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By Dr. Frederick Liewehr

8/18/2012 (2 years ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Was the Pope wrong? Is contraception a reasonable solution to social problems?

So, what did Pope Paul VI say back when all this began? In Humanae Vitae, he warned, "Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificially limiting the increase of children. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality."

Highlights

By Dr. Frederick Liewehr

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

8/18/2012 (2 years ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: Humanae Vitae, contraception, Pope paul VI, abortion, morality, Love, marriage, Dr. Frederick Liewehr


RICHMOND, VA (Catholic Online) - A few months ago, the Obama administration declared that it would be necessary for all employers, even those such as the Catholic Church who consider contraception to be a sin, to pay for this service for all its employees. In other words, the government intends to force believers to become complicit in sin.
 
In all likelihood this decision, promulgated by self-described "Catholic" Kathleen Sebelius, Obama's Secretary of Health and Human Services, was a diversionary tactic designed to deflect attention from the ever-worsening economy by creating another bogeyman, in this case Christians, notably Catholics and evangelicals, against whom Obama can claim to his radical base that he is crusading by offering "health services" to women who have a "right" to them.
 
There are several rather obvious difficulties with the government's position here. First and foremost is the Constitutional issue, which applies not only to this decision but to the whole idea of government-mandated health care. It is difficult to locate the provision in the Constitution authorizing the Federal government to mandate, provide, or regulate health care.

There is also the First Amendment problem with the government prohibiting the free exercise of religion, in this case, the freedom to not be forced to pay for a service that an employer may consider immoral. The contention that lack of employer largesse in this matter will prevent women from accessing contraception is difficult to support when contraception is available at the nearest drugstore at minimum cost (remember the people covered have jobs), and free at many "health clinics", a euphemism that covers Planned Parenthood facilities and others. Needless to say, the safest, most effective, and healthiest contraception, abstinence, is always free.

The sad reality was that, although this egregious dictate awakened our Bishops who previously believed that somehow government mandated and controlled health care was consonant with "social justice" and thus convinced themselves that this radically pro-abortion President would not include abortions and contraception in his plan, it still failed to engender the widespread shock and resistance that it should among the rest of the citizenry. Why was this the case?

The entire matter goes back to the question of why contraception is wrong. It does not require an unusually erudite moral theologian to understand why abortion is wrong. A fetus, an unborn child, in the womb, left undisturbed, grows into a fully developed child in nine months. The question of exactly when this collection of cells somehow "becomes" a human being is moot, because every cell in its body contains the entire genetic code for a complete human being, and it simply takes time for the construction to take place.

It is a completely automated process - no user input is required. The only thing required is that you do not kill it. A baby growing into a child growing into an adult growing into an old person is the same. It requires no external input, only a lack of interference. So, unless you force your mind to believe something that is not true in order to provide justification for an immoral act, most people can grasp that abortion is morally wrong.

Contraception is not that simple. In this case, no life is being destroyed (unless you buy the idea that you can undo a process that has already begun by using an "emergency contraceptive" abortifacient, which is actually only a very early-term chemical abortion). Contraception simply prevents the union of sperm and egg or its implantation in the womb.

So, how can that be bad? This was the question with which Catholics were grappling when I was a teen-ager. In those heady days of the '60's, you didn't know what was right and what was wrong, because everything seemed to be being turned on its head. Crosby, Stills and Nash were singing  "Love the one you're with", and for millions, that became their creed.

In the Church, things were changing as well. The Second Vatican Council was meeting, and many of the faithful unable to grasp the many theological subtleties that were being discussed were aghast at what they could see, the changes in the Mass and ceremonial. The documents of the Council were contained in a voluminous paperback the size of War and Peace, and few had the time or inclination to read what was actually contained there, let alone the formation and scholarly background to understand what was taking place.

