31 Days of Writing with the Nester, Abortion, Bioethics, Catholics Do What?, Contraception, Marriage, Sex, Theology of the Body, vasectomies

I’m Catholic, can I get a vasectomy/tubal ligation?

October 26, 2014

There have been a number of questions about permanent sterilization during this month-long series, and while I wrote a post on it a while back, I think it deserves a fuller treatment, and a more nuanced explanation.

I know this is a question that many, many couples wrestle with. Even couples who have zero moral qualms whatsoever about shutting down their reproductive functions struggle with the permanence of surgical sterilization, because, well, it’s permanent. And that makes you feel something on a deep emotional and, dare I say, spiritual level.

We know this part of our bodies is sacred. Walk into any delivery room or birthing center and watch the miracle of life unfold and just try to remain unmoved.

There is something profound and powerful at work in our fertility.

The short answer for why Catholics don’t practice permanent sterilization is the same one you’ll get for why Catholics don’t use any other form of contraception: it isn’t broken. 

For those of us who are called to marriage and to parenthood, the invitation to participate directly in God’s creative process by bringing forth new human life is a staggering, gut-wrenching responsibility.

Vasectomies and tubal ligations take the “I will not serve” of contraception and carry it a step further, beyond the moment to moment “not this time” of hormonal contraceptives and barrier methods. They allow us to say with our bodies, in effect, I will not act in accordance with my nature, not now, and not at any point in the future.

In other words, God, you screwed up. I’m not supposed to work this way.

The Church isn’t anti contraception because it’s science. Or because it’s artificial. Or because she has million dollar stock options in thermometers. The Catholic Church (and, up until about 100 years ago, all of Christianity) opposes contraception because it is in direct defiance of the very first thing that He commanded us to do, once He created us, man and woman.

Do you remember?

Be fruitful, and multiply.

(Not: have so many children your uterus falls out and you go bald/die of starvation because you have more children than can fit in your doublewide. But be fruitful, and multiply.)

Children, in Scripture, are only and always a blessing. For couples who have many of them, and for couples who wait in longing for a single one. (Ahem, Abraham.)

There is never a point at which God says, okay, I think we’re good here, plus, you guys, college is so expensive right now, you probably need to go ahead and shut things down and start maxing out that 529 because otherwise you are going to be SO screwed.

If He sends them, we accept them.

And if we can’t accept them? If we are simply not in a place where it would be prudent/loving/responsible/safe/possible to accept a(nother) child?

We don’t. Have. Sex.

If you cannot welcome a child into your family you should not be doing the thing which invites children into your family. It’s that simple. And it’s that difficult.

For couples who have grave, serious reasons why having a child would be absolutely disastrous, how could anything else but abstaining be loving?

Because what if it happens anyway? We all know that couple who still got pregnant, in spite of their best efforts to prevent it. And then what? Hopefully not abortion…but what if the reason for not getting pregnant was a grave medical complication for the mother? How is that fair or loving to her?

It’s not just that, though. It’s not just the “you might still get pregnant even though you’re fixed” argument. It’s also because it’s sexually bulimic. It’s doing one thing with your body, but meaning another. When we do that with our words, it’s called lying. So when we do that with our bodies…it’s still lying. And denying the truth has consequences. Real, tangible, physical, emotional, and spiritual consequences.

Marriage is hard enough when everything is on the up and up. But when a couple chooses to consciously and systematically say one thing with their bodies but mean the opposite, there is going to be tension. There is going to be strife. There is going to be a breakdown in communication and mutual respect. And God knows we don’t need anything more stacked against us, not when it’s already an impossibly tall order. (Matt 19:10)

This is not a condemnation of couples who have made this decision and who regret it. This is, hopefully, a wake up call to couples who have never considered the real spiritual and emotional ramifications of physically severing the connection between sex and reproduction.

While there is no guarantee that either tubal ligations or vasectomies can be reversed, there are doctors out there who are willing to try. Depending on the individual circumstances of the procedure, it can sometimes be done. And even if it doesn’t work, what a huge opportunity for grace and for reconciliation to make that sacrifice, bodily, to attempt to restore what has been damaged.

