In our last article in this series, we focused on the ills that Pope Paul VI predicted would happen if contraceptives became widely adopted. And it turns out that Paul was a prophet to our generation, one who has been largely ignored. However, there are two other great issues that have become much more common in our world because people ignore Humanae Vitae: abortion and homosexuality.
One of the reasons the Church opposes contraceptives is because we oppose abortion. It should be noted that many things that are sold as contraceptives, for example IUDs, are not actually contraceptives. A contraceptive, by definition, is something that prevents pregnancy from occuring. But there are many medicines and devices that are used in a way that does not prevent fertilization. Instead, these things prevent implantation of the embryo and cause the unborn child to be aborted at a very early stage. So instead of using a contraceptive, these women are actually using abortifacients.
But there is more to it than that.
I have heard people argue that if the Church would only allow for contraceptives, then there would be less abortions. The argument goes like this:
“Abortions are the result of unwanted pregnancies, since people who want pregnancies don’t get abortions. Contraceptives reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies, since the people using them, by definition, do not want a pregnancy. Therefore since contraceptives reduce the amount of unwanted pregnancies, they will reduce abortions.”
The argument seems practically logical on its face. But it turns out that one of its premises is false.
Pope St. John Paul II wrote Evangelium Vitae as a guide to the Church’s role in creating a culture of life that would oppose the modern culture of death. In this encyclical, John Paul wrote: It is frequently asserted that contraception, if made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion. The Catholic Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion, because she obstinately continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception. When looked at carefully, this objection is clearly unfounded. It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in the “contraceptive mentality”—which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act—are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected.” (Evangelium Vitae, 13)
It turns out that when contraceptives are widely used, we find an increase, not a decrease in abortions. Why is that?
It has to do with what John Paul called the “contraceptive mentality.” Someone who engages in contracepting has separated in their mind what Pope Paul VI said was inseparable in the sexual act: the unitive nature and the procreative. Once someone makes this fallacious division, then life becomes in their minds not a natural consequence but an unwanted side effect of sex.
On top of this, it should be noted that contraceptives are not full proof. Condoms may have a 99% effectiveness when used properly, but studies have shown that few people actually use them properly to be that effective. And once you tell someone they can engage in a pleasurable activity free of perceived negative consequence, you will an increase in that activity. So we have more people engaging in sexual relations with people with whom they don’t want children using methods that are not nearly as effective as they believe. The result will be millions of “unwanted pregnancies.” And since the contraceptives have already chosen against life before it arrives, it is a smaller step for them to choose against life after it arrives.
People have engaged in same-sex physical relations throughout out history. For most of the last two-thousand years, same-sex activity was shunned by the culture. However, since the late 1960’s, we have seen more and more homosexuality in the mainstream of culture. Part of the reason is this “contraceptive mindset.”
Sex between two people of the same sex will always be wrong because the act can never be life-giving. Humanae Vitae reminded us that the natural end of the sexual act is conception and that anything that frustrates that end is wrong.
Once again, if you divorce life from the sexual act, then the sexual act becomes only about physical affection and pleasure. If that is the only morally necessary component of sex, then there is no logical reason to exclude homosexual sex from acceptable sexual practices.
In other words, there is no argument that allows for contraception that would not ultimately allow for homosexual sex.
I have a suspicion that one of the reasons that many straight people argue so strenuously for the acceptance of homosexuality is because they intuit that any moral restrictions on that activity could logically redound to their own non-compliance with the moral law. If you stand with the moral rightness of contraceptives, then you must stand by the moral rightness of homsexuality.
This will of course lead to a continual widening of acceptance of sexual practices. Do not be surprised as polygamy and incest become more and more mainstream. Watch the fringes of popular culture and how they are breaking down these barriers of acceptance little by little.
And all of this is the natural conclusion of rejecting Humanae Vitae.
In our next article in the series, we will reflect on married life that embraces the teachings of Humanae Vitae.