The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):
Archive for the ‘Contraception’ Category
In the Comments box of my previous post about the Holy Father’s remarks about condoms, a friend remarked that some people are interpreting those remarks as justifying the use of condoms if one has a “good intention”. I originally replied in the Comment box, but I think this is such an important point that I want to put it out front here.
This is a very complex question because it implicates two levels of moral teaching — the objective morality of certain acts, and the subjective culpability of the actor.
It is clear in Catholic teaching that a good intention alone cannot morally justify an evil act. The most important factor in evaluating the objective morality of an action is the “moral object” — the nature of the conduct. The “good intentions” of the actor cannot turn an evil act into a good one. For a fuller explanation of this, see the Catechism, sections 1750 and following.
So, within a marriage, the use of a contraceptive device like a condom is always inherently wrong, because it changes the objective nature of the sexual act from an authentic marital act into something that is contrary to the nature of human sexuality (since it is no longer open to fertility). Outside of marriage, any sexual act is always objectively morally wrong. So in either case, no “good intention” can justify the performance of such acts.
In fact, an appeal to “good intentions” may actually encourage people to engage in morally wrong (and physically dangerous) activity. Condoms do not provide guaranteed protection against the transmission of disease, and a reliance on condoms is even less effective the more one engages in sexually risky behavior. Sex outside of marriage is also sinful and has a deeply (even mortally) negative impact on the state of one’s soul. No amount of wishful thinking about good intentions can protect someone from those effects.
Nor can an appeal to “double effect” reasoning change this conclusion. To qualify for that, that the action has to be either morally good or neutral; the bad effect cannot be directly intended; the good result cannot be a direct result of the bad effect; and the good result must be proportionate to the bad effect. The use of a condom in a marriage doesn’t satisfy this test; it always remains morally wrong, because it changes the nature of the sexual act. Even if, for the sake of argument, the use of a condom outside of marriage to prevent disease transmission were considered morally neutral or good, it still can’t change the objectively wrong nature of the underlying act of sex outside of marriage.
It seems to me that no matter how you analyze it, we wind up back at the point the Holy Father made — the use of the condom is not a “real or moral solution” to the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Having said that, however, you also have to consider that the Holy Father was not just talking about the objective morality of the act, but also the subjective culpability of an individual who engages in it. In the case that the Holy Father cited, the use of a condom by a prostitute, the objective nature of the act is unchanged, and is always evil (a sexual act outside of marriage). However, the individual’s culpability for that act may be lessened by the intention to reduce the risk of disease transmission. I would also note that the subjective culpability of a prostitute may be lessened by many other factors (coercion, addictions, compulsive behavior, legacies of past abuses, social structures of sin, etc.).
So the question is, can a Catholic pastor or institution affirmatively advise a person in that situation to use a condom to prevent disease — to say, in effect, “be good, but if you can’t be good be safe”? I can’t see how one could justify that. If a pastor were to do so, he would be actively encouraging or excusing immoral and risky behavior. It is a better approach — the “real and moral solution”, as the Holy Father says — to continue to proclaim publicly the teaching of the Church to all, and encourage all to conform their lives to the objective moral law and the nature of sexuality. Any discussion of a person’s use of a condom under particular circumstances, their personal culpability, and how they are proceeding along the gradual path to conversion, is best left to pastoral counseling or the Confessional.
In short, none of what the Holy Father said gives any support to the wishful thinking approach that would justify using a condom in marriage, that would lessen the objective evil of any sexual act outside of marriage, or that would encourage the widespread use of condoms, regardless of the alleged nobility of one’s intentions.
The media and the Catholic blogosphere have been buzzing about some comments Pope Benedict makes in his soon-to-be-released interview book, Light of the World. The claim is that the Pope has somehow changed Church teaching on the morality of condom use in the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS.
