There are two reasons why Catholics should believe that contraception is always wrong. First, the Church teaches it. Indeed, because the Church has proposed this teaching constantly and most firmly, her infallibility in day-to-day teaching on matters of faith and morals appears to guarantee it (see CMP, 35.D–E).90 Second, in his work on the theology of the body, John Paul II has provided careful analyses of the relevant scriptural data and drawn the conclusion that the moral norm excluding contraception “belongs not only to the natural moral law, but also to the moral order revealed by God: also from this point of view, it could not be different, but solely what is handed down by Tradition and the Magisterium.”91
The point of the present question is not so much to show the truth of this teaching as to offer a particular way of understanding why it is true. Of course, a person can reject this explanation and others yet still accept what the Church teaches.
In the present question, contraception will be considered only insofar as it is a contralife act. Contraception within marriage and its relationship to marital love will be explained (in 9.E.1.a, 9.E.1.f, 9.E.2.e, 9.F.1.e, 9.F.1.g).
Until they began to accept contraception, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Christians all considered sexual activity outside marriage seriously sinful.92 Hence, theological attempts to justify contraception focused on its use within marriage. Because these attempts occasioned the major papal declarations on this subject, current Catholic teaching about it regularly refers specifically to marital acts and distinguishes contraception from natural family planning, which married couples can rightly practice. Historically, however, much of the Christian tradition condemned contraception as a contralife act without distinguishing between its uses by married couples and by others.93
For example, a canon concerning contraception, Si aliquis, was included in the Church’s universal law from the thirteenth century until 1917: “If anyone for the sake of satisfying sexual desire or with premeditated hatred does something to a man or to a woman, or gives something to drink, so that he cannot generate, or she cannot conceive, or offspring be born, let that person be treated as a homicide.”94 This canon does not say contraception is homicide; the tradition made no such mistake.95 Rather, the canon says that those who use contraception commit a sin analogous to homicide.
Of course, contraception and abortion often have been condemned together. For example, in dealing with marriage, the Catechism of the Council of Trent teaches that “married persons who, to prevent conception or procure abortion, have recourse to medicine, are guilty of a most heinous crime, for this is to be considered an impious conspiracy of homicides.”96
Contraception can be carried out by a variety of methods, and outward behavior similar to that involved in contraception sometimes has an entirely different moral significance. So, contraception must be understood accurately, in terms of the intention involved. That intention is to impede a new instantiation of the good of human life. Therefore, contraception always is contralife.
a) Contraception is not defined by a pattern of outward behavior. The act of contraception is not tied to any one pattern of behavior. There are various ways to contracept and many outward performances that could, but need not, be ways of contracepting. On the one hand, many people mistakenly rely on contraceptively useless techniques and engage in the behavior they involve. Morally speaking, such behavior, because it is chosen to contracept, is a way of contracepting. Also, the use of barriers, drugs, and withdrawal are different more or less effective behaviors often chosen to contracept. On the other hand, some outward performances which usually are ways of contracepting can be chosen for other reasons. For instance, to treat a pathological condition, women who never engage in sexual intercourse sometimes take the same drugs others use for contraception. Fertile women who do engage in sexual intercourse also can take the same drugs without contracepting, when they do so as therapy and only accept—perhaps gladly, perhaps reluctantly—temporary sterility as a side effect.
b) Contraception is defined by what one wills as an end or means. In teaching that contraception always is morally excluded, Paul VI defines it in terms of intention: “any action which either before, at the moment of, or after marital intercourse, is specifically intended to impede procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”97 He could not have accurately defined contraception in any other way, for only certain intentions can render the various things people do (“any action”) contraceptive.
Sometimes the prospect of a new person’s coming to be is repugnant in itself to people who plan to engage in sexual intercourse; they therefore intend as an end something they consider a good: that new life not begin. More often, though, people have a reason to avoid having a baby: they are not married or do not have the means to care properly for a baby (or another baby), they have other responsibilities to fulfill or interests to pursue, their health may be impaired, and so on. In such cases, preventing the beginning of a new life is not willed as an end, but it is willed, for it is chosen—sometimes reluctantly to avoid some serious problem—as a means of facilitating sexual intercourse by forestalling its possible reproductive consequence.
Thus, to contracept a person must think that prospective sexual intercourse might cause a new life to begin, and that this possible effect can be impeded by some other behavior he or she could perform. The choice is to perform that other behavior; the relevant immediate intention (which may or may not be directed toward some further purpose) is that the new life not begin.
Here and in what follows, begin and come to be refer both to the initiation of the life of a person and to the person’s continuing existence. So, contraception aims to impede both the initiation of life and the being of the individual whose life might be initiated if it were not impeded.
c) A contraceptive act is distinct from any sexual act. Usually, contraception is closely related to a sexual act. Thus, it is often thought of as if it were itself a sexual act, and its morality often is treated as an issue of sexual ethics.