For couples who are older, it might look a little different. While there is no way to return to one’s childbearing years and make different choices, there is a huge opportunity for older couples to minister to younger couples in the trenches who are considering making this decision for their own marriages.

It’s a message that younger couples desperately need to hear, and there are far too few voices speaking this truth: your bodies are fearfully and wonderfully made, sex was created for marriage, and marriage is designed to be fruitful and life-giving. 

Don’t separate your love! Don’t try to undo what God has intentionally and lovingly written into your bodies. It is good that you are together, and it is good that you love each other enough to participate in bringing forth new life out of that love.

And God knows this world could use a little more love.

Click here for the rest of the series.

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14 Comments

  • Reply Sarah October 26, 2014 at 1:28 pm

    Jenny…..wow! You have a gift for writing and you are rocking it!

  • Reply Martha Winstead October 26, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    I’m kinda hoping this series will be the jumping off point for your future book!?

  • Reply Tia October 26, 2014 at 7:53 pm

    As a non-Catholic, i have to say that this kind of logic is probably not going to convince those who don’t already practice NFP. Basically, because most people who use contraception who feel happy in their marriage won’t buy that contraception has negatively impacted them. I also think it’s a tricky argument because marriages that use NFP etc. could still be very broken, and someone could be using contraception but still, through luck, grace or other factors, have a very self-giving and loving marriage. It’s not an ironclad law, like Force = mass times acceleration, that always and everywhere someone who uses contraception will be less happy in marriage than someone who doesn’t (you might try to argue that they will be happier than if they themselves weren’t using contraception, but that’s an impossible proposition to test).

    Also, while most people wouldn’t characterize their fertility as broken per se, the human reproductive model, in my opinion, WAS broken throughout history. Women didn’t eat enough to conceive except every three to four years, still conceived and carried seven to eight babies, three to four of whom died before the age of 4, and then only one to two were healthy or wealthy enough to have kids themselves. Maternal mortality was high enough that many women who have kids today would have died in times past. The population growth rate for all of history was substantially lower than it is now because a lot of sweet little babies died. So somehow, our modern world has to take into account leaps in medical care and human health that have fundamentally altered how human reproduction plays out. People who use NFP face longer periods of abstinence than humans were ever meant to experience. I guess what I’m saying is that NFP is not something given to humans by God at the dawn of time, it’s a modern and very imperfect accommodation to changes in society. You can argue that it’s the least bad option available, but saying it conforms to our nature is a stretch. It very much doesn’t, but if you are Catholic you believe that it doesn’t lead to mortal sin, which is really the important point.

    • Reply Jenny October 26, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Let me see if I’m following. (And thank you for contributing to the conversation!)

      You are saying that 1. contraception is not fundamentally flawed and damaging to the human person/relationship
      2. Some marriages are troubled no matter what.
      3. NFP is fundamentally flawed, because it requires near heroic levels of abstinence in some cases and
      4. Human fertility is innately flawed to begin with, because disease and poverty have taken the lives of babies and mothers throughout history.

      I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not following how these separate belief statements gel into one cogent argument, either pro or con, or make a compelling case for contraception or sterilization. They seem more like an abstract list of rationalizations.