Let’s look at what the Pope did and did not say. But first, let’s make sure we understand the starting point — the actual teaching of the Church on sexual morality. In a nutshell:
The Holy Father did not change any of this teaching because, first of all, it’s true, and secondly because he can’t — it is the will of God, revealed through Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition, and continually re-affirmed by the Magisterium.
With that foundation, let’s look at what the Holy Father said. In response to a question about the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, in which the questioner asked him to respond to this provocative statement, “Critics, including critics from the Church’s own ranks, object that it is madness to forbid a high-risk population to use condoms”, the Holy Father replied,
As a matter of fact, you know, people can get condoms when they want them anyway. But this just goes to show that condoms alone do not resolve the question itself. More needs to happen. Meanwhile, the secular realm itself has developed the so-called ABC Theory: Abstinence-Be Faithful-Condom, where the condom is understood only as a last resort, when the other two points fail to work. This means that the sheer fixation on the condom implies a banalization of sexuality, which, after all, is precisely the dangerous source of the attitude of no longer seeing sexuality as the expression of love, but only a sort of drug that people administer to themselves. This is why the fight against the banalization of sexuality is also a part of the struggle to ensure that sexuality is treated as a positive value and to enable it to have a positive effect on the whole of man’s being.
There may be a basis in the case of some individuals, as perhaps when a male prostitute uses a condom, where this can be a first step in the direction of a moralization, a first assumption of responsibility, on the way toward recovering an awareness that not everything is allowed and that one cannot do whatever one wants. But it is not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection. That can really lie only in a humanization of sexuality.
As a follow-up, the Holy Father was then asked, “Are you saying, then, that the Catholic Church is actually not opposed in principle to the use of condoms?” In reply, he said:
She of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.
There is nothing in these statements that in any way undermines the Church’s teaching about the morality of sexual acts in general, or contraceptive acts in particular. Instead, the Holy Father affirmed that the solution to the spread of HIV/AIDS is a return to a true, human understanding of sexuality, which is presented in its fullness in the teaching of the Church.
He is not saying that intrinsically immoral acts — in this case, sex outside of marriage — somehow become morally acceptable due to the use of a condom. He is merely saying that the decision to reduce the potential harm to others from an immoral act may in fact reflect the glimmer of awakening in one’s conscience.
In doing so, the Holy Father presented a humane and optimistic view of the possibility of grace even for those who are deeply enmeshed in structures of sin and their own sins, and who can begin the process of conversion by making small steps towards the truth in the depths of their heart. All of us who have trod this same halting path of conversion from our sins will recognize this sentiment of mercy.
There are some who will use the Holy Father’s compassionate words to further their agenda of opposing the Church’s view of human sexuality. There are others who are scandalized that the Pope would even discuss such a subject as condoms and male prostitutes. Some would prefer a more black-and-white presentation of morality, rather than a view that looks with kindness into the complexities of the human heart.
Of course, some said the same things about the Lord Himself, who, as we all remember, liked to eat with tax collectors and prostitutes, to encourage them along the path of conversion.
The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts (if you’re interested in subscribing to the daily mailing, leave your email address in the comments box):
The following are some of the highlights from the daily email briefing about news and events, which I send out to some of my friends and contacts:
It is simple common sense that when you support a piece of legislation, you are supporting what the bill will actually do. It doesn’t matter what your private motives are, or even what your long-term goals are. If you support a bill, you support what it will do.
This is relevant because another of those “common ground to reduce abortions” bills has been introduced in Congress, and a number of Catholics have announced their support for it.
This time, it’s the so-called “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act.” (H.R.3312). The Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops calls the bill “the Planned Parenthood Economic Stimulus Package of 2009″. I prefer the name the “Phony Baloney Common Ground Pretend to Reduce Abortion by Throwing Obscene Gobs of Money at the Temple of Moloch, er, I mean Planned Parenthood, so They Can Flood the World With Contraceptives and Degrading Sex Education Act”. It’s a little long, but it captures the essence of the thing.