However, contraception is different from sexual acts, such as heterosexual intercourse, sodomy, masturbation, and so on. Someone who both engages in sexual intercourse and contracepts does two distinct things. On the one hand, with contraceptive intent, a woman may take the pill regularly or a man have himself sterilized, yet fail to find a desirable and willing partner with whom to engage in sexual intercourse. On the other hand, a couple tempted to fornicate has two choices to make, not one: whether to fornicate, and whether to contracept. They may decide to fornicate and not contracept, perhaps agreeing that if pregnancy occurs they will get married. Thus, while contraception presupposes at least the belief that a possible act of sexual intercourse might be fruitful, those who choose to contracept plainly do so by a choice distinct from the choice to engage in sexual intercourse, and the behavior carrying out a choice to contracept is distinct from, though usually closely associated with, the behavior essential to sexual intercourse.98
d) Considered in moral terms, every contraceptive act is contralife. Considered as a technological intervention in a biological process, contraceptive behavior need only prevent the fertilization of an ovum by a sperm. From that point of view, eliminating the possibility of a conception by successful contraception does not bear on any human individual’s life; it is not as if a possible baby were waiting somewhere to be conceived. However, considered as a moral act—that is, considered in moral terms, whether as morally good or as evil—contraception carries out a choice specified, just as other choices are, by a possible future state of affairs which the agent intends to influence by means of his or her act. Those who choose to contracept often also intend some further good, for example, not to procreate irresponsibly, with bad consequences for already-existing persons. But in choosing contraception as a means to this further good, they necessarily imagine a new person coming to be if he or she is not prevented, they want that imagined person not to be, and they efficaciously will that he or she never be.99 That will is a contralife will. Therefore, considered as a moral act, each and every contraceptive act necessarily is contralife.
Moreover, in and of itself, a contraceptive act is nothing but contralife. For, being distinct from any sexual act that occasions it, a contraceptive act cannot be considered part of that sexual act, even if the outward behaviors involved in the two acts are closely associated. Contraception is related to sexual acts only instrumentally, inasmuch as it lessens the likelihood of pregnancy, which otherwise might be a motive to refrain from sexual intercourse.100
e) Avoiding conception by abstinence need not be contraception. Some couples abstain from sexual intercourse at times when they believe conception is likely and engage in it only when they think conception unlikely. It certainly seems that those who act in this way do not want to have a baby and are doing what they can to avoid having one. Many therefore argue that they have exactly the same intention as those who choose to contracept.
In reply, it must be admitted that the intention could be the same. Imagine two couples, both of whom have had one child and, preferring greater freedom to enjoy their hobbies, decide they want no more. One couple opt for the pill. The other reject the pill because of its possible health hazards, and choose periodic abstinence for its technical advantages: it is cost free, effective, without bad side effects, and so on. Both plainly have the same intention, and it is contraceptive.101
However, the intention of those who avoid conception by abstaining from sexual intercourse need not be contraceptive. It helps to recall that when all Christians considered contraception sinful, they also considered fornication and adultery sinful, partly because they might lead to pregnancy. Thus, at that time, when everyone considered marriage the only appropriate situation in which to have and raise children, avoiding conception was assumed to be a good reason for couples not living together in marriage to abstain from intercourse. Moreover, when circumstances such as a wife’s health or a family’s poverty required a conscientious married couple to avoid having a child or another child, the Church encouraged them to abstain from marital intercourse. Nobody suggested people in either situation were practicing contraception.
It is easy to see why. In the case of unmarried couples, abstaining from intercourse carried out a proposal, not precisely to prevent the beginning of new life, but to refrain from committing fornication or adultery while at the same time avoiding pregnancy out of wedlock. Similarly, married couples who abstained did not intend precisely to impede procreation; rather, their abstinence carried out a proposal not to cause a complex foreseen state of affairs, including not only a prospective child’s coming to be but, at once and inseparably, the bad consequences which made it reasonable for them to avoid having that child.
Now, when married couples today choose to avoid conception by periodic abstinence, their intention can be similar to that of couples who in former times abstained continuously. While they abstain during fertile times in order not to cause a pregnancy, however, their intention does not preclude intercourse during times they identify as infertile; and if they choose to have normal marital intercourse at those times, their intention in doing so plainly cannot be to impede the beginning of a new life, since the infertility is due to natural conditions, not to their marital intercourse.102
Thus, the willing that relates to the prospective baby’s not coming to be need not be the same in (i) the choice of any method of contraception (including sexual abstinence with contraceptive intent) as in (ii) the noncontraceptive choice to avoid conception by abstinence. In (i), the intention precisely is to prevent a baby from coming to be. Even when that is willed for the sake of some good ulterior end, such as avoiding bad consequences which should be avoided, those who make this choice do not want a baby, in the precise sense that their choice bears on the baby’s not coming to be as a means to their good ulterior end. But in (ii)—the noncontraceptive choice to avoid conception by abstinence—the couple do not choose the baby’s not coming to be as a means to anything. Rather, their choice is to refrain from intercourse insofar as it might cause a state of affairs which would include not only a baby’s coming to be but other things which they think it reasonable, and perhaps obligatory, to avoid. Those who make this choice do not want to cause that state of affairs as a whole; rather than choosing the baby’s not coming to be, they only accept it in choosing not to cause the state of affairs which would include it.
