Tag Archives: birth control

Realizing the “Con” in Contraception – Humanae Vitae at a Half-Century


The document taught nothing new, but rather reaffirmed Church teaching condemning artificial contraception. Yet Humanae Vitae (“On Human Life”) met with considerable opposition amid the tumultuous atmosphere of the late 1960s. The sexual revolution was in full swing, and a proliferation of protest movements called all authority into question. Even within the Catholic Church, some believed the “spirit” of the Second Vatican Council might lead to a relaxing of Catholic teaching involving sexual ethics.

What’s more, a special commission, appointed by Pope John XXIII and expanded by Paul VI to advise on the question of contraception, was reported to have advocated a change in the teaching.

Those who anticipated such a rollback were sorely disappointed with the 1968 encyclical.

Arguing from natural law, Humanae Vitae upheld the principle that “every conjugal act must remain open to the transmission of life.” Catholicism has traditionally taught that the sexual act in marriage has both a unitive purpose and a procreative purpose. It is unitive because it is a sign of the marital union, an exclusive and lifelong commitment of selfgiving love; and it is preeminently procreative because by its very nature it is ordered to the creation of new life.

These purposes also provide the foundation for a large body of Catholic moral teaching. The unitive dimension means sexual expression must be reserved to husband and wife, and that they remain faithful until death. The procreative dimension means a couple cannot interrupt or place artificial barriers to the process of generating life. In plainer terms, that excludes not only abortion and sterilization, but also the birth-control pill, contraceptive devices, and any action “specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

Some critics predicted Humanae Vitae would collapse under opposition and that papal authority itself would be undermined. But Pope Paul also predicted a few things of his own — consequences for what might happen if the use of artificial contraception were to become widespread.


A half-century later, it seems Paul VI was right and his critics wrong: the teaching and the papacy have survived, and Paul is often called “prophetic” for the accuracy of his warnings.

He warned in Humanae Vitae that contraception could “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards,” particularly for young people. He believed contraception would lead to the objectification of women, whereby a man would “forget the reverence due to a woman” and reduce her to “a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires.” Governments might impose contraceptive measures on their citizens. It is not too challenging to find illustrations of these consequences today.

Humanae Vitae also states that married love requires responsible parenthood, which itself means “an awareness of, and respect for” natural biological processes, using reason and will to exercise self-discipline over “innate drives and emotions,” and “due respect for moral precepts.”

Couples who have “serious reasons” for avoiding pregnancy, therefore, may licitly take advantage of the natural cycles of the woman’s fertility and choose to engage in sexual intercourse only during her infertile days. Such morally acceptable methods today are collectively described as “natural family planning.”


The richness of Humanae Vitae has been explicated further by Pope John Paul II, particularly in his talks on the theology of the body. Yet the encyclical’s teachings have not been widely embraced, and the terrible consequences of which it warned – and worse – have come to pass.

Dr. Janet E. Smith, professor of moral theology at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, believes matters have become even worse than Paul VI imagined.

“Pope Paul VI’s predictions were prophetic and have come true more emphatically than he could possibly have anticipated,” said Smith, who has written and lectured widely on Humanae Vitae and sexual ethics. “The number of children being raised by single mothers, the number of children being killed by abortion and the frequency of fractured marriages is much greater, I suspect, than he would have thought.”

To her knowledge, she added, neither Paul VI nor anyone else in the late 1960s foresaw “that the use of pornography would become an epidemic, that people of the same sex would be able to ‘marry’ each other, and that young children would be able to choose their sex and would undergo operations that would permanently alter them.”

Father Francis J. “Rocky” Hoffman, executive director of Relevant Radio, lauded Paul VI for his foresight.

“The ‘prophetic’ nature of Humanae Vitae was not due — in my opinion — to some mystical experience of Blessed Paul VI, but based on his understanding of natural law and the importance of following the nature of things,” said Father Hoffman. “Sex is fundamentally about procreation and not recreation, and when that order is confused, the result is what we see today.”

That result — the observable decay in moral standards, marriage and family life — is discouraging. So is the polling data.

A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that among Catholics who attend Mass weekly, only 13 percent consider the use of contraception as “morally wrong.” By comparison, just 4 percent of all Americans held a similar view.

Meanwhile, 45 percent of weekly Mass attendees say contraception is “morally acceptable,” while 42 percent say it is “not a moral issue.”


Father Hoffman believes the fundamental resistance to Humanae Vitae may be rooted in fear. “That primal human passion can only be remedied by a deep and trusting relationship with God,” he said.

Smith agreed that fear is a factor. Catholics “must not be afraid of the topic,” she said. “We must not be afraid to be radical Catholics who embrace the faith in its fullness.”

She believes contraception is the linchpin to changing the culture on other moral issues.