Like it or not, and regardless of their motives, here is what the backers of this bill are supporting:
- A requirement that all states pay for all abortions for low-income women through “family planning” and Medicaid programs — despite the fact that the clearest way to reduce abortions is to restrict public funding for them, and the best way to increase abortions is to pay for them.
- A massive increase funding for the federal Title X Family Planning Program — despite the fact that the bulk of this money goes to the largest abortion “provider” in the United States, Planned Parenthood, we already spend over $1 billion on this program, and Title X requires that teenagers receive contraceptives without parental knowledge or consent.
- Relying almost exclusively on contraceptives to reduce pregnancy — despite the fact that it has been documented that such a strategy does not reduce pregnancy or abortions, but rather increases them.
- Making family planning services a mandatory Medicaid entitlement in all states, and greatly expanding family planning eligibility under Medicaid — despite the fact that there is hardly a shortage of contraceptives in the United States (New York City’s Health Department gives out over a million free condoms each month!).
- Increased funding for indecent sex education programs that do more to corrupt the morals of minors than encourage them to abstain from sex until marriage. In fact, the bill doesn’t even mention the word “abstinence”, and it says absolutely nothing about reserving sex for marriage, but instead merely talks about teaching teens to “delay” sex (until when, senior prom?).
- Encourages even more grants to “nonprofit community” groups to do sex education — which is to say, throw more money at Planned Parenthood so they can sell more contraceptives and do more abortions when they fail.
Look, “common ground” is a nice place to be, and it’s encouraging that people want to reduce the number of abortions. Plus, the bill does have some good elements, such as support for adoption, expansion of prenatal and neonatal health care, and support for nutrition programs. But those good elements — without the bad stuff — are already present in a genuine pro-life bill that will likely result in real reductions in abortion, the “Pregnant Women Support Act”.
Remember, you have to look carefully at what it is you’re supporting. Good ends can never justify evil means. The “Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act” uses evil means, funds evil organizations, and is likely to have evil results.
No Catholic in good conscience can support such a bill.
We hear all the time the argument that to lower the abortion rate, we need to provide greater access to contraception. This is a typical feature of the so-called “common ground” approach to reducing abortion, and we Catholics are looked at askance for failing to get on board with the agenda of expanding access to contraception as a way to reduce abortions.
There are lots of problems with that approach. One is that it is just plain false. Greater access and use of contraceptives does not reduce abortion. The facts speak for themselves.
Fact 1. Contraceptive use is already “virtually universal among women of reproductive age,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Alan Guttmacher Institute (the research arm of Planned Parenthood) reports that 89% of reproductive-age women already are using contraception and 98% have used it in their lifetime. Even among teenagers who are sexually active and wish to avoid pregnancy, only 7% don’t use contraception.
Fact 2. The typical use of contraceptives still results in pregnancy. Even among women who use contraceptives, there are still unintended pregnancies and abortions. With typical use, the risk of pregnancy over 12 months is 9% with oral contraceptives and 15% with condoms. The failure rate among teenagers is even higher. 48% of women who report an unintended pregnancy, and 54% of women seeking an abortion, were using contraceptives during the time when they became pregnant.
Fact 3. Contraceptive researchers and social scientists have concluded that increased availability of contraception fails to reduce rates of unintended pregnancy and abortion. In fact, it may have the opposite result. One British researcher has said, “It is clear that providing more family planning clinics, far from having the effect of reducing conception rates,has actually led to an increase.” American researcher Douglas Kirby concludes: “Most studies that have been conducted during the past 20 years have indicated that improving access to contraception did not significantly increase contraceptive use or decrease teen pregnancy”
Fact 4. Even the so-called “emergency contraception” doesn’t work to reduce pregnancy and abortion. Research in the U.S., Western Europe and China have all agreed that no effect on pregnancy or abortion rates was demonstrated with advance provision of “emergency contraception”.