Into this sea of turmoil and moral chaos came the invention of the birth control pill, what was thought to be an innocuous pill a woman could take once per day that would allow her to control her pregnancies. Whether or not the use of this pill was morally acceptable was such a topic of dispute even within the Church that Pope Paul VI called a special commission to study the matter and make recommendations to him. In due course, the commission recommended that use of the pill be permitted.

After reflection, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Pope rejected this conclusion and instead issued Humanae Vitae, which prohibits contraception as a grave sin, and explains why. This was received with much anger and resentment by the Catholic faithful, virtually ignored by many clergy, and mocked by non-Catholics. The actual result has been that it has had little effect, as polls indicate that Catholics contracept in only slightly lower numbers than non-Catholics.

Was the Pope wrong? Is contraception a reasonable solution to all the social problems that are purportedly caused by "overpopulation"? Now, some 50 years later, we have the perspective to examine the effects of contraception, and to see if the Holy Father was right in the predictions he made in Humanae Vitae".

First, though, to understand the reason why contraception is intrinsically evil, we have to examine role of sex itself. By focusing on the sex act, we lose sight of the "big picture", like trying to understand a computer by disassembling the keyboard. The overriding plan in this case is the family, which is an earthly reflection of the Trinity. The human race continues by babies being born, but babies are not born as adults. They need a family structure to nourish them, physically and spiritually, as they mature. The basis of that family structure is marriage between the baby's parents, and the basis of that marriage is sexual love.

Many people confuse love with feelings. God wants us to be "fruitful and multiply", so he designed those feelings to be pretty strong. The difference between feelings and love is that feelings are not free, as Peter Kreeft says. Feelings arise whether we want them to or not. Another very strong feeling is anger. We cannot help becoming angry at someone we think is committing an injustice to us. Love, however, is a choice. We can control how we respond to our feelings, whether it be sexual attraction or anger. Animals do not control their reaction to their sexual feelings; we should.

Marriage, as an expression of the love choice, means commitment. It means choosing to remain with a spouse "for better or worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness or in health, until death do us part." Thus, the sex act has two components, a physical one and a spiritual one. The physical one is designed to create new human beings. The spiritual one is designed to create and sustain a family that can nurture that new human being. These roles are complementary and essential.

Having sex outside a marriage is attempting to defeat God's plan, because the creation of a baby is the reason for sex in the first place. You drive your car for a reason, to go shopping for example; you don't just drive aimlessly around town. Having a marriage with no intent to have children is likewise defeating God's plan. You don't keep driving to the store without ever buying anything either. What would be the point?

The difficulty arises morally when these two purposes are separated. God made the appeal of the sex act very powerful, and our sinful nature makes it difficult to deny ourselves that pleasure, or to restrict it to only the circumstances in which is it fulfilling God's plan. It is by this separation that sin occurs, because it is a misuse of God's gift. This proclivity has existed as long as mankind, and has always resulted in problems for individuals and for society, which is simply the family of man.

Until the 60's, there was always the likelihood that an illicit sexual union would result in a child, so there was a strong impediment to promiscuous sex. The pill changed all that. I can remember that originally it was difficult to obtain a prescription, and doctors ensured that the women for whom they prescribed the pill were married. Obviously this was still sinful, but in keeping with overall societal mores. Fast forward to today, and as soon as girls reach puberty, their parents have them in to get started on contraceptives because they are "sexually active".

The Guttmacher Institute, for example, says that at least 75% of teenagers have had sex before they reach the age of 20. The National Survey of Family Growth by the CDC says that a whopping 98.2% of women aged 15-44 who have ever had intercourse used some form of contraception and 62% are currently using it. Interestingly, societal acceptance of illicit sex has become so great that the same CDC survey revealed that over 49% of unmarried, not cohabiting females are using the pill!

Thus, we find ourselves today in the situation where a female law student can go before a Congressional committee on national television and say that women cannot afford their contraceptives, and that the government (read the taxpayers) must pay for that "health service".