“Unless this problem is addressed, not much progress will be made on the others. To address the problems of our culture we need mature, wise, generous persons, and our current culture is not producing such,” said Smith. “The best nurturing environments for the leaders we need are intact, faith-filled households, and spouses who don’t contracept are most likely to establish such households.”

For faithful Catholics who wish to help transform the culture, Father Hoffman prescribes leading by example.

“The best way to promote the teachings of Humanae Vitae is to live what Pope Francis calls the ‘Joy of the Gospel,’” he said, “and witness that joy in large families who have more faith than money, more love and deep human emotion than material things.” Humanae Vitae acknowledges the difficulties couples may face in remaining faithful to the Church’s teachings on contraception and married love. It urges them to find strength in prayer and the sacraments so as to persevere.

Religion is not easy for anyone, said Father Hoffman, and Catholics are no exception.

“To live one’s faith more authentically requires daily spiritual struggle, based on prayer and sacrifice, realizing that the sacrifice most pleasing to God is to make life more pleasant for the people we live and work with,” he said. “But fundamentally, the ability to live a life of faith is a gift from God — a gift we should ask for daily.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine staff writer.


Born Giovanni Battista Montini, Sept. 26, 1897, in Concesio, Brescia, Italy

Ordained May 29, 1920

Served in the Vatican diplomatic corps and Roman curia, 1922-54

Served as archbishop of Milan, 1954-63

Elevated to cardinal, 1958

Elected pope June 21, 1963, succeeding Pope John XXIII

Continued Second Vatican Council to its completion, implementing its reforms

Promulgated new Order of Mass, 1970

Dubbed “The Pilgrim Pope,” the most traveled pope up to his time; visited six continents; made pastoral visit to the U.S., 1965

Survived assassination attempt in the Philippines, 1970

Wrote eight encyclicals, including Mysterium Fidei (on the Eucharist), 1965; Populorum Progressio (on the development of peoples), 1967; and Humanae Vitae (on human life), 1968

Expanded ecumenical dialogue with the Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant churches

Canonized 84 saints, and beatified St. Maximilian Kolbe

Appointed 143 cardinals, including his next three successors (Popes John Paul I, John Paul II, and Benedict XVI)

Died of a heart attack, August 6, 1978, age 80, at Castel Gandolfo

Cause for canonization opened 1993; declared venerable, 2012; beatified, 2014; to be canonized Oct. 14, 2018

Birth control pretext for destroying religious liberty

Wesley Smith blasts the HHS mandate, saying the ultimate target is Christian morality . . .

Wesley J. Smith

Wesley J. Smith

Government secularism is on the march against religion, and its generals have announced they intend to take few prisoners. For proof, look no further than the Free Birth Control Rule (as I call it) promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This rule requires employers with 50 or more workers to provide coverage for free contraception, sterilization, and morning-after pills — even if it violates their religious beliefs. A very narrow conscience exemption was carved out for churches with religious objections. But two other categories of dissenting employers must comply despite their faith objections: religious organizations (such as universities and hospitals) and private business owners.

Nonprofit religious organizations: When first announced, the FBCR would have required Catholic universities, schools, charities, and other non-profits to offer employees free contraception just like any business. That sparked a political firestorm, causing the Obama administration to delay implementation for these groups until Aug. 1 of this year with the promise of devising a reasonable compromise.

That proposal is now in, and it is all sleight of hand. The administration still requires all female employees (and eligible dependents, meaning teenage girls, among others) of these objecting organizations to be covered for free contraception — like it or not. Here’s how the “accommodation” will work:

• Nonprofit religious employers must comply with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act and purchase a general group health plan.
• The employer must certify to its insurance carrier that it objects to contraception for religious reasons.
• The health insurance carrier then must “automatically enroll participants and beneficiaries in a separate health insurance policy that covers recommended contraceptive services.”
• The insurance carrier must provide this supplemental policy to these girls and women free of charge.

Thus, the mere act of purchasing health insurance — required by law — automatically triggers forced free coverage for contraception. This means that in many cases, even nuns will have to be insured for birth control, with the only opt-out breaking the law by refusing to buy health insurance, which triggers a stiff fine. Any concomitant harm caused to employees will be the government’s fault for forcing dissenting faith employers to choose between offering benefits and violating their religious beliefs.

Private business owners: The Obama administration’s attempt to force its moral values upon private business owners is even more onerous. Not only are business men and women forced to pay out of their own pockets for that which they perceive to be sinful, but the administration contends that business owners sacrifice their religious liberties in operating their enterprises simply by seeking profit Scores of business owners have sued, so far with mixed results. The cases primarily hinge on the applicability of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which requires that the government prove it has a “compelling state interest” when legally forcing individuals to violate their faith tenets.

