Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
Sex is an extremely powerful force, and never a neutral one. Either it serves life, or it serves death. Its fruit can be the highest joy of earth, bringing forth new life in the embrace of self-giving, or else its fruit can be violent and destructive activity, ruining and ending the lives of others or oneself.
Society is not obsessed with sex. It is afraid of it…afraid of the total reality and power of what it represents, where it comes from, and where it leads. Sex properly understood requires that we acknowledge God who made it. More than that, sex can never be separated from its purpose: to insert us into an immense, powerful movement of life and love that started when God said "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3) and culminates when the Spirit and the Bride say "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:17).
Sex is deeply symbolic. It is a language that speaks of things beyond sight and feeling. Many think of the Church's teaching about sex as "You cannot do it except in marriage and when open to life." That is true, but the fuller understanding of why this is true comes when we can see that sexual activity means so much that it is wrong to diminish its message or deny its full reality. It belongs in the context of committed love (sealed by marriage) and openness to life precisely because this is the only context great enough to hold its message and reflect the greater reality to which the gift of sexuality directs and commits us. The teaching is not just that it is wrong to have sex in certain circumstances. The teaching is that it is wrong to run away from the full reality of sex. It is wrong to think we have the kind of control that can change that reality to suit ourselves.
The most bitter fruit of this flight from the full meaning of sex is abortion. Thousands of lives a day in our nation are deliberately killed in order to control who will be born and when. They are even destroyed in the very process of being born. If we ask why abortion happens, or how we arrived at the culture of death, we would do well to consider another question: What happens when you distort the meaning of sex?
One of the many ways in which the meaning of sex is distorted is through contraception, which is an intrinsically evil act. The links between abortion and contraception are more and more widely recognized, and not only in Catholic circles.
They are linked by a common mentality, which is that I may stifle the power of sex to produce a new life. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical The Gospel of Life, "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" (n. 13).
They are linked sociologically. Every culture and subculture which has opened the doors to contraception has likewise experienced an increased practice of abortion. The Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research division of Planned Parenthood, indicates the following as the main reasons women offer for their abortions. Ask yourself what resemblance they bear to the reasons for birth control. "On average, women give at least 3 reasons for choosing abortion: 3/4 say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or other responsibilities; about 2/3 say they cannot afford a child; and 1/2 say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner" (from the website www.agi-usa.org).
They are linked in law and jurisprudence. In 1973, the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion clearly built upon the recognized privacy right behind contraception. In 1992, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe in its Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision, and explained that they could not remove the "right" to abortion from "people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail" (505 U.S. 833, 835).
They are sometimes linked by being identical. Some "contraceptives" have a backup mechanism whereby a newly-developing life may be destroyed in its microscopic stages. These drugs and devices are abortifacients, capable of causing early and usually unknown abortions. The morally relevant point here is that "it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder" (Declaration on Procured Abortion, 1974, n.12-13). If your action might kill a person, and you do it, you declare your willingness to kill a person (like shooting at what is behind the bush when you are uncertain whether it is a bear or a man).
The nature of the link between abortion and contraception needs to be accurately understood. The Pope writes, "Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment "You shall not kill". But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree" (n. 13).
"Fruits of the same tree." Contraception, in other words, is more like the sister to abortion rather than the parent. What gives rise to them both? The Pope continues, "Such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment" (n. 13). Dr. Bernard Nathanson, when asked whether contraception was "the beginning of the downfall of the issues of reproduction in this country," said that "contraception was not the fount…that spawned all of these other horrendous technologies...it was the perversion of autonomy…If you elevate autonomy to a deification status…then people are going to make choices which are irrational…" (Presentation to 1999 Legatus National Conference).
Yes, abortion and contraception are linked. They are linked with each other because they are linked with many other evils: the disconnection of freedom from truth, a relativistic view of morality, a positivistic view of law, a culture of hedonism, and many other problems.
What lies at the solution to these problems is to rediscover the dominion of God.
It is perfectly legitimate to acknowledge that there are circumstances in which a couple should not have a child. There can be medical, social, financial, psychological, or other reasons for this. To acknowledge God’s dominion does not mean to act imprudently. Methods of natural family planning are legitimate. (We are not referring here to outdated calendar rhythm methods, but to more advanced and fully reliable scientifically based methods like naprotechnology). In planning one’s family, however, one may never destroy the meaning of sexual union on one’s own initiative. Natural family planning respects the body's cycles, during portions of which God closes the door to life. In contraception, we close the door. We have no authority to do so.
There are two basic truths that each person has to admit in this life: 1. There is a God. 2. It isn’t me. To understand these lessons is to understand why both contraception and abortion are wrong. Only God has absolute dominion over human life. "None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master. While we live, we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die, we die as His servants. Both in life and in death, we are the Lord's" (Rom.14:7-8).
Printed with permission from Priests for Life