Q: Archbishop J, how have we been so accommodating to abortion?
The foetus in the womb of the mother is a human life. It has an independent genetic structure from mother and father. In its natural home, the womb, if left undisturbed it would become a baby, toddler, child, teen, young adult and ultimately, an adult.
As such, from the moment of conception, it has all the dignity and the rights of a human person. Without all the technology that we have today, Tertullian, the second century father of the church saw clearly: “He who will one day be a man is a man already.”
Today, the Catholic Church is one of a few churches that has a consistent position against contraception, abortion, and sexual immorality. In an earlier time, all major Christian churches had the same moral framework that we have.
John Calvin, in the 1500s said: “Birth control is murder of future persons.”
John Wesley (1703–1791) said taking “preventative measures” was unnatural and would destroy the souls of those who practised it.
Martin Luther (1483–1546) said: “Birth control is sodomy.”
In the 1930s, Anglican Bishop Charles Gore warned the Anglican Church against contraception for married couples: “… accepting contraception would open the door to accepting homosexual sodomy”.
In 1930, The Washington Post speaking about contraception said: “Carried to its logical conclusion, the committee’s report, if carried into effect, would sound the death knell of marriage as a holy institution by establishing degrading practices which would encourage indiscriminate immorality. The suggestion that the use of legalised contraceptives would be ‘careful and restrained’ is preposterous.”
Contraception and Immorality
When I first read these quotes, I was perplexed. First, hundreds of years ago, the Protestant reformers saw contraception had the power to corrupt civilisation, pervert the natural order, and transform it into humans who oppose God’s intention.
And then, these very strong condemnations from an era past: sodomy, murder to future generations, unnatural, destructive to the soul, homosexual sodomy, a death knell of marriage as a holy institution, degrading practices, indiscriminate immorality.
If we are to strive for objectivity, we have to say legalising contraception has, in fact, brought about all the predicted consequences: marriage in America has a 50 per cent chance of lasting; homosexual marriage is now legal; the sexual revolution has sexualised the entire culture.
Our children are bumping into pornography at around age nine. This trauma sexualises them into addictive patterns in their teen years, which create great challenges for intimacy in later years.
In view of the sexual revolution and its consequences, we have now to look at the impact of contraception on our civilisation, 50 years on. Many now see St Pope Paul VI as a prophet. He, like the early reformers saw the disastrous impact of contraception on civilisation.
The teaching of the encyclical letter Humanae Vitae presented a challenge to pastors and particular married couples. In the rapidly transforming western culture of the last 50 years, living the teaching of the encyclical was a significant challenge for the married couple.
On the level of civilisation, we must be honest and say the destruction has been enormous. The predictions of the reformers and St Pope Paul VI have been far too accurate to ignore.
Contraception and Abortion
St Pope John Paul II, writing about the connection between contraception and abortion says, “despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree” (Evangelium Vitae, 13).
In his 1981 encyclical Familiaris Consortio (FC), St Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the teaching of St Paul VI. He reiterated that any separation of the unitive from the procreative dimensions of conjugal love is a grave error.
It transforms the couple into arbiter rather than a minister, regarding the couple’s power to transmit human life (cf FC, 32). The unitive—the coming together of the two persons into one must always be open to life (procreative).
There is a historical connection between contraception and abortion, which Dr William Newton invites readers to explore in, ‘Contraception and Abortion: Fruits of the Same Rotten Tree?’. He says:
The anti-life atmosphere exuded by contraception goes a long way to explain why countries that permit contraception very quickly follow up with laws permitting large-scale abortion. There was just eight years separating the legalization of contraception and abortion in the USA (1965 and 1973); seven years in Britain (1961 and 1968); eight in France (1967 and 1975). Ireland held out longer, thirty-five years (1978–2013). I suspect this is a record but perhaps has something to do with the fact that Irish women could abort their babies in Great Britain. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4434794/)
This is an interesting observation. The two, contraception and abortion, are a symbiotic pair. Once contraception is introduced, abortion follows. Then the drop in the birth rate below the sustainable threshold is next.
Of course, the sexual revolution takes its hold, and the inner core of the moral life is challenged. Everything that modern western culture is proud of in terms of reproductive rights, is against what the ancients considered good moral practice. But then, St Ignatius named the devil as the enemy of human nature. If this is true, then, contraception and abortion have been major weapons in his arsenal.
There are so many things that have progressed in the modern world over the last 50 years. We have more opportunities that any generation past.
Yet, we cannot see that abortion is the killing of a human life.
We cannot see that contraception is a slippery slope to corrupt the civilisation.
We cannot see that what may look reasonable on the human level may well spell disaster on the level of civilisation.
Contraception and abortion are tied together as the fruit of the same tree. The first lays the foundation for laxity in morals and a sexualised culture. The latter desensitises the human to our true dignity.
Reflect on your beliefs about contraception and abortion. Read the Catechism of the Catholic Church on both.
1 John 2:15–17