To get around the RFRA, the Department of Justice argues that business owners cannot “practice religion” in the commercial context. Or to put it another way, the administration believes that business is a religion-free zone. That’s only part of the Obama secularizing agenda. In another radical move, the DOJ argues that by standing up for religious liberty, dissenting business owners are actually forcing their religion on workers. In other words, the administration has recast business owners as theocratic tyrants.

That’s topsy-turvy. Refuse-to-pay is not synonymous with prevent-from-obtaining. Dissenting business owners are not preventing their female workers from using birth control simply because they won’t pay for it.

Ironically, the administration is attempting to impose its ideology on religious dissenting business owners and religious organizations. The DOJ argues that forcing all employers to provide free contraception (one way or the other) is essential to secure “equal access … to goods, privileges, and advantages” that otherwise are denied females due to the “unique health care burdens and responsibilities” borne by women.

Birth control isn’t the real issue. There is an important principle at stake. Indeed, once a legal precedent is established, one day there could be a free abortion rule, a free IVF rule, or a free sex-change operation rule. And it wouldn’t end with health-related issues, either. In the end, the administration is using birth control as the blade that sacrifices religious liberty on the altar of naked secularism.

WESLEY J. SMITH is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center on Human Exceptionalism.

Governor Jindal and the politics of birth control

Fr. Pacholczyk dissects Gov. Jindal’s proposal for over-the-counter birth control . . .

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

Fr. Tadeusz Pacholczyk

In a Wall Street Journal op-ed last December, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal argues that the cost of birth control could be reduced by eliminating the required doctor’s visit to get a prescription — making contraception available “over the counter.”

If it were made available this way, he argues, it would no longer be reimbursable by health insurance, and people could simply purchase it on their own. Jindal posits that this approach would result in “the end of birth control politics.” He relies on several simplistic assumptions and inadequate moral judgments, however, as he tries to advance this argument.

First, he misconstrues the objective. The goal should not be to remove birth control from political debate, but rather to arrive at reasonable medical, ethical and constitutional judgments about birth control and public policy. Contraception is an important topic for public discussion because it touches on basic human and social goods, such as children, family and sexual fidelity.

Indeed, laws about contraception have always been based upon concerns for the public good and public order. This was the case when Connecticut, in 1879, enacted strong legislation outlawing contraception. This law, similar to the anti-contraception laws of many other states, was in effect for nearly 90 years before it was reversed in 1965. These laws codified the longstanding public judgment that contraception was harmful to society because it promoted promiscuity, adultery and other evils.

Yet Jindal fails to engage these core concerns and instead retreats behind a common cultural cliché when he writes, “Contraception is a personal matter — the government shouldn’t be in the business of banning it or requiring a woman’s employer to keep tabs on her use of it.” If it’s true that contraception is often harmful to individuals and families, to marriage and to women’s health, then it clearly has broader public policy implications and is, objectively speaking, not merely a “personal matter.”

Consider just a few of the health issues: Contracepting women have increased rates of cardiovascular and thromboembolic events, including increased deep vein thrombosis, strokes, pulmonary emboli (blood clots in the lungs), and heart attacks. Newer third and fourth generation combination birth control pills, which were supposed to lower cardiovascular risks, may actually increase those risks, and recently there have been class action lawsuits brought against the manufacturers of Yaz, Yasmin and Ocella, because women have died from such events.

In seeking to serve the public interest, the government may determine to become involved in such matters, as it did back in 1879, through specific legislative initiatives or through other forms of regulatory oversight. Indeed, the recent deployment of the HHS contraceptive mandate, as a component of ObamaCare, reflects an awareness of the public ramifications of this issue, even though the mandate itself is profoundly flawed and ultimately subverts the public interest. It compels Americans, unbelievably, to pay for the sexual proclivities of their neighbors, not only by requiring employers to cover costs for the Pill in their health plans, but also to pay for other morally objectionable procedures, including direct surgical sterilizations and abortion-causing drugs.

Jindal goes on to argue, “As an unapologetic pro-life Republican, I also believe that every adult (18 years old and over) who wants contraception should be able to purchase it.” Yet Jindal is really quite apologetic (and inconsistent) in his pro-life stance by arguing in this fashion. Contraception can never be pro-life. It regularly serves as a gateway to abortion, with abortion functioning as the “backup” to failed contraception for countless women and their partners. Abortion and contraception are two fruits of the same tree, being anti-child and therefore anti-life at the root. Certain “emergency” contraceptives (like Plan B and EllaOne) also appear able to function directly as abortifacients. IUDs can function similarly, making the uterine lining hostile for an arriving human embryo and forcing a loss of life to occur through a failure to implant.

