Charles E. Rice
Right or Wrong?
August 25, 2008
Notre Dame should, but probably won’t, commemorate this anniversary. Forty years ago, July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI, in Humanae Vitae (HV), reaffirmed the traditional Christian position on contraception. Until 1930, no Christian denomination had ever said that contraception could ever be objectively right. Luther, Calvin, and Wesley rejected it.
The 1930 Anglican Lambeth Conference gave cautious approval to contraception. Pope Pius XI replied that “any use… of matrimony… in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature… and a grave sin.”
When the Pill came on the market in the 1960s, the Catholic Church came under pressure to abandon its solitary stand against it. HV’s disapproval of the Pill brought a storm of dissent and ridicule on Paul VI, e.g., “he no play-a the game, he no make-a the rules.” Four decades later, nobody in his right mind is laughing.
Experience has validated the prediction of the Washington Post on March 22, 1931, that the approval of contraception “would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality.”
Contraception deliberately separates sex from procreation by acting to make procreation impossible; it makes man, of both sexes, the arbiter of whether and when life will begin; and it prevents the total mutual self-donation that ought to characterize the conjugal act. It also accepts the idea that there is such a thing as a life not worth living, i.e., the life that might have resulted had not contraception prevented it. If, through contraception, man makes himself (or herself) the arbiter of whether and when life shall begin, he will predictably make himself the arbiter of when it shall end, as in abortion and euthanasia. John Paul II described abortion and contraception as “fruits of the same tree.”
In HV, Paul VI foretold three evils that would result from the acceptance of “artificial methods of birth control”:
1. “[C]onjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.” No. 17. One reason why sex should be reserved for marriage is that sex has something to do with babies. But if it is entirely up to man (of both sexes) whether sex will have any relation to procreation, why should it be reserved for marriage, why should marriage be permanent and why should marriage be heterosexual?
As Methodist Pastor Donald Sensing wrote in 2004, the legalization of “homosexual marriage” became inevitable when the Pill severed “[t]he causal relationships between sex, pregnancy and marriage.” A contraceptive culture will legitimize not only homosexual activity, but also promiscuity, pornography, divorce, in vitro fertilization, cloning, etc. President R. Albert Mohler, Jr., of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary said in 2005, “The … separation of sex from procreation may be one of the most important defining marks of our age—and one of the most ominous…. [T]he pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex.” From 1960 to 2000, the percentage of children born out of wedlock in the United States rose from 5% to 33%. Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation. The 2008 Gallup Values and Beliefs poll showed that 61% of Americans approve of sex between an unmarried man and woman. And so on.
2. Woman as an object, so that the man considers the woman “as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.” No. 17. The objectification of women is evident in the prevalence of pornography, especially on the Internet. Women are the big losers in the contraceptive culture. Francis Fukuyama, in “The Great Disruption,” said the pill and abortion liberated men from responsibility and put the burden on women, allowing “many… ordinary men… to live fantasy lives of hedonism and serial polygamy formerly reserved only for a tiny group of men at the very top of society.”
3. “[A] dangerous weapon would thus be placed in the hands of … public authorities.” No. 17. Since 1970 the federal government has promoted population control through contraception, with a focus on minorities and third world countries. Planned Parenthood and other publicly funded entities promote all forms of birth control among minorities to the extent that 37 percent of all abortions are on black women although blacks, at 36 million, are only 13 percent of the U.S. population. Since 1973, 10 to 13 million black babies have been aborted.
“Contraception,” said John Paul II, is “so profoundly unlawful as never to be, for any reason, justified.” That conclusion is not disturbed by the legitimacy of natural birth regulation. As HV put it, “If … there are serious motives to space out births… it is… licit to take into account the natural rhythms… for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles.” No. 16.
HV was a defining event because Paul VI refused to follow an insane world over the cliff into an abyss of nihilism. He stood for the Truth of love and life. Conjugal love, he said, “is total … . a very special form of personal friendship, in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations.” No. 10.
Members of the Notre Dame community could best commemorate HV by a prayerful consideration of its Truth.
Prof. Emeritus Rice is on the Law School faculty. He can be reached at email@example.com or at (574) 633-4415.