This makes a great difference if pregnancy does occur. Since couples who noncontraceptively abstain to avoid conception never precisely will a prospective baby’s not coming to be, they do not have to change their wills to accept or love the unexpected baby. They may be emotionally upset upon learning they are having a baby for whom they were not planning, but, whatever their feelings, the baby is not unwanted in the morally relevant sense. For, using the word want to refer to efficacious volitions, which are morally determinative, rather than feelings, which are important but not morally determinative, the baby does not come to be as unwanted, since his or her coming to be is not contrary to the parents’ intention. The unexpected pregnancy may even fulfill their emotional desires and volitional wishes for a baby, so that they can truthfully say: “Although we were practicing periodic abstinence because we thought we should not have a baby just now, we are glad we are going to have this baby, for we really wanted it.”
Thus, there is a real and very important difference between not wanting to cause a baby, which is common to both (i) and (ii) above, and not wanting the baby whom one might cause, which is true of (i) but not of (ii).
f) Preventing conception due to rape need not be contraception. In choosing to prevent a conception that might result from rape, someone could be choosing to contracept. This plainly is so when an administrator of an institution housing men and women incapable of giving consent to sexual intercourse makes little or no effort to prevent their copulation but takes measures to prevent pregnancies.
However, other sorts of cases must be considered. Rape is the imposition of intimate, bodily union upon someone without her or his consent, and anyone who is raped rightly resists so far as possible. Moreover, the victim (or potential victim) is right to resist not only insofar as he or she is subjected to unjust force, but insofar as that force imposes the special wrong of uniquely intimate bodily contact. It can scarcely be doubted that someone who cannot prevent the initiation of this intimacy is morally justified in resisting its continuation; for example, a woman who awakes and finds herself being penetrated by a rapist need not permit her attacker to ejaculate in her vagina if she can make him withdraw. On the same basis, if they cannot prevent the wrongful intimacy itself, women who are victims (or potential victims) of rape and those trying to help them are morally justified in trying to prevent conception insofar as it is the fullness of sexual union.103
The measures taken in this case are a defense of the woman’s ovum (insofar as it is a part of her person) against the rapist’s sperms (insofar as they are parts of his person). By contrast, if the intimate, bodily union of intercourse is not imposed on the woman but sought or willingly permitted, neither she nor anyone who permits the union can intend at the same time that it not occur. Hence, rape apart, contraceptive measures are chosen to prevent conception not insofar as it is the ultimate completion of intimate bodily union but insofar as it is the beginning of a new and unwanted person.
The argument here is straightforward: Contraception always involves a choice to impede new human life; life is one of the basic human goods (see CMP, 5.D); the seventh and eighth modes of responsibility exclude choosing to impede any of the basic human goods (see CMP, 8.G–H). So, contraception is always wrong.104 However, several objections to this argument call for replies.
a) The life contraception prevents is an instance of a basic good. Homicide plainly attacks an instance of the basic good of life, the given reality of an actual person. But contraception only prevents the coming to be of a new person, the realization of the potentiality to cause human life. So, some will object, the argument against contraception is fallacious; it equivocates on life, they will say, since the life prevented by contraception is not a real instance of the basic good of life.
To answer this objection, one must bear in mind that the basic human goods are morally relevant precisely insofar as they can be intelligible ends of acting on which the will bears when one makes choices. Considered in this way, life refers to the same thing whether one chooses to prevent conception or, by abortion, to prevent the birth of a baby already conceived. Indeed, sometimes people who do not want a baby choose at one and the same time both to try, by practicing contraception, to prevent the unwanted baby’s coming to be and, if contraception should fail, to resort to abortion. Conversely, a couple about to marry who choose a home partly because it has a room suitable for a nursery act for the same good as when, during a subsequent pregnancy, they choose and buy the things they need for their baby. Both before and after he or she is conceived, the hoped-for child for whom they prepare is no mere abstraction. Nor is the unwanted child whose life someone seeks to prevent by using contraception. For both the hoped-for child and the unwanted child specify will acts, whose moral significance as prolife and contralife they thereby determine.
b) In general, human acts bear on possible, not actual, goods. In bearing on a possible instance of human life, rather than anyone’s actual life, contraception does not differ from other human acts. Choices concern only what is within human power; but since nobody can do anything about what has been or already is, all human acts affect only the future. Homicide does not destroy the victim’s entire life; his or her past and present are beyond harm. Homicide only prevents the victim from having a future. So, the homicidal will, like the contraceptive will, is only against life that would be, not against life that is. Of course, there remains a difference: the prospective life that homicide cuts off is continuous with the present, actual life of the person killed, whereas the prospective life prevented by successful contraception is not continuous with anyone’s actual life. However, the prospective life which a failed attempt at contraception sought to prevent is continuous with the actual life of the unwanted child.
c) Contraception is wrong even if it is not unjust to any person. Of course, nobody can do an injustice to a possible person who will never come to be. Therefore, some will object, contraception need not involve any injustice to anyone, and so, they will say, the will it involves, though necessarily contrary to the basic human good of life, need not be wrong.
