, there is no
withholding of self from one's beloved. But with contraceptive
intercourse couples reject one another's fertility, protect themselves
from one another, and withhold a full gift of self. They reject a
potential child who is the embodiment of their love, their incarnate "I
love you." "Contraception introduces a radical contradiction between
what a couple desires by intercourse and the act that they choose." John
Paul emphasized that "'[W]hen the conjugal act is deprived of its inner truth because it is deprived artificially of its procreative capacity, it also ceases to be an act of love.' Contraceptive intercourse is incapable of the complete gift of self that married couples truly desire" (Nichols, Ethics and Medics, Feb 2013). Ultimately, contraception is opposed to love.
Does this mean we have to breed like rabbits?
Not at all. Blessed John Paul II stressed that, "unfortunately,
Catholic thought is often misunderstood on this point, as if the Church
supported an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples
to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future. But
one need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to know that
this is not so." When couples have serious reasons to postpone having
children they may do so by abstaining from intercourse periodically be
using "Natural Family Planning"
or "Fertility Awareness." We must generously, prayerfully, and
responsibly consider how many children to have and when to have them
while always maintaining a commitment to being open to new life and