So, what did Pope Paul VI say back when all this began? In Humanae Vitae, he warned, "Upright men can even better convince themselves of the solid grounds on which the teaching of the Church in this field is based if they care to reflect upon the consequences of methods of artificially limiting the increase of children. Let them consider, first of all, how wide and easy a road would thus be opened up towards conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality."
 
"Not much experience is needed in order to know human weakness, and to understand that men-especially the young, who are so vulnerable on this point-have need of encouragement to be faithful to the moral law, so that they must not be offered some easy means of eluding its observance. It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion" (HV 17)."

Was he right? Has there been an increase in conjugal infidelity? It is tough to measure infidelity per se, but we can look at family statistics. In 1959, there were 395,000 divorces, whereas in there were 1,135,000 in 1998. The mathematics are complex, and involve assumptions that vary between researchers, but the estimate today of a marriage ending in divorce is from 43-50%. In 1950, 9% of homes had a single occupant, versus over 25% today. The "lowering of morality" of which the Holy Father speaks is evident from the figures on contraception.

The elephant in the parlor, of course, is abortion. The Center for Bioethical Reform reports that in the United States, we are killing 1.37 million children per year, or a rate of 3,700 per day. 52% of the women obtaining abortions are under 25 years of age, and 20% are teenagers. Over 64% have never been married. How is this related to contraception? The basic issue is that people want to divorce the sex act from procreation, and thus from marriage.

The emphasis on this notion of "love" started with the flower children of the 60's, and has since become a national mantra. Because of the "burden" of pregnancy that our President thinks women should be spared, we invented contraception. However, people do not always use contraception, and contraception is not always effective. So, society needs a back-up plan in the form of abortion.

The reason for its attractiveness of the emphasis on love is that it is a partial truth. The definition of "love" has become more like the definition of "lust" that what God meant by love. By "love" the culture means the feeling rather than the choice. The feeling is merely transitory attractiveness that often disappears after the sexual appetite is satisfied, instead of being the commitment that is engendered by real love. It is illusory, impermanent, and self-centered. It has nothing to do with responsibility and everything to do with immaturity and irresponsibility.

Have women benefited from their "liberation", brought about by the "sexual revolution" empowered by contraception? Hardly. In addition to being pressured into an activity that she knows is sinful, a woman must bear the psychological scars of being dumped when her paramour moves on to greener pastures. She may face the decision of whether or not to have an abortion and commit a heinous crime, or face the prospects of being a single mother.  She may also bear the scars of side effects of her birth control or a sexual transmitted disease, of which the CDC estimates there are 19,000,000 new cases every year.

According to the Heritage Foundation, in 2001 over 34% of babies were born to single mothers overall, with figures varying according to race. These children are seven times more likely to be poor than children born to families. Nearly three-quarters of government means-tested welfare aid to children goes to single-parent families. Over 80 percent of long-term child poverty occurs in broken or never-married families.

It is obvious that Pope Paul VI was prescient in predicting that contraception would lead to the destruction of marriage, families, and ultimately society. Turning a blind eye to 50 years of data since the advent of easily available contraception, proponents of birth control say that the problem is not that there are too many illegitimate children born alive and killed before birth, but that there is not enough contraception.

The truth is that God has a beautiful plan for his people that results mutual commitment between spouses, the formation of families that can nurture future generations, and an intact social structure. When we try to circumvent that plan, when we misuse the gifts we have been given, we are trying to achieve what seems to be a good end by using bad means, and that never works. As an advertisement for margarine said years ago, "You can't fool Mother Nature", and the Bible says, "God is not mocked."

-----

Dr. Frederick Liewehr is an endodontist who teaches and works in private practice. He converted from Protestantism to Catholicism in 1983, having been drawn ineluctably to Christ's Church by the light of Truth. He is a member of St. Benedict parish in Richmond, a Fourth Degree Knight of Columbus and a Cooperator of Opus Dei

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