Part of the answer to this objection is that one’s will can be unjust without one’s actually doing an injustice to anyone. For example, if a woman who is the beneficiary of her husband’s life insurance plans to kill him on Saturday to collect the insurance, her will is contralife and unjust even if he dies in an automobile accident on Friday. Although not in exactly the same way, the will of someone practicing contraception also is unjust. For every method of contraception, even sterilization, has a failure rate.105 When the attempt at contraception does not succeed, an unwanted baby comes to be, and then abortion may be considered. But even if the baby is accepted and loved, he or she began life as someone unwanted. So, to choose contraception knowing that it might fail and a baby might come to be as unwanted is to be willing to put another in a position no reasonable person would wish to be in. Therefore, choosing contraception is an injustice, even if it succeeds and the harm remains in one’s heart.
d) Even if contraception is not unjust, it is wrong as suicide is. The other part of the answer to the preceding objection is that not all moral evils are injustices. A deliberate suicide’s will to destroy his or her own life is a grave moral evil, even if no injustice is done to anyone. Similarly, contraception is wrong inasmuch as it carries out a will to prevent life. Christians generally are acutely aware of the wrong of deliberate suicide, because they see it as a violation of the stewardship which God gives each human person over his or her life. The will to prevent life is likewise irreverent toward God, the Lord of life, with whom couples are called to cooperate in responsibly procreating new persons for the kingdom.106
Of course, contraception differs from suicide, since contraception, rather than destroying an actual person, prevents a person’s coming to be. Still, the similarity between suicide and contraception is closer than might seem. Modern individualism usually obscures life’s unity as it flows from parents to children, but this continuity is real and is experienced vividly by a man and a woman who are in love and who joyfully receive the gift of a child as the fruit of their love and its embodiment. Thus, although a choice to contracept intends to forestall the new person, still it also is a choice to limit the continuity of real human life. For, in preventing the baby whom they project and reject, those who choose to contracept limit their own lives as they tend to become one and to flow beyond themselves. It is as if, by contracepting, they commit a kind of limited suicide; they choose to cut off their life together, as they are about to hand it on, at the precise point at which a new person might emerge.
e) Even those who should not procreate should not contracept. Sometimes couples have morally compelling reasons not to have a baby. For example, they may not be married or, if married, they may not have the capacity and the resources to care properly for a child (or, perhaps, another child). In such cases, it would be gravely irresponsible, and so gravely wrong, to risk pregnancy. Therefore, some will object, such couples should choose contraception, even if it is contralife, as the lesser evil.
Three things must be said in answer. First, the argument is an example of proportionalism, which is not a workable method of moral judgment (see CMP, 6.F). Second, couples who cannot responsibly engage in sexual intercourse open to new life always have an alternative to contraception: they can and should abstain from any intercourse which would involve wrongly accepting the possibility of pregnancy. Third, if such a couple choose contraception, they irresponsibly risk pregnancy, because contraceptives sometimes fail.
As has been explained (in 1.e), avoiding conception by abstinence need not be contraception. Thus, married couples may be able to practice periodic abstinence (see 9.F.1.e–j). A man and a woman who are not married to each other should not engage in sexual intercourse in any case; if they not only do so but practice contraception, they only facilitate one immorality by another. Moreover, using contraception aggravates rather than mitigates the sinfulness of fornication, since to the specific malice of fornication it adds that of a contralife will and the associated injustice to the unwanted child if contraception fails.
f) Contraception should not be promoted to solve social problems. Taking a wider perspective, many proponents of contraception claim that excluding it means accepting both large numbers of teenage pregnancies among the poor in affluent nations, with consequent welfare costs and child neglect, and unchecked growth of population in the poorer nations, with consequent poverty and misery. So, they argue, contraception must be accepted and even promoted in order to solve these social problems.
That argument is another example of the proportionalist fallacy. Like many proportionalist arguments, it ignores the bad effects of the course of action it defends. In the first place, promoting contraception, especially among the young, condones and even encourages immoral sexual activity. Even if contraceptives are provided and used, this activity also will lead to many pregnancies, since all methods of contraception have a failure rate. Moreover, the children who come to be as unwanted are likely to be aborted, or neglected and abused, because, unlike children who are unplanned by people open to new life, they were rejected in advance. Furthermore, promoting contraception may lead to even more pregnancies than otherwise would have occurred. For while some people can use contraception consistently and effectively, most cannot, because its use facilitates the habitual satisfaction of sexual desire without regard to the reasonableness of doing so, and people with a habit of satisfying desires without regard to reason find it hard to resist even when they recognize special reasons for doing so.
