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Moral Theology

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Chapter VII
Birth Control

by John A. Hardon, S.J.

Few subjects of social interest and no aspect of marriage is more highly charged with emotion than birth control. The output of literature, pro and con, rivals best sellers in the fiction field, and the end is not yet in sight. In fact, if students of American law are to be believed, propagandists for birth control have only begun their fight to make contraception not only legally permissible but, if possible, also mandatory in the foreseeable future.

In this respect, Great Britain has advanced beyond the United States, since the nationalization of medicine has made untenable the position of doctors who do not favor contraception. An English gynecologist is in an extremely difficult situation if he wishes to practice medicine legally, according to Catholic principles, in the framework of the public organization of health. The government requires that he accept contraceptive practices that his conscience tells him are wrong. In England and Scandinavia, therefore, birth control has become just as much a national custom as the observance of the laws of hygiene. If the American scene is not so far avant garde, the reason is only because contraceptionists have not yet succeeded in grafting their theories into the civil law.

Contraception has also become symbolic of the tension which exists between Catholicism and other religious or ethical systems, since the Catholic Church is quite unique in corporately opposing artificial birth control, even though many people who are not Catholic personally refuse to go along with the tide.

A new phase of the issue concerns the attitude of the government towards poor people and those on relief. When Chicago legalized the public support of contraceptive information and devices for the "lower classes" in the city, the state auditor protested that "we are subsidizing sin," but others defended the policy on humanitarian grounds. Communities all over the United States are being pressured into deciding whether or not to provide birth control services for their indigent.

The president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America urged that both sides, mainly Catholics and others, quietly agree to iron out their differences. It is time, he said, that Catholics and non-Catholic theologians, scientists, physicians and sociologists sit down together. "We have wasted a great deal of effort in trying to underline our differences rather than our agreements. After all, we agree on the necessity that children be planned and desired. Our Area of disagreement is simply what to do about it." If this solution is over-simplified, at least it points out the need for those who favor contraception to discuss the question, since until now practically all the publicity has been one-sided and no serious attempt is made by agencies like the Planned Parenthood Federation to "hear the other side."

History of Contraception

The idea of preventing conception is not new and was already known among ancient primitives. Among savage peoples a great variety of contraceptive methods, some magical and superstitious and others more effective, were employed along with infanticide and abortion to restrict the population because of a limited food supply.

In modern times, the birth control movement arose in two stages that were about a century apart, first on a theoretical basis in England and then put into wide practice under impulse from the United States. Two names will permanently be associated with contraception, the Anglican curate and philosopher, Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), and the American, Margaret Sanger, who began her birth control publicity shortly before the First World War. Malthus and Sanger are more than historical guideposts; they stand for two philosophies of life which are only superficially different and, at root, spring from a this-worldly system of values.

The world in which Malthus lived witnessed the rise of mass poverty resulting from industrialization. England had become not only the industrial but also the social laboratory of Europe. English theorists occupied themselves with zeal to solve the new problems created by the industrial revolution. Moralists in the Middle Ages had condemned covetousness, avarice, competition and economic exploitation. Without being overly worried about poverty, which was considered inevitable in human society, they had stressed the practice of Christian charity. They insisted on a just pride in the sale of food and merchandize, and had opposed high interest rates as usury. Trade and the enforcement of quality standards were to be regulated by guilds and monopolies.

Then came the change. Most of these traditional attitudes were reversed in less than a hundred years by the prevalent economic theories in England during the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Ambition was no longer considered dangerous; prices were to be determined by the iron law of supply and demand, without reference to ethical norms; interest-taking became common and the money-market came into being; the regulation of trade and production of goods as to quality and quantity were left to "natural forces," with no concern for religious principles.

Consistent with these trends, Adam Smith (1723-1790) developed the idea of laissez-faire (let things proceed without interference), imported from France. Smith applied the principle of laizze-faire to foreign trade and advocated the withdrawal of restrictions imposed by mercantilism. In domestic affairs, the principle was expressed in the assertion that the individual is most productive when allowed to follow his own self-interest without restrictions from the law, Church, or any external sanction.

Malthus followed in the same path by teaching that population will always outrun the means of subsistence. He therefore considered economic planning and relief measures of any kind to be senseless. Briefly stated, the Malthusian theory of population says that the number of people increases faster than their means of livelihood. First published anonymously in 1789, his essay on population came out in a second edition in 1803 under his own name. Malthus claimed that population increases by geometrical progression (1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, etc.) while the means of subsistence increase only in arithmetical progression (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, etc.). Human beings are therefore destined to misery and poverty unless population growth is checked. Population growth might be slowed down through what Malthus called preventative checks, like moral restraint, late marriages and celibacy. If these are not exercised, then positive checks like famines, wars, and plagues will providentially reduce the number of people to the level of subsistence.