    • Reply Tia October 27, 2014 at 3:04 am

      I’m not trying to make a case for contraception. I’m saying that some of the statements you made are unlikely to be signed onto by those who are not Orthodox, or at least practicing Catholics. I was responding to a few lines with what secular folks might say in response. I say this because this is what *my husband, who is agnostic, would say, and I’m not actually sure what the counter-response would be.
      1&2. “But when a couple chooses to consciously and systematically say one thing with their bodies but mean the opposite, there is going to be tension. There is going to be strife. There is going to be a breakdown in communication and mutual respect. ”
      Answer: from the outside (and perhaps even inside)many happily married people use contraception and they don’t seem to have an inferior bond in comparison to people who don’t. Good luck trying to convince someone who is in a contraceptive-using marriage that they actually aren’t happy or that they aren’t truly being loving to their spouse.
      3. “The short answer for why Catholics don’t practice permanent sterilization is the same one you’ll get for why Catholics don’t use any other form of contraception: it isn’t broken.”
      4. “In other words, God, you screwed up. I’m not supposed to work this way.”
      Answer: Sure, it may not be broken per se, but our fertility evolved in a very different environment than the one we live in now. So it could be our fertility used to work great in the Pleistocene, but it’s suboptimal in modern times.

      Personally, I don’t think contraception is this awesome, wonderful thing but am not convinced it’s the apocalypse in pill form either.

      I think if you want people to be open to the idea of NFP beyond the crunchy granolas, the “it’s actually fairly effective at preventing pregnancy” and the “we want to have a kid sometime in the next few years” crowd, you have to first convince them a) new children would not be ruinous b) happiness isn’t the be-all-end all c) you can’t always know what will make you happy anyways, so having control is no guarantee of happiness. Those are hard sells in our culture, but to me those are the starting points, and ones that I am realizing more as I get older. Also I think those ideas become apparent to people without having to rely on a particular theological viewpoint.

      I guess I assumed this series was a primer for those outside the church or those unfamiliar with Catholic teaching, and so was just responding from that point of view, a totally secular one. Not really trying to make a case one way or another.

    • Reply Jenny October 27, 2014 at 3:43 am

      Okay, I hear you. Very good points.

      I’ll try to speak more to the ideas you present here as I wrap up this month, particularly: “new children would not be ruinous” and
      we can’t always know what will make us happy.”

      So, so true. Thanks for taking the time to flesh this out.

  • Reply Christina Gignoux October 27, 2014 at 2:04 am

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  • Reply Christina Gignoux October 27, 2014 at 2:25 am

    As a cradle Catholic, who’s husband had his vasectomy reversed, thank you for writing this! We fell into the cultural trap, made this permanent decision hastily, and by the grace of God found our way back to the Truth. We have had to work through the years of damage we caused in our relationship by inviting this sin and division into our marriage. We have also been blessed beyond words with 4 more babies, 3 of whom are here with us for a total of 6. I cannot tell you how many people have heard our story and have expressed their regret about their own sterilizations, people buy the lies of our culture. You inspire me to be more brave in my blogging about this subject! I am enjoying this series! God bless.

  • Reply linda November 1, 2014 at 2:51 am

    an USA based woman who was barren for 27 years has delivered baby boy after reportedly being pregnant for 5 years.
    the woman Ana Zick delivered on Sunday at Evangelical church, during church service. Ana who is married to zick said her problem started after she had a miscarriage.
    she said she has been looking for the fruit of her womb since then, she had sought both medical and spiritual help but all seen to no avail, she try everything to make sure she got pregnant again but all her effort bring no good result, till one day a man introduce DROKOJIE to her, who can help her, the man gave her the the DR contact and Email and told her to try and contact the doctor and also have faith. the woman really did, before she noticed that she was pregnant but at the same time, she was observing her normal menstrual circles, she said she waited endlessly to deliver but all expectations was to no avail, this prompted her to relocate, her searching for solution brought her to the church where she eventually delivered a baby boy, according to her, those years were traumatic because he husband was under intensive pressure to send her always, i was rejected by my relations, my husband family who did not give me the chance of bearing a child, my only consolations was god and this doctor called DROKOJIEHEALINGHOME the man introduce to me that help me get the pregnant the first place.
    on how it happen, she explained that she noticed that water was coming out from her private part and she went to a room to check what was happening before she know it, the baby came out alive, she said she raised an alarm which attracted residents who trooped to the church in droves to see the woman and the new born baby.
    when the PM news reports to the place, residents were still visiting the church to congratulate the woman and her husband, zick who expressed shock on what happen.
    zick said he did not believe his wife over the years when she claimed to be pregnant because he had waited in vain, he said he was grateful to god and [email protected] for what he had done and thanked the well wisher for their support, she also advice everybody who had the same problem of getting pregnant or any others problem to please contact the man for help and have faith because that is the most reason she came out to shear the testimony to word.
    the same god that use this man to help me, will also use he to help you too.