The argument also evades the true issue raised by delinquency, poverty, and misery: the need to recognize and rectify social injustices. Moreover, it assumes that the poor could not and would not practice self-control and be responsible parents if they understood their situation better, had more reason to hope for their children’s future, and knew how to practice morally acceptable birth regulation.
Proponents of contraception will say that self-control never will solve the problem. There are two answers to that. First, even granting their narrow view of “the problem,” one can see that contraception never will solve it either, and, as already explained, can even make it worse. That is why those who promote contraception to solve social problems generally also promote sterilization and abortion, and sometimes support public programs that manipulate and even pressure people into accepting these techniques of controlling the birthrate. Second, the real problem is the fallen human condition, which has no human solution.
Sound approaches can only mitigate the evils from which humankind suffers. In procreating as in other matters, irresponsibility will always be a part of life. The morally sound and Christian response is not to try to overcome this evil by means of contralife technologies, but to encourage and help people to live decent human and Christian lives. Such encouragement and help should include teaching natural family planning, which also may be propagated through government programs (see GS 87). To encourage responsible parenthood without contralife approaches is to build a better world, because it promotes true human development, in which economics serves people instead of subordinating them to economics.107
Certain statements of national episcopal conferences published after Humanae vitae suggest that the practice of contraception need not always be a grave matter.108 Moreover, in recent years, even some bishops and theologians who affirm that contraception is always wrong have urged pastoral approaches which seem reasonable only if the sin of contraception can admit parvity of matter.109 However, there are cogent reasons for holding that contraception never is a light matter, even though contraception, like any other sin, is not always mortal, since lack of sufficient reflection or consent can limit its guilt.
a) The received teaching insisted on the gravity of the matter. By referring to homicide, the canon, Si aliquis, which was included in the Church’s law for many centuries, and the Catechism of the Council of Trent, which shaped the instruction of Catholics for several centuries, plainly considered contraception a grave matter. Classical theologians uniformly considered it grave and excluded the possibility of parvity. Within the context of his wider teaching on marriage, Pius XI reaffirms the received teaching on contraception:
Any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offence against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are sullied with the stain of a grave wrong [gravis noxae labe commaculari].
Thus, Pope Pius makes it clear that contraception in marriage is always grave matter, by predicating not only wrongness but gravity of it in a logically universal proposition: “Any use whatsoever of matrimony.”
We admonish, therefore, priests who hear confessions and others who have the care of souls, in virtue of Our supreme authority and in Our solicitude for the salvation of souls, not to allow the faithful entrusted to them to err regarding this most grave law of God; much more, that they keep themselves immune from such false opinions, in no way conniving in them.110
b) Recent teaching should be read as reaffirming this point. In Humanae vitae, Paul VI precisely reaffirms the Church’s constant teaching on contraception, and in doing so refers explicitly to Pius XI’s universal proposition.111 Perhaps to avoid seeming to confuse grave matter with mortal sin, he does not repeat Pius XI’s “stain of a grave wrong.” Still, he nowhere denies it. So, one reasonably interprets what he does say as including a reaffirmation of previous teaching that contraception always is grave matter. Two further considerations support this interpretation.
First, in his pastoral exhortation to married couples in Humanae vitae, Paul VI not only urges them to seek strength in prayer and the Eucharist, but exhorts them to make use of the sacrament of penance.112 Since only mortal sins must be confessed, this exhortation suggests that Paul VI considered contraception a grave matter and assumed that it ordinarily is a mortal sin even for those struggling to avoid it.
Second, if Paul VI thought that contraception is only a light matter, one must suppose he would have said so, in order to relieve many Catholic couples of grave burdens of conscience and save the Church as a whole from much tension. Indeed, he would have been irresponsible and inept if, judging contraception a light matter, he omitted to say so clearly. But Paul was a conscientious and capable pastor who agonized for years over various questions regarding contraception. So, he plainly did not believe he could say that it can be a light matter, any more than he believed he could say it can be morally acceptable.
Even granting for the sake of argument that Paul VI could not make up his mind on the question of gravity, the whole tradition summed up by Pius XI and reaffirmed over and over by John Paul II witnesses to contraception’s gravity. Indeed, had contraception not always been considered grave matter, the tradition could and would have left open the question of its intrinsic immorality.
c) Some acts of contraception are not mortal sins. As with any other case in which the matter of a sin is grave, contraception is a mortal sin only if the two subjective conditions, sufficient reflection and full consent, are met—in other words, only if someone chooses to contracept despite his or her judgment that it is gravely wrong in itself to do so, or that it is gravely wrong to act against the Church’s teaching on the matter (see CMP, 17.A).