Three elements stand out in the Malthusian Myth; its preoccupation with material prosperity, its undeviating fatalism, and its subscription to the laissez-faire philosophy of rugged individualism. All three elements have remained to this day in artificial contraception, which has been euphemistically called Neo-malthusianism. But one other feature of Malthus' doctrine has been almost overlooked in historical studies of the question, yet this is the mainspring of success which has attended the onward drive of birth control. Malthusian ethics is able to justify in the eyes of its promoters the unconscious egoism of the acquisitive man (or woman), the avaricious owner of the good things of this world. It says, in so many words, that the rich may consider their wealth a blessing and reward from God, due to their foresight and prudent stewardship; but the poor have only themselves to blame for their misfortunes because of improvidence. Four brief quotations from Malthus will illustrate the point, where in context he is against giving help to the poor through parish assistance.

We are bound to disclaim the right of the poor to support...If this clause were really and bona fide put into execution, and the shame attending the receiving of parish assistance worn off, every labouring man might marry as early as he pleased, under the certain prospect of having all his children properly provided for.
All parish assistance should be denied him and he should be left to the uncertain support of private charity.
He should be taught to know that the laws of nature, which are the laws of God, had doomed him and his family to suffer for disobeying their repeated conditions (i.e. by having too many children). (1)

While these classic passages from the Essay on Population were written a hundred and fifty years ago, they have not lost their relevance today. More sophisticated and less piously inclined, twentieth century Malthusians are also telling the poor that the only solution to their poverty is to cut down on the number of their offspring.

In the United States an organized effort to popularize contraceptive methods was started during the period 1828-1832 by Robert Dale Owen and Charles Knowlton. Owen was the son of the British Socialist, Robert Owen, who influenced the writings of Karl Marx and whose thesis that "man's character is the product of his social and economic environment" has become the mainstay of Marxian sociology. Owen Jr. popularized his father's ideas in several books, especially Moral Philosophy, in which he advocated artificial contraception.

By the time of his death in 1877, seventy-five thousand copies had been sold. In 1832, Knowlton, a Massachusetts physician, brought out anonymously Fruits of Philosophy, to give people the medical side of what Owen promoted on economic grounds.

Until the beginning of the present century, however, contraception was learned mostly from person-to-person and generally discredited by religious leaders and even civil laws. As late as 1873, the United States Congress passed the Comstock Law (urged by Protestant legislators) which forbade the dissemination of contraceptive knowledge. "Every obscene, lewd, or lascivious, and every filthy book, painting, paper, letter, writing or print, or other publication of an indecent character...and every article or thing designed for preventing conception or producing abortion, or the giving of information directly, where or how or from whom or by what means any of these articles can be obtained is a crime." (2)

Except for occasional and minor complaints about legal restriction, the matter rested until Margaret Sanger began her campaign before the First World War and in 1914 organized the American Birth Control League with the avowed purpose of legalizing contraceptive information and obtaining public aid for birth control clinics. Yet all her efforts and incredible zeal were quite secondary to the parallel movement in church circles which first became indifferent and then favorable to family limitation, and now consider planned parenthood one of the doctrines of the Christian creed.

The earliest denominational statement on birth control came from the Lambeth Conference in 1920, when all the members of the Anglican Hierarchy in the world met in solemn session for their periodic decision on matters affecting the Church of England and its affiliates.

We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means of avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers - physical, moral and religious - thereby incurred. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must be regarded as the governing consideration of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists - namely, the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control. (3)

Ten years later the Anglican bishops modified their position to say that, "If there is a good moral reason why the way of abstinence should not be followed, we cannot condemn the use of scientific methods for preventing conception which are thoughtfully and conscientiously adopted." (4) In 1958 the Lambeth bishops raised the practice to the dignity of a Christian virtue, since “the responsibility for deciding upon the number of and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere." (5) While reprobating abortion and infanticide, the Anglican hierarchy formally sanctioned those "methods of control (which) are medically endorsed and morally acceptable" - the latter phrase being added to satisfy a conservative fraction of church members.

