May 08, 2012


By Deacon Patrick Moynihan *

I recently stumbled across a CNN interview with President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines called "A Prophylactic to Poverty." Not surprisingly, the premise of the piece is that easier, less stigmatized access to contraception would curb the Philippines’ poverty problem. To begin the interview, CNN’s Anna Coren coldly states, as if it were an uncontestable fact, “One of the big reasons that there is poverty in this country (Philippines) is the lack of contraception or that contraception is not allowed.” She adds just as matter-of-factly, “And, the Church at the end of the day is responsible for this.”

Fortunately, President Aquino quickly points out that the interviewer’s basic assumptions are wrong. He calmly states that contraception is not illegal and is readily available in the Philippines. He also retorts, “The Church does not make the laws in this country.” He is right on all counts. Contraceptive Prevalence (CP), the most common stat used to measure accessibility and use of artificial birth control, is over 50% in the Philippines. And, the Philippines is by no means a theocracy.

More importantly, CP rates and national Catholicity levels prove to have little to do with poverty. Viet Nam and Nicaragua both have much higher CPs but are both poorer nations on a GDP per capita basis. Austria, a very Catholic country, has a similar CP to the Philippines, but its GDP per capita is over 25 times higher. The US’s CP is 75%; however, half the pregnancies reported in the US are still self-designated as unplanned and 40% of children are born outside of marriage. So, it appears both Coren’s facts and the conclusions she draws from them are incorrect. 

It is true that the Catholic Church rejects the use of all artificial birth control, especially those that are abortifacient. However, the Church does not promote the birth of more children than a family can support. Instead, the Church encourages married couples to practice natural family planning (NFP) in order to match family size to economic means. The Church promotes prosperity and dignity—not poverty. The Church is a net ender of poverty, not a contributor.

Obviously, since I am a Catholic and actively support the Church’s teaching on contraception, I am a bit piqued by the suggestion that the Church promotes poverty and avoidable suffering. However, what really bothers me is how wrong Coren’s statements are in very practical ways. It is ridiculous to present birth control as a solution to poverty. Reductions in birth rates and family size are results of economic growth, not causes of it.

Promoting birth control as poverty control ignores the impact of individual choices and of weak or absent social structures on the problems of poverty.

Poverty is a result of broken family structures, bad personal decisions, poor government, and lack of education and employment, far more than it is a result of what some may see as ‘extra kids’ born to strong, unified families of the sort that would be in a position to make decisions based on what the Church teaches. Therefore, unless a nation is willing, like China, to impose birth control no matter what it takes, poverty is not changeable through contraception.

Unplanned children are most often the result of no plans, and sometimes irrational choices, not the struggle of couples to find more effective ways to make plans. For example, just how likely is it that a 22 year-old male, who has chosen to have intercourse with a 16 year-old female (all too common in my neck of the impoverished woods), will make a second choice to use a condom, having made such a bad first choice? Unless being rational and responsible is a totally random act, it is hard to bet that he will. This is why birth control is not only immoral, but an ineffective solution to poverty. It is a right-side-of-the-equation solution—an attempt to clean up the negative outcomes of the more basic issues causing impoverishment. 

Anyone who takes the time to read "Humanae Vitae," which first promulgated the Church’s instruction against artificial birth control usage in 1968, will be impressed by the Church’s sympathy for the struggles and sacrifices involved in raising a family, and by Pius VI’s prediction of what a contraceptive culture would experience. The interviewer’s viewpoint on the Church’s position on the family and her understanding of the causes of poverty are misconceptions at best—if not downright defamation of religion.

Deacon Patrick Moynihan graduated Culver Military Academy in 1983, from Brown University with BA in Sanskrit and Classics in 1987, and from Providence College with an MA in Religious Studies [Theology] in 1999.

He taught Latin and English in a Catholic High School from 1987 to 1990, traded commodities, futures and options for an international trading company from 1990 to 1995 and directed a free Catholic mission school in Haiti for academically gifted children from the poorest areas around Port au Prince from 1996 to 2006.

Deacon Moynihan was ordained in October of 2001 as a permanent deacon for the Diocese of Rockford [IL] where he was the director of formation and later the Office for the Permanent Diaconate from 2001 to 2006. He has since gone back to Haiti and is currently the president of The Haitian Project.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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