  • Reply Catholics Do What? (21 Days to Understanding the Catholic Church’s Teachings on Sex and Marriage) – Mama Needs Coffee July 13, 2015 at 9:33 pm

    […] Day 15: I’m Catholic, can I get a vasectomy? […]

  • Reply JSG July 28, 2015 at 9:21 pm

    It should say “tubal ligation”, not “tubal libation.” Though, that’s a pretty funny typo. Thanks for this post, I know lots of people who permanently change their bodies and it makes me so sad.

  • Reply Db March 1, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    I just read this article on contraception. I am a devoted Catholic. where in Catholic doctrine does it tell women to undo a tubal ligation to reconcile with God?

  • Reply Mid2016Commentor July 18, 2016 at 9:23 pm

    What about the couple who already has 5 or 6 kids and several miscarriages with a D and C? What if the wife has a medical condition that would be detrimental to her health or life if she go pregnant? I’m guessing that the church’s direction would be to abstain from sexual relations completely? But what is the greater good here – a sexless marriage or use birth control/vasectomy/tubal and allow that part of the marriage to continue to grow? I’m only suggesting barrier methods as I know the other forms are abortifacient I know sex is not the end all be all but it is so integral to the union. Some people its not that big a deal, but to others, it means more. We barely make love once a month – some may say “wow your doing better than we are, we’ve been abstaining for a year.” Congratulations – you’re super awesome…. I’m not suggesting that a husband and wife should be making love every day but…NFP sucks. You could even say the Joseph and Mary did not have sex and they turned out fine – please don’t bring that up – they had so much more grace in that department (or maybe not). NFP is a great on the books but when it doesn’t work for you or you are not able to get it right – it sucks. But you might say “well it is for us to suffer, life is not perfect”. Just because we can suffer doesn’t mean we have to. I agree with the above comment that there are plenty of catholic using birth control that are perfectly happy with their marriage (or they are just as screwed up as the rest of us and the birth control doesn’t effect anything) Sorry its late and just alot of rambling there.

    Peace.

    • Reply Jenny Uebbing July 19, 2016 at 7:43 am

      such a hard situation. I’m sorry. And the Church looks tenderly on couples whose story this is, I’m certain of that. But she will never, as our good mother, recommend something that is inherently damaging and contradictory to married love: contraception. In any form, it is intrinsically wounding to the sexual union and makes the husband and wife accomplices in each other’s sin. It’s fundamentally opposed to the oneness and openness to life of marriage and married love. I know this isn’t an easy answer, and I’m praying it isn’t received as a trite on, because my God, you have been given a heavy cross. But it is a seasonal one, that much I can say with certainty. Is a lot of abstinence during the fertile years of marriage an easy thing to bear? By no means. But no, I don’t believe God has less for couples who are tasked with this seemingly impossible burden. I believe He has more for you, if anything. But that doesn’t make it easy or even ease the pain of comprehending 10 or 15 years of long weeks and months of abstinence. I can only return to the Church’s wisdom and the teachings of Our Lord and see that He calls us over and over again to be not afraid, and says that his yoke is easy. Not that the yoke doesn’t exist, or that it won’t hurt, but that if we accept it from Him, He will make it light.

      I’m praying for you, and NFP *does* suck, but not as much as intentionally wounding your marriage through the use of birth control. Do most couples – including Catholics – use it? Probably. But does that make it right? And are their marriages suffering in ways we can’t see, from the outside? Peace to you as well, and thank you for your vulnerability and honesty. I wish more of us would admit what is hard, what is breathtakingly difficult in a culture that has avowed to practice sex and marriage in a fundamental oppositional way to the teachings of Christ. This is our mission field.

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