Fact 5. The way to reduce teen pregnancy and abortion is to encourage chastity. Studies dating back into the 1990′s clearly show that the most of the reduction in teen pregnancy and abortion rates can be attributed to reduced sexual activity. This is also the most effective way to reduce the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.
For more information about these statistics, see this report from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Pro-Life Secretariat.
The principal reason that contraception fails to reduce abortion is that it conveys a terrible, anti-life lesson. It teaches that a new human life is the enemy to be avoided at all costs, and certainly not welcomed. When contraceptives fail — as they inevitably do — this lesson leads logically to looking at abortion as a contraceptive of last resort.
This is bad for people, it is bad for society, and it is bad public policy. Don’t fall for it.
The recent document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Dignitatis Personae (“The Dignity of a Person”), addresses a number of thorny moral issues in bioethics. One of the most complex, because of its intersection with public policy, is the issue of so-called “emergency contraception” (EC, for short).
EC is yet another invention of the Culture of Death, the primary purpose of which is to facilitate immoral sexual activity by preventing an undesired pregnancy. That’s why it’s trade name is “Plan B” and it’s usually called “the morning after pill”. There’s no other purpose for this drug. It’s sole goal is to prevent pregnancy after sexual intercourse has happened. Talk about being anti-life — here it is, in very clear, unalloyed form.
Here’s what the United States Food and Drug Administration says about how EC works:
Plan B works like a birth control pill to prevent pregnancy mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary. It is possible that Plan B may also work by preventing fertilization of an egg (the uniting of sperm with the egg) or by preventing attachment (implantation) to the uterus (womb), which usually occurs beginning 7 days after release of an egg from the ovary. Plan B will not do anything to a fertilized egg already attached to the uterus. The pregnancy will continue.
Let me lapse into medical lingo for a second. As designed, EC has two possible functions: as a contraceptive (stopping ovulation, so that conception cannot occur), and as an interceptive (working after conception to stop the new human life from implanting in the uterus). Medical scientists have been studying how the drug actually work in practice. Although some studies indicate that EC does not interfere with implantation, the evidence is inconclusive, and researchers are generally unwilling to rule out the interceptive effect of EC.
That’s the medical talk. In plain language, the “interceptive” effect of EC is actually an early abortion — it destroys a newly conceived human life by preventing it from taking the next stage in its development. Of course, the medical community tries to fudge this by re-defining “pregnancy” to mean the moment when the new human being has implanted in the womb, but the reality is that every life begins before that, at conception. And the entire purpose of EC is to prevent both conception and implantation, and anyone who uses it necessarily intends for it to work as designed.
Dignitatis Personae has a very clear statement about the immorality of using EC:
Anyone who seeks to prevent the implantation of an embryo which may possibly have been conceived and who therefore either requests or prescribes such a pharmaceutical, generally intends abortion… Therefore, the use of means of interception… fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral. (23)
Here is where the public policy comes in. The FDA has approved the over-the-counter distribution of EC for women over the age of 18, but it must be requested from the pharmacist. For younger women, a pharmacist must fill a doctor-issued prescription. But what if a pharmacist does not, in conscience, wish to participate in the sin of abortion that that is an inherent part of the use of EC?
Can she refuse to fill the prescription or hand over the drug, citing her religious beliefs, or will she be fired for doing so? You would think that this is a no-brainer, and that the pharmacist couldn’t be forced to violate her religious beliefs. Yet this is precisely where the battle lines are drawn now. The pro-abortion, pro-contraception crowd is trying to enact laws and regulations to force pharmacists to distribute these drugs, regardless of their religious or moral beliefs. In fact, one of the legacies of the “Senate seat for sale” governor of Illinois is a noxious law that would compel pharmacists to provide EC, even if they object. The law is under challenge, and it’s far from guaranteed that the pharmacists will prevail.
(A much thornier moral issue is the legal requirement that hospitals provide EC to the victims of rape. I’ll blog about that soon.)