Given the definition of contraception, people cannot practice it without choosing precisely to prevent conception. But only God knows how many violate a judgment of conscience which meets the requirement of sufficient reflection. Despite all that has been said to the contrary, even nonbelievers can understand why contraception is wrong, and the Church’s teaching has been widely publicized. Yet the gravity of the matter is not obvious, and both theological dissent and pastoral neglect nurture confusion in many people’s minds. Moreover, mere guilt feelings, together with awareness of violating the Church’s “official teaching,” do not show that someone has the awareness of grave matter required for sufficient reflection. Indeed, many Catholics say their choice to use contraception is not contrary to their conscience. Of course, that assertion could manifest self-deception and rationalization rather than a genuine judgment of conscience (see CMP, 3.C.6–7).113
90. See John C. Ford, S.J. and Germain Grisez, “Contraception and the Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium,” Theological Studies 39 (1978): 258–312; Germain Grisez, “Infallibility and Specific Moral Norms: A Review Discussion” (a reply to Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.), Thomist 49 (1985): 248–87.
91. John Paul II, General Audience (18 July 1984), 4, Inseg. 7.2 (1984) 103, OR, 23 July 1984, 1. The development in the Church’s teaching on religious liberty provides no precedent for change in her teaching on contraception; see Brian W. Harrison, Religious Liberty and Contraception: Did Vatican II Open the Way for a New Sexual Ethic? (Melbourne, Australia: John XXIII Fellowship Co-op, 1988).
92. A contemporary study by an evangelical Protestant opposing contraception and invoking the witness of the Protestant tradition against it: Charles D. Provan, The Bible and Birth Control (Monongahela, Pa.: Zimmer, 1989).
93. See John T. Noonan, Jr., Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965), 91, 93, 98, 99, 100, 136–37, 144, 146, 160, 168–69, 173–78, 215, 232–37, 360–64. While Noonan’s work is useful, his interpretations are not always sound. For example, he is mistaken in thinking that St. Thomas requires procreative intent for entirely sinless sex within marriage. See Germain Grisez, “Marriage: Reflections Based on St. Thomas and Vatican Council II,” Catholic Mind 64 (June 1966): 4-19. Also see Fabian Parmisano, O.P., “Love and Marriage in the Middle Ages,” New Blackfriars 50 (1969): 599–608 and 649–60.
94. Decret. Greg. IX, 5.12.5, Corpus iuris canonici, ed. A. L. Richter and A. Friedberg (Leipzig: 1881), 2:794: “Si aliquis causa explendae libidinis vel odii meditatione homini aut mulieri aliquid fecerit, vel ad potandum dederit, ut non possit generare, aut concipere, vel nasci soboles, ut homicida teneatur.” The dropping of Si aliquis from canon law in 1917 probably was due to the extensive and much needed simplification accomplished at that time by its first codification, which involved a clearer standard distinguishing appropriate objects of legislation from subjects suitable for moral teaching.
95. The norm was introduced into canon law by Burchard of Worms, who placed it, not in the book on homicide (vi), but in that on fornication (xvii): PL, 140:933.
96. Catechismus ex decreto Ss. Concilii Tridentini, 2.8.13 (1:651, translation amended).
97. Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 14, AAS 60 (1968) 490, PE, 277.14 (translation amended). In criticizing an earlier version of the argument offered here, Janet E. Smith, Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1991), 355, says: “If one intends to do something that violates nature (contraception does), one acquires an evil will. But what one intends to do (the external act) is defined as good or bad independently of any act of the will.” This criticism overlooks the fact that Paul VI, in order to reject every sort of contraception, was compelled to define it in terms of the intention to impede procreation.
98. Ashley and O’Rourke, Healthcare Ethics, 3rd ed., 296, merging contraception with the sexual acts it facilitates, assert that contraception by married couples “is at worst a sin of weakness.” That might be true of couples who usually try to avoid contraception but occasionally succumb to passion and engage in coitus interruptus. But couples who systematically practice contraception, using methods which require a steady will, hardly are committing a sin of weakness; indeed, one factor which occasioned the crisis over contraception in the Catholic Church in the early 1960s was the marketing of antiovulant drugs, which could not be used without denying the wrongness of contraception or admitting a sin which, unlike a sin of weakness, is unrelated to the ebb and flow of passion.
99. In her criticism of an earlier presentation of this argument, Smith, Humanae Vitae, 363, argues “that couples, in fact, are not undergoing such a thought process. Is it not possible that some, and perhaps most, contraceptors reason in this way: ‘It would be best for us not to have a baby (or another baby) at this time. Let us find some way of rendering ourselves infertile (as we are periodically during a month anyway) and thus we can continue to engage in sexual intercourse responsibly’?” She overlooks the fact that the couple’s choice to find some way to render themselves infertile is an efficacious will to prevent the baby “it would be best for us not to have.” Moreover, while recent Church teaching has focused on contraception in marriage and rejected it primarily because it renders a married couple’s intercourse nonmarital (an aspect of contra~ception’s wrongness treated in 9.E.1.a, f, below), the strand of Catholic tradition rejecting contraception as contralife (summarized above, in 1) should not be casually brushed aside by anyone who respects the Church’s teaching authority.
