In discussing the Health and Human Services (HHS) Mandate that will attempt to force the Catholic Church to pay for contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization, I have discovered that many Catholics, while generally understanding why we object to paying for sterilization and abortifacients, are less than enthusiastic about our refusal to pay for contraceptives. This “lack of enthusiasm” for the Church’s position on Contraception, along with political irritation, makes many Catholics ambivalent or even hostile to the Bishop’s call that we oppose the HHS mandate.
Why we won’t pay for contraceptives – While the fundamental issue is this matter is Religious Freedom and the First Amendment, (which we have discussed here before and will again in the future), it may be worthwhile to focus for a moment on why we religiously oppose the use and funding of contraceptives. This discussion on contraception cannot be complete in a brief blog post, but setting forth the principled reasons of the Church teaching may be helpful.
In looking at the issue, we might begin by looking at the “big picture.” For while many people fail to see why contraception is harmful in a particular marriage, it is easier for them to begin to see the harm that contraceptives have caused in our wider culture. Looking at some of the harm may be of help in addressing the overall negative attitude that many, including most Catholics, bring to the Church teaching on Contraception.
For indeed, a generation has passed since the publication of the boldly pastoral and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae which upheld the ancient ban on the use of artificial contraception. Perhaps no teaching of the Church causes the worldly to scoff more than our teaching against artificial contraception. The eyes of so many, Catholics among them, roll and the scoffing begins: Unrealistic! Out of touch! Uncompassionate! Silly! You’ve got to be kidding!
The Lord Jesus had an answer to those who ridiculed him in a similar way: Time will prove where wisdom lies. (Matt 11:16-18)
And to a large degree time has proven where wisdom lies. For some forty or more years after widespread acceptance of contraception many grave cultural consequences have set in, related to sexuality and mistaken notions of sex. Among the consequences are: widespread and open promiscuity, which has led to higher and higher levels of STDs, abortion, teenage pregnancy, single parent homes, divorce, and to a decline in marriage rates. Recall that advocates of contraceptives, beginning in the 1950s and into the 1960s made many promises of the “benefits” of contraceptives.
The Promises of the Contraception Advocates:
- Happier Marriages and a lower divorce rates since couples could have all the sex they wanted without “fear” of pregnancy.
- Lower abortion rates since there would be far fewer “unwanted” children.
- Greater dignity for women who will no longer be “bound” by their reproductive system.
- More recently contraceptive advocates have touted the medical benefits of preventing STDs and AIDS especially by the use of condoms.
Paul VI in refuting these benefits made a few predictions of his own.
What were some of the concerns and predictions made by Pope Paul VI? (All of these are quotes from Humanae Vitae)
- Consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity (Humanae Vitae (HV) # 17)
- 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. (HV # 17)
- 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. (HV # 17)
- Who will prevent public authorities from…impos[ing] their use on everyone. (HV # 17)
So, forty years later, who had the wisdom to see the true effects of Contraception, the world or the Church? Well lets consider some of the data:
- The divorce rate did not decline. It skyrocketed. Divorce rates soared through the 1970s to to the 1990s to almost 50% of marriages failing. In recent years the divorce rate has dropped slightly but this may also be due to the fact that far fewer people get married in the first place, preferring to cohabitate and engage in a kind of serial polygamy drifting from relationship to relationship. The overall divorce rate despite its slight drop remains high, hovering in the low 40% range. Contraceptive advocates claim that divorce is a complicated matter. True enough. But they cannot have it both ways, claiming that contraception would be a “simple” fix to make marriages happier and then, when they are so horrifyingly wrong, claiming that divorce is “complicated.” Paul VI on the other hand predicted rough sailing for marriage in advent of contraception. Looks like the Pope was right.
- Abortion rates did not decrease. They too skyrocketed. Within five years the pressure to have more abortion available led to its “legalization” in 1973. It has been well argued that, far from decreasing the abortion rate, contraception actually fueled it. Since contraception routinely fails, abortion became the “contraception of last recourse.” Further, just as the Pope predicted sexual immorality became widespread and this too led to higher rates of abortion. It is hard to compare promiscuity rates between periods since people “lie” a lot when asked about such things. But one would have to be very myopic not to notice the huge increase in open promiscuity, cohabitation, pornography and the like. All of this bad behavior, made more possible by contraceptives, also fuels abortion rates. Chalk up another one for the Pope and the Church.
- The question of women’s dignity is hard to measure and different people have different measures. Women do have greater career choices. But is career or vocation the true source of one’s dignity? One’s dignity is surely more than their economic and utilitarian capacity. Sadly, motherhood has taken a real back seat in popular culture. And, as the Pope predicted women have been hypersexualized as well. (Yesterday’s Superbowl Ads featured large amounts of female nudity to sell even products like Doritos). The dignity of women as wives and mothers has been set aside in favor of the sexual pleasure they offer. As the Pope predicted many modern men, no longer bound by marriage for sexual satisfaction, use women and discard them on a regular basis. Men “get what they want” and it seems many women are willing to supply it rather freely. In this scenario men win. Women are often left with STDs, they are often left with children, and as they get older and “less attractive” they are often left alone. I am not sure this is dignity. But you decide who is right and if women really have won in the “new morality” that contraception helped usher in. I think the Pope wins this point as well.
