October is “Respect Life” month. In the minds of most, “respect life” means fighting abortion, and it is left at that. To leave it there, though, is to pull out the blade of a weed but leave the root intact; and if you don’t pull out the root, the weed will grow back. The root, in this case, is the seldom—if ever—mentioned sin of contraception and the “contraceptive mentality” that it has spawned. It is the woolly mammoth in the room that is never talked about.
Contraception precipitates abortion. To be against abortion but silent on contraception is like being against racism but silent on bigotry.
We don’t make this connection—and we don’t want to make it—for many reasons. In Humanae Vitae, St. Pope Paul VI warned of the descent from contraception into abortion (among other evils). When most priests and bishops turned their backs on Humanae Vitae, either by silence or outright defiance, they paved the way for abortion. We had a generation or two of clergy ignorant or dismissive of the Church’s teaching. They hold the reins of power now, and we see their last gasps in the Synod.
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Younger clergy, if they do accept the Church’s teaching, can be afraid to mention it. They probably won’t be backed by their bishop (see above), and to preach about it or bring it up in confession would be to “offend” most parishioners (who contracept at the same rate as non-Catholics), especially women. It would also be “un-ecumenical,” as all Protestant churches accept birth control; so, it is not talked about even in pro-life circles if Protestants are involved.
Contraception is the root of abortion historically, legally, and culturally. It is a case where those of this world are wiser than those of the kingdom. Margaret Sanger and the eugenics movement did not start with abortion (though that was their goal); they started with birth control. They knew that once they could get the public to buy that argument, abortion would be an easier sell. And they were right.
Legally, Roe’s famous “right to privacy” was “discovered” first in Griswold v. Connecticut, which overturned laws forbidding the sale of contraceptives. From there, Roe was but a step. If you accept the idea that the sexual act need not have any connection with conception, and people have a “right” to sex wherever and whenever they wish, then why should they be burdened with a possible “consequence” of it?
Later, Justice O’Connor, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, specifically said that abortion should be allowed because many women rely on it when birth control fails. (This is also why many howled at Justice Thomas’ opinion in Dobbs. He legally and logically pointed out that Roe was defective, not in itself but because the earlier ruling in Griswold was defective. He was taking a step back up the slippery slope.)
Culturally, contraception creates the expectation of sex without consequences. As with all other expectations, it soon becomes a requirement, a “right.” Because it is a selfish requirement dealing with our strongest passion, it can never be satisfied and the requirements multiply. As Chesterton said, “once sex ceases to be a servant, it becomes a tyrant.” Hence the hydra-headed perversions of today.
It is also tied to the idea of “women’s emancipation.” Take contraception away, so the talking goes, and before you know it, a woman will be chained to the stove, ignorant and penniless with ten screaming children around, pregnant with the eleventh, and no man in sight.
So, while we may be against the outright killing of a child, we won’t dare say anything against the thinking and habits that lead to it. Abortion is an evil, but it’s really just an expedient for the primary evil of contraception. The contraceptive mentality is an addiction. Its need increases by its use. Contraception ruptures the unity of the sexual act, killing the healthy and holy desire of the union of a man and woman in marriage for the procreation of children and instead promoting the selfish and sterile desire of one’s own sexual pleasure at the expense of the dignity of the other person.
The real shame of our silence on contraception is that it is the source of the very evil it supposedly prevents. It is the very beginning of the reduction of the dignity of the person. Contraception tells us that a child is a threat. For what do we try to control but those things that threaten us? And what do we do when those things escape our control? We must have recourse to eliminate them.
Contraception has not helped men to respect women; it has simply told men they shouldn’t worry about what they do with women. It has not helped women to respect men; it has simply told them that men are a threat they must protect themselves against. Can we wonder why there is such hostility between the sexes?
Contraception has become a “gimme” in our culture—one of those things that “of course” must be allowed and promoted. It is paid for by the government and is supplied in our schools. Many parents would be more horrified at finding out their kids are smoking cigarettes than they would be if they learned their kids were using contraceptives. Contraception has become a “gimme” in our culture—one of those things that “of course” must be allowed and promoted.Tweet This
Contraception has “freed a woman to work” (as though being a mother wasn’t work) and has also told her she had better work outside the home because she has no excuse not to.
Our culture has become so sexualized that we don’t even notice it—from immodest dress, to prancing cheerleaders, to striptease entertainers, to advertisements for increasing one’s “sexual performance” (as though the marital act were some kind of talent show). It is our age’s “peculiar institution,” without which we seemingly couldn’t function.
You may rail against abortion all you want, but once we’ve lost a sense of dignity for the man or woman we can see, how can we have any respect for the dignity of the person in the womb we can’t see? Any act corrupted at its beginning becomes more corrupt as it progresses; hence our Lord’s admonition that murder begins with anger. The sexual act, being one of the most powerful, if distorted at its beginning, becomes a tsunami of perversion, as we see today.
Chesterton said birth control is really just a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control. We see this in the explosion of out-of-wedlock births and broken homes; the rise of depression (and suicide) in the “sexually active” youth; the ubiquity of pornography; the pervasiveness of divorce. It is the selfish act par excellence, and we are silent about it.
We shouldn’t be. The Church’s teaching merely reflects natural law. The sexual act, by its nature, is meant to bring about the unity of a man and woman and create life. The overwhelming evidence shows that those who follow this have better, happier, and lasting marriages. The children of such marriages are more joyful and more magnanimous. Vocations are much, much more likely to come from such homes. It cements a family and upholds society.
There is joy in this teaching. The sadness is in the silence and timidity of the Church. If we want to “respect life,” then we must respect it in all its dimensions; and, first and foremost, we must respect the act which brings it about.
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