100. This being so, one cannot argue (as some Catholic proponents of contraception more or less clearly do): Since marital intercourse is good, contraception involved in it can be acceptable. If the contraceptive act and the marital act were one and the same human act, that argument might succeed, since that one act could be analyzed as an act with two effects. However, the principle of double effect is not correctly used to justify what is done in one act by the good features of another, distinct act.
101. John Paul II, Address to Participants in a Course on Natural Family Planning (14 Dec. 1990), 5; L’Osservatore Romano, It. ed., 15 Dec. 1990, 6; OR, 17 Dec. 1990, 3, having stressed the importance of proper moral instruction for the practice of NFP, adds: “In short, it allows people to see that it is not possible to practice natural methods as a ‘licit’ variation of the decision to be closed to life, which would be substantially the same as that which inspires the decision to use contraceptives: only if there is a basic openness to fatherhood and motherhood, understood as collaboration with the Creator, does the use of natural means become an integrating part of responsibility for love and life.” Also see, John Paul II: General Audience (5 Sept. 1984), 4, Inseg. 7.2 (1984) 322, OR, 10 Sept. 1984, 10.
102. Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 16, AAS 60 (1968) 492, PE, 277.16, teaches that contraception and natural family planning are completely different, because only contraception obstructs the natural unfolding of the generative process. He concludes: “If therefore there are well-grounded reasons for spacing births, arising from the physical or psychological condition of husband or wife, or from external circumstances, the Church teaches that married people may then take advantage of the natural cycles immanent in the reproductive system and engage in marital intercourse only during those times that are infertile, thus controlling birth in a way which does not in the least offend the moral principles which We have just explained [note omitted].”
103. While victims of rape rightly try to prevent conception considered as the ultimate completion of the intimacy wrongly imposed on them, if the attempt fails, there is no justification for abortion, because a new person then exists with his or her own life and right to it. Hence, it would be wrong for a woman anticipating rape to use an abortifacient, such as an intrauterine device, or for a physician to do a dilatation and curettage on a victim of rape to prevent the implantation of an embryo if there is one. If rape is anticipated, however, a diaphragm and/or spermicide may be used; and, provided their effect probably will not be abortifacient, antifertility drugs may be used before or after the rape, even with a slight risk of abortion accepted as a side effect. See Joint Committee on Bioethical Issues of the Bishops’ Conferences of Scotland, Ireland, England and Wales, “Use of the ‘Morning-After Pill’ in Cases of Rape,” Origins 15 (13 Mar. 1986): 633, 635–38; “A Reply: Use of the Morning-After Pill in Cases of Rape,” Origins 16 (11 Sept. 1986): 237–38; Ashley and O’Rourke, Healthcare Ethics, 3rd ed., 286–90.
104. National Conference of Catholic Bishops, To Live in Christ Jesus: A Pastoral Reflection on the Moral Life (Washington, D.C.: United States Catholic Conference, 1976), 18, teaches: “In contraceptive intercourse the procreative or life-giving meaning of intercourse is deliberately separated from its love-giving meaning and rejected; the wrongness of such an act lies in the rejection of this value [note omitted].” An argument against contraception grounded in its opposition to the good of life can be articulated without articulating the general theory of basic human goods and modes of responsibility: Germain Grisez et al., “ ‘Every Marital Act Ought to Be Open to New Life’: Toward a Clearer Understanding,” Thomist 52 (1988): 369–90.
105. Harlap, Kost, and Forrest, Preventing Pregnancy, Protecting Health, 120, having defined failure rate as the percentage of women experiencing an unintended pregnancy in the first year of use and perfect use of a contraceptive method as “correct and consistent” use (which, in the case of sterilization, presumably means following instructions exactly) estimate that with perfect use vasectomy has a one-tenth of one percent failure rate (one woman per thousand becomes pregnant during the first year after the sterilization), that the failure rate of tubal sterilization with perfect use or vasectomy with average use is twice that, and that the failure rate of tubal sterilization with average use is one-half of one percent (one woman per two hundred becomes pregnant during the first year).
106. John Paul II, Address to Participants in a Study Seminar on “Responsible Parenthood” (17 Sept. 1983), 1, Inseg. 6.2 (1983) 562, OR, 10 Oct. 1983, 7, points out that each person comes into existence through God’s personal creative love, and that married couples only share in God’s work, and adds: “When, therefore, through contraception, married couples remove from the exercise of their conjugal sexuality its potential procreative capacity, they claim a power which belongs solely to God: the power to decide in a final analysis the coming into existence of a human person. They assume the qualification not of being cooperators in God’s creative power, but the ultimate depositaries of the source of human life. In this perspective, contraception is to be judged objectively so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified. To think or to say the contrary is equal to maintaining that in human life situations may arise in which it is lawful not to recognize God as God.”