Jindal, a committed Catholic, should not be minimizing the medical and moral risks associated with promoting contraceptive use, nor lessening social vigilance by promoting “over the counter” availability. Committed Catholics and politicians of conscience can better advance the public discourse surrounding contraception by avoiding such forms of circumlocution and instead directly addressing the medical and ethical evils of contraception and the unacceptability of the coercive HHS mandate itself.

REV. TADEUSZ PACHOLCZYK, Ph.D., earned his doctorate in neuroscience from Yale. He is a priest of the diocese of Fall River, Mass., and serves as the director of education at the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia.

Life issues faced by Catholic business leaders

Andrew Abela continues his series on the forthcoming Catechism for Business. . .

Dr. Andrew Abela

This column continues its look at four questions from the forthcoming Catechism for Business (see September 2008 column). We focus here on life issues, covering four relevant questions.

May we sell any product or service to an organization whose purpose is hostile to innocent life?

The Church draws a distinction between formal and material cooperation with evil. Formal cooperation is where your intention or your own action is evil. Material cooperation with evil is where you do not share the evil intention of those you are cooperating with, and where your own action is not evil, but somehow contributes to the evil action of another. In this example, offering cleaning services to an abortion clinic because you support what they are doing is formal cooperation. Offering cleaning services to an abortion clinic because you need to keep your workers employed in a recession, while you despise what is going on in the clinic, is material cooperation.

Formal cooperation is always forbidden. Material cooperation should be avoided, except where avoiding it would cause a greater evil. In cases of attacks on innocent life though, even material cooperation is forbidden, because there can be no greater evil than the taking of an innocent life. Therefore, it is not permissible to sell cleaning services to an abortion clinic, even to save your employees’ jobs.

“Formal cooperation is carried out when the moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, sharing in the latter’s evil intention. On the other hand, when a moral agent cooperates with the immoral action of another person, without sharing his/her evil intention, it is a case of material cooperation.

“Formal cooperation is always morally illicit because it represents a form of direct and intentional participation in the sinful action of another person. Material cooperation can sometimes be illicit … but when immediate material cooperation concerns grave attacks on human life, it is always to be considered illicit.”—Pontifical Academy for Life, Moral Reflections on Vaccines Prepared from Cells Derived From Aborted Human Fetuses, June 5, 2005.

Is it morally acceptable to offer health care benefits that cover abortion or birth control to employees?

The answer to this question is similar to the preceding one: Offering health care benefits that cover abortion or birth control to employees is at best material cooperation in evil, and since in the case of abortion and (often) birth control this involves an offense against life, then it is not permissible.

Should health care workers refuse to participate in actions that are harmful to innocent life?

Health care workers should exercise their right to conscientious objection when asked to participate in any attack on innocent human life (i.e., abortion or euthanasia). Where this right is not recognized, health care workers must still refuse to participate in such attacks, even at the cost of their own career because — as just noted — even material cooperation in attacks on innocent life is forbidden.

“In the moral domain, [the International Congress of Catholic Pharmacists] is invited to address the issue of conscientious objection, which is a right your profession must recognize, permitting you not to collaborate either directly or indirectly by supplying products for the purpose of decisions that are clearly immoral.”— Pope Benedict XVI, Address to the ICCP, Oct. 29, 2007.

“The passing of unjust laws often raises difficult problems of conscience for morally upright people with regard to the issue of cooperation since they have a right to demand not to be forced to take part in morally evil actions. Sometimes the choices which have to be made are difficult; they may require the sacrifice of prestigious professional positions or the relinquishing of reasonable hopes of career advancement.”— Pope John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, #74.

What obligations do we have to ensure the health and safety of our employees beyond the legal requirements, especially in countries with less stringent legislation?

Respect for human life requires employers to take every precaution to protect the lives and health of their employees. The Church notes the importance of protecting workers’ moral as well as physical health. Employers also have a responsibility for the safety of the employees of their outsource partners, whom the Church considers their indirect employees.

“Among these rights [of employees] there should never be overlooked the right to a working environment and to manufacturing processes which are not harmful to the workers’ physical health or to their moral integrity.”— John Paul II, Laborem Exercens, #19.

“The conditions in which a man works … must not be such as to weaken his physical or moral fiber, or militate against the proper development of adolescents to manhood.” — Pope John XXIII, Pacem in Terris, #19.

“The responsibility of the indirect employer differs from that of the direct employer … but it remains a true responsibility: The indirect employer substantially determines one or other facet of the labor relationship, thus conditioning the conduct of the direct employer when the latter determines in concrete terms the actual work contract and labor relations. — Laborem Exercens, #17.

Dr. Andrew Abela is an associate professor of marketing at the Catholic University of America, where he is chair-elect of the Department of Business and Economics. He lives in Great Falls, Va., with his wife Kathleen and their six children.