- As for preventing STDs and AIDS, again, big failure. STDs did not decrease and were not prevented. Infection rates skyrocketed through the 1970s and 1980s. AIDS which appeared on the scene later continues to show horribly high rates. Where is the promised deliverance? Contraceptives it seems, do not prevent anything. Rather they encourage the spread of these diseases by encouraging the bad behavior that causes them. Here too it looks like the Church was right and the world was wrong.
- Add to this list the huge teenage pregnancy rates, the devastation of single parent families, broken hearts and even poverty. The link to poverty may seem obscure, but the bottom line is that single motherhood is the chief cause of poverty in this country. Contraception encourages promiscuity. Promiscuity leads to teenage pregnancy. Teenage pregnancy leads to single motherhood (absent fatherhood). Single motherhood leads to welfare and poverty. Currently in the inner city over 80% of homes are headed by single mothers. It is the single highest factor related to poverty.
- Declining birth rates are also having terrible effects on contracepting cultures. Europe as we have known it is simply going out of existence. And while many debate endlessly over demographic data and how to interpret it, Europe’s future seems increasingly Muslim and the social network wherein the young care for the old has been largely gutted. I have written more on this HERE: Contraception is Cultural Suicide! Likewise here in the USA white and African American communities are below replacement level. Thankfully our immigrants are largely Christian and share our American vision. But for the Church the declining birthrates are now resulting in closing schools, parishes, declining vocations and the like. We cannot sustain what we have on a population that is no longer replacing itself. Immigration has insulated us from this to some extent, but low Mass attendance has eclipsed that growth and we are starting to shut down a lot of our operations.
- Sexual Confusion – Contraception “decouples” sex from having children. It emphasizes sex as pleasure. for its own sake, and simply for the bonding of the adults involved. And while the Church does teach that marital sex does have a unitive dimension, it is not to be separated from its link to the procreative dimension. Having largely separated out the procreative dimension from sex, leads to a loss in the sacredness of sex. For if sex is just for pleasure, and not intrinsically related to having children, why should it be thought of as so sacred or serious. And why wait until marriage and maturity to start having it? And if sex is just about adults having pleasure and sharing intimate love, then many stop understanding why homosexual acts (which cannot be open to procreation) are flawed and intrinsically disordered.
- Thus we have sown in the wind and are now reaping the whirlwind.
- And of course it is the children who ultimately pay. For, even though we have tried through a contraceptive mentality to say that sex has little to do with having children, the fact is it does. And our children are born into a cultural whirlwind that is largely caused by sexual confusion and irresponsibility. And contraceptives and the contraceptive mentality have been a huge factor in the unraveling of our sexual sensibilities, and the breakdown of our families. Bad behavior has been encouraged, and all the bad consequences that flow from it are flourishing.
Most people seem largely disinterested in this data. Hearts have become numb and minds have gone to sleep. I hope you are not among them, and that you might consider this information well and share it with others. Time HAS proved where wisdom lay. It’s time to admit the obvious
What I have tried to do here is to show some of the reasons the Church opposes the use and promotion of contraceptive practices. There are actually insights that bring forth this opposition. It is not just a backward bunch of clerics in the Vatican opposing sex. Rather it is an ancient wisdom that makes good sense.
When sex is decoupled from child-bearing many grave distortions are introduced into a culture. As the proper understanding of sex becomes unraveled, so does the family. And it is children who suffer most.
While the crisis of Western Culture has more than contraception for its cause, contraception has still played a huge role in setting off many whirlwinds that have swept away much that was good. It is no accident or mere coincidence that in the very 50 years that contraceptives have become widely available and used, that the family has gone into a kind of nuclear winter. The statistics make it clear that more than half of children (and far more in minority communities) will never know the two parent family that most of us who are over fifty experienced as normal and ubiquitous.
Of course another fundamental reason we oppose Contraception is rooted in the ancient practice, stretching back into biblical times and carried forward all through the Christian era. Until the 1940 Lambeth conference there never was a Christian Church or communion who approved of contraception. In that fateful year the Anglican Church of England gave the first tip of the hat to contraceptive practice, and slowly, the Protestant denominations all followed. But Catholics, Orthodox and Orthodox Jews have never changed. We continue to hold the ancient and wise insight that sex is intrinsically linked to child bearing, and that the link should never be broken and replaced by other intentions in isolation from that. To do so invites disaster, as we can plainly see.
It will be granted that living the Church teaching on Contraception is not easy. Yet some of the difficulty must also be traced to our seeming obsession with small families. We have argued on this blog at some length about economic realities and many have voiced strong opinions that more than 2 children is just not economically feasible. And yet others with larger families say they do fine. It would seem that a lot has to do with what we want and what our priorities are going to be. And while the arguments will surely continue, it is remains true to this author that the absolute necessity for only 1 or 2 children is not an unassailable fact.
In the end however, Catholics are encouraged to look beyond merely their own family and see what contraception has done to us. Life is bigger than merely what is hard for me, or what I like or don’t like, think or don’t think. Contraception has been a bitter pill that the West has swallowed.
While our fight against the HHS ruling is essentially about religious liberty, Catholics and others must understand that we do not seek to religious freedom merely for some arcane doctrine of no importance, that Catholics or others should say “What’s the big deal?” Rather, opposition to contraception is an essential component in the Catholic teaching on sexuality by which we stand against grave forces that wreak havoc on our culture. We cannot pay for something we see as sinful and destructive.