107. John XXIII, Mater et magistra, AAS 53 (1961) 445–48, PE, 267.185–99, well articulates the Church’s response to the questions raised by increases of population: all people and nations should work together for social justice, couples should act responsibly, and no immoral means should be used. Also see: Holy See’s Intervention at International Conference on Population, OR, 20 Aug. 1984, 4–5; Submission of the Catholic Church to the XXII CIOMS Conference, OR, 18 July 1988, 8–11; National Conference of Catholic Bishops, “Statement on Population” (12 Nov. 1973), in Pastoral Letters, ed. Nolan, 3:380–83. The views of those who advocate population control also have been challenged on factual and theoretical grounds as scientifically defective; see, for example, Julian L. Simon and Herman Kahn, eds., The Resourceful Earth: A Response to Global 2000 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984); Jacqueline Kasun, The War against Population: The Economics and Ideology of World Population Control (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 21–77. Kasun also shows (115–55) some of the bad effects of government efforts in the United States to limit adolescent pregnancies.
108. The Austrian bishops (21 Sept. 1968), although they held that the systematic exclusion of procreation from marriage because of an egotistical attitude would be a grave matter, said expressly: “Not lastly, we wish to point out that the Holy Father does not speak of grave sin in his encyclical. Therefore, if someone should err against the teaching of the encyclical, he must not feel cut off from God’s love in every case, and may then receive Holy Communion without first going to confession” (Humanae Vitae and the Bishops: The Encyclical and the Statements of the National Hierarchies, ed. John Horgan [Shannon, Ireland: Irish University Press, 1972], 61).
109. See Ashley and O’Rourke, Healthcare Ethics, 3rd ed., 295–97. Such pastoral approaches, which also are applied to other sins, raise a general problem (treated in CMP, 17.E). Their application to contraception is criticized by Grisez et al., “ ‘Every Marital Act Ought to Be Open to New Life’: Toward a Clearer Understanding,” 418–23.
110. Pius XI, Casti connubii, AAS 22 (1930) 560 (DS 3717/2240), PE, 208.56–57 (translation amended).
111. Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 11 (“quilibet matrimonii usus”) with n. 12, AAS 60 (1968) 488, PE, 277.11 (“each and every marriage act”).
112. Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 25, AAS 60 (1968) 499, PE, 277.25. In his pastoral guidance, John Paul II, Familiaris consortio, 34, AAS 74 (1982) 124, OR, 21–28 Dec. 1981, 7, likewise envisages “a progress that demands awareness of sin, a sincere commitment to observe the moral law, and the ministry of reconciliation.” Summarizing the same teaching, John Paul II, Address to Participants in a Study Seminar on “Responsible Parenthood” (17 Sept. 1983), 4, Inseg. 6.2 (1983) 564, OR, 10 Oct. 1983, 7, recalls Catholic teaching concerning grace and the sacraments: “To maintain that situations exist in which it is not, de facto, possible for the spouses to be faithful to all the requirements of the truth of conjugal love is equivalent to forgetting this event of grace which characterizes the New Covenant: the grace of the Holy Spirit makes possible that which is not possible to man, left solely to his own powers. It is therefore necessary to support the spouses in their spiritual lives, to invite them to resort frequently to the Sacraments of Confession and the Eucharist for a continual return, a permanent conversion to the truth of conjugal love.”
113. John Paul II, Address to Second International Congress on Moral Theology, 4; L’Osser~vatore Romano, It. ed., 13 Nov. 1988, 4; OR, 19–26 Dec. 1988, 7, restates Vatican II’s teaching on conscience (see GS 16) and firmly rejects the subjectivist notion that conscience itself creates moral norms. He then draws consequences which he says are to be stressed: “Since the Magisterium of the Church was created by Christ the Lord to enlighten conscience, then to appeal to that conscience precisely to contest the truth of what is taught by the Magisterium implies rejection of the Catholic concept both of the Magisterium and moral conscience. To speak about the inviolable dignity of conscience without further specification, runs the risk of grave errors. There is a great difference between the person who falls into error after having used all the means at his or her disposal in the search for truth, and the situation of one who, either through simple acquiescence to the majority opinion, often deliberately created by the powers of the world, or through negligence, takes little pains to discover the truth. . . . The Church’s Magisterium is among the means which Christ’s redeeming love has provided to avoid this danger of error. In his name it has a real teaching authority. Therefore, it cannot be said that the faithful have embarked on a diligent search for truth if they do not take into account what the Magisterium teaches, or if, by putting it on the same level as any other source of knowledge, one makes oneself judge, or if in doubt, one follows one’s own opinion or that of theologians, preferring it to the sure teaching of the Magisterium.”