Some time soon, you should crack open your Bible and take a look at the Books of Maccabees. It’s a great story of God’s stubborn little people, fighting against powerful rulers who insist that they sacrifice at the altar of the rulers’ gods, and conform to the ruler’s ways, or else suffer persecution. Kind of like those pharmacists, when you think of it. Now, I’m certainly not advocating an armed insurrection, like the Maccabees. But there’s an important lesson to be learned from those stiff-necked rebels.
Discipleship demands that at various times we face the question posed to us by Christ — “Are you mine, or do you belong to the world?” Obviously, if I’m choosing to use EC, then I’m answering that question the wrong way. But if I stand up to the powers-that-be and refuse to give someone EC, because I believe in my heart that I cannot cooperate with an anti-life act, then I’m answering it right.
Which way do we answer the question? That makes all the difference.
There’s going to be a changing of the guard in both Albany and Washington, so the Temple of Moloch, er, I mean Planned Parenthood, is lining up at the trough. They want even more gobs of our tax money to kill babies and corrupt children. They can’t help it, in a way — they’re addicted to sex education and contraception.
Here in New York, the cult of death is emboldened by the apparent transfer of control of the State Senate to the Democratic Party. Their hope is that this will open up the path for the passage of the Orwellian-named Health Teens Act, which will itself open up the spigots of tax money for the Temple of Moloch.
The Health Teens Act purports to be about providing “comprehensive sex education” to teenagers. In reality, it’s all about creating funding streams to make sure that the Temple of Moloch will have access to your children in your public schools.
And what kind of sex education will your children receive in the public schools, paid for by your tax dollars? While giving lip service to the need to teach about abstinence outside of marriage, the reality is much more disturbing. State law requires that sex education be taught on the high school level by certified health teachers, and on the elementary level by the regular classroom teachers. These requirements are routinely ignored, and “peer counselors” or “experts” from the Temple of Moloch are allowed to come into the classrooms. And what do they bring? Well, I’ve reviewed some of the educational materials they use. Under any other circumstances, if an adult were to give these materials to a child, people would immediately think of calling the police.
Our State Assembly, showing its usual commitment to democratic debate, has never held a hearing on this bill, and has never solicited input from parents. Instead, they regularly pass the Healthy Teens Act by absurdly wide majorities — 130 to 14 this year. Now that the Senate has come under the control of the Democratic Party, they will no doubt follow suit in the Spring, regardless of what parents and other people of good will believe. In fact, they won’t even bother to ask you.
On the national level, the incoming administration of the 100% anti-life President-elect is expected to show its support for the so-called Prevention First Act. This wicked bill will also open the cash spigot to the Temple of Moloch to promote its anti-life agenda and corrupt children through “comprehensive sex education” and “family planning” programs. This bill will go even further, by requiring all health insurance plans to cover contraceptives, even if the plan is that of a religious employer with moral objections to contraception — like the Church.
In his prophetic encyclical, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI foresaw the state in which we find ourselves:
Let them first consider how easily [the availability of "artificial birth control"] could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings – and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation – need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.
Can anyone doubt that this is where we are? Can anyone doubt that infamies like the Healthy Teens Act and the Prevention First Act will lead us further down this path? Is there any way to break from this addiction to unhealthy sex education and contraception?
The answer is the same as with every social or political problem — conversion of heart, starting with mine. It needs to be done in every family and particularly in every marriage. The truth, beauty and sanctity of married love and sexuality — so counter-cultural in this day and age — must be promoted by the Church. The Theology of the Body gives us an excellent and attractive platform for this.
But the most important thing is for every married couple, and every parent, to give witness to it by their everyday lives. If we want a healthy society — and healthy teens — we must be holier husbands, wives, and parents. We must all be signs of the truth that will set us all free.
A letter to your state and federal legislators about these bills wouldn’t hurt, either.