Led Into the TruthWhy the pro-life movement in its current form has no chance

I was one of the crazy folks at the March for Life this year who stayed.  Yep: we knew there was a blizzard coming; we knew we would be trapped for longer than we had planned, and yet we came anyway.  We came because we wanted to show that our commitment to life was stronger than a bit of inconvenience.  For all of the drastic predictions in Washington, D.C., from meteorologists to organizers to even bishops of the Catholic Church, other than a little inconvenience, it just wasn't that big a deal.  I haven't heard of any consequences more than groups spending more on food and lodging than they thought and busses being trapped on the turnpike-an event that has produces some great pictures of what seems to have been an extraordinary mid-blizzard outdoor snow-altar Mass.  

I was at the rally before the March.  I listened to politicians talk about how they will end funding for Planned Parenthood.  I didn't hear anyone mention that they had been voting for it for years.  A presidential candidate gave a strong speech.  People cheered.  A protestant minister thanked the Catholics for leading the charge in the pro-life movement and assured us that they are with us.  People cheered.  And then we marched as the blizzard began.

And we will be back next year and the year after.  We will make headway some years and fall back others.  We will try to convert people to the pro-life cause and will find that often our efforts are of questionable value, and I think it is because of a huge, glaring, striking, and ultimately fatal omission in the mainstream pro-life movement: in all of our promotional materials and sloganeering about abortion and euthanasia and death penalty and stem cell research and all the other things we mention, no one wants to touch the most widespread anti-life American practice with a 10-foot (or any length) pole.  No one wants to talk about artificial contraception.

Artificial contraception, whether in chemical or physical barrier form, is explicitly and brazenly anti-life.  The entire purpose of contraception is to prevent a life from coming into the world.  In 2012, Gallup reported that 82% of Catholics think using contraception is "morally acceptable."  I suspect that the number of Catholics who actually use or have used artificial birth control in their lives is well north of that number, though it is notoriously difficult to get reliable data.

I don't know why the pro-life movement doesn't really talk about contraception.  Perhaps it is because we are trying to elicit comments like I heard from the evangelical speaker at the March for Life Rally-perhaps we want people to be with us.  Maybe we're afraid that all those politicians will abandon us.  Maybe it's an intentional "one step at a time" approach.  But perhaps it is because the practice of the Church has been to be silent and even encouraging of closed-to-life sex.  The Movement ignores it because the Church ignores it.  I have heard numerous stories from women who have been told by priests that a tubal ligation is okay for them or that they can use contraception-after all, they've had enough kids.  I join the chorus-well, maybe the small schola-of people who question why this issue is never brought up in homilies or in other talks aimed at the wide audience of Sunday Mass attendees?  Each year practically every Mass-going Catholic in the United States has to endure some sort of Annual Appeal homily or video to raise money for the chancery, but the vast majority of Catholics have never heard why the Church is opposed to contraception-and those that have heard probably couldn't explain it to others.

There is a profound reason that we as a movement and as a Church are prepared to stand so strongly for the dignity of a life in utero-even if it is a life unwanted by the mother.  Even the smallest human life is worthy of our protection precisely because it is a miracle-the work of our Creator in heaven who breathes his own dignity into each person.  This life is not valuable because the mother or the father "wants" it-in fact, that has nothing to do with it.  The child is valuable because God made it and has imparted his own divine grace to it.  The baby's dignity comes from God, not from us.  We can respect and enhance dignity, or we can destroy it; we cannot create it.

So why doesn't this belief translate into sexual activity?  When we use artificial contraception, we make the same claim a pro-choice person makes: a child has value only if I want it.  Well, what if God wants it?  What if God's will for you and your spouse is to have 8 children, not 2?  What if it's his will that you live in a smaller house with kids sharing bedrooms and don't ever get to go on a fancy vacation and don't get to do things you always wanted to do?  How can we say to a woman who is pregnant that the life she doesn't want in her womb is valuable when we will not say to a contracepting couple that the life they don't want is valuable too?  Are not both situations the opposition of a flawed human will to the perfect divine will?

Artificial contraception is explicitly and unmistakably anti-life.  It is profoundly "pro-choice"-I get to choose when, where, how, and how many times I will be a parent.  Now don't get me wrong-I know the difference between abortion and artificial contraception is real: in one an existing child dies, and in the other a child is denied existence.  Both actions are closed to God's will.  I don't mean to suggest that contraception and abortion are equal from a moral standpoint-obviously abortion kills an existing human being whereas contraception just prevents one from happening in the first place, but the basic attitude of the parents involved is disturbingly similar.

And this is why the pro-life movement has no chance of success unless it addresses contraception.  

Pope Paul VI recognized the profound similarity in intention between artificial contraception and abortion in his mostly-ignored encyclical Humanae vitae.  He says:

Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children.  Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary.

Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation-whether as an end or as a means.  (§14)

Paul VI considers abortion, sterilization, and artificial contraception to all be illicit means of regulating the number of children a person has.  In the encyclical, all of these actions are lumped by the Holy Father into prohibited actions contrary to the doctrine of marriage and contrary to God's loving design (§8), married love (§9), and the natural law (§11). Contraception is a violation of the "reverence due to the whole human organism" (§17), so we should not be surprised that a contracepting culture quickly becomes one that takes irreverence for humanity to its logical end.

What is at stake in the pro-life movement is the entire vision of human sexuality.  Sexual responsibility that ensures all children are born and wanted will never be accomplished by better or more thorough use of contraception.  What is required is a vision of the human sexual person in the full dimensions of freedom and responsibility-a vision that calls people closer to the plan God has for them.  This plan necessarily includes openness to life in marriage.

I spoke to my students from Georgia Tech and some high school students at the March during our snowed-in days.  I told them that to win the battle for life we have to be not so much about legislative battles-though those are very important-but we need to be about the conversion of hearts.  We need to encourage people to love all life and value it-to see them as God sees them.  But this starts with us.  It starts with our hearts: how open to life am I?

Every year around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, I see the meme going around about Mother Teresa talking with Hillary Clinton.  Apparently the First Lady asked Mother Teresa why the United States had not yet had a woman president.  Mother Teresa responded immediately: She has probably been aborted.  It is a stirring and shocking thought.  But Mother Teresa was only half right-because she also might have been denied her very existence through contraception.

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