Official declarations of other religious bodies have followed the same pattern. In the early thirties the Federal Council of Churches, with a membership of twenty-eight American denominations, led the way. It published with approval a resolution that "the careful and restrained use of contraceptives by married people is valid and moral. They take this position because they believe that it is important to provide for the proper spacing of children, the control of the size of the family, and the protecting of mothers and children; and because intercourse between the mates, when an expression of their spiritual union and affection, is right in itself. They are of the opinion that abstinence within marriage, except for the few, cannot be relied upon to meet these problems, and under ordinary conditions is not desirable in itself." (6) Since the Federal Council became the National Council of Churches in 1950, there has been no change in policy. But now the roster includes over seventy denominations with constitutive or affiliated membership, and much of the Council's literature treats of the ethical propriety of judicious birth control.

European churchmen have been equally well disposed to contraception, with the proviso that care be exercised for medical and social reasons, and to "go easy" for people who still have scruples of conscience. Thus the National Council of the Reformed Church of France admitted the lawfulness of birth control but cautioned that "contraceptive methods are not always successful nor, in the long run, free from danger. Further, although the problem of birth control is a general one, its solutions are bound to be particular, since they depend on the circumstances which cause cases of conscience to arise. It is advisable therefore to recommend married people to seek the advice of a spiritual guide and a doctor's opinion." (7) American religious leaders are not so conservative.

Population Explosion

Since mid-century the birth control movement has reached a new stage of development, due mainly to the international crisis following the Second World War. The issue has now shifted from the individual plane of "every couple for themselves," to the social level of world population, highlighted by the discovery that millions of people in the Orient and elsewhere are undernourished and suffering from a variety of diseases, which proponents of contraception claim should be corrected by reducing the birth rate of these nations.

A number of factors, it is argued, contributed to making the growth of population the Number Two Problem of the world, second only to the question of preventing nuclear war.

First of all death rates in underdeveloped countries have suddenly dropped, in spectacular fashion, as a result of numerous. “miracle" drugs (like penicillin) and insecticides (like D.D.T.) in massive public health programs. Infectious mass killer diseases, malaria-typhoid-diphtheria, are being brought under varying degrees of control while birth rates have remained extremely high, thus causing populations to increase at rates that have never before been known in history.

The immediate effect of this "death control" has been to double the world rate of population since 1945, from one per cent, which was already an all-time high, to about two per cent annually in 1960, and the increase is rising steadily. At this rate, the present population of the world of three billion will become six billion in thirty-five years. Actually these figures are deceptively low because in most countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America population is increasing at two to four per cent each year, with the highest ratio in growth in Tropical America.

Some figures will illustrate the phenomenal increase in world population since the middle of the seventeenth century.

In the YearsAverage Annual Increase
1650 - 17500.3 per cent
1650 - 19500.5 per cent
1900 - 19500.9 per cent
1930 - 19401.0 per cent
Currently2.0 per cent
By 19752.1 per cent
1975 - 20002.6 per cent

Dr. Philip Hauser, of the University of Chicago, calculated that one hundred persons multiplying at one per cent a year for the five thousand years of human history would have produced a contemporary population of 2.7 billion persons per square foot of land surface of the earth! He assumed, of course, that all the persons would have reached maturity and procreated offspring. Nevertheless, he observed, "such an exercise in arithmetic, although admittedly dramatic and propagandistic, is also a conclusive way of demonstrating that a one per cent increase in world population could not have taken place for very long in the past; nor can it continue for very long in the future." (8).

It is the rapid growth in underdeveloped countries that worries demographers. The people of these nations, where two-thirds of the human race live, have for the first time in history come to expect rapid improvements in conditions of life. Their governments are promising to fulfill the people's demands and the governments of more affluent societies like America are trying to meet the new aspirations. Yet the task ahead is monumental. Per capita incomes in most nations average about one hundred dollars a year, and widespread illiteracy and malnutrition prevail. Increased foreign aid and investment are stimulating economic and social progress, but the improvement is slowed down by the ever growing population increase. Without reducing these rates, the argument runs, the hopes of two-thirds of the people of the earth for a better life are doomed to frustration.

Of all the nations in Africa, Asia and Latin America, only Japan has made effective gains in lowering its birth rate since the Second World Mar. As previously explained this is mostly due to the strong hand of American military and political leaders, under whose direction the practice of abortion, sterilization, and contraception was legalized and encouraged. In less than fifteen years the Japanese birth rate was reduced by half, and the reduction continues annually.

One of the most eloquent cases for birth control was made by the Ambassador of India to the United States, in which he pleaded with the American people not to remain neutral on the question but to take a stand in favoring contraceptive knowledge and devices for exportation to countries like his own. The ambassador's arguments are a fair summary of the present status of the birth control movement in the world.

Now we are one of the few countries in the world which has officially at Government level adopted the policy of birth control and family planning. We are very fortunate that there has not been much serious religious objection in India. But the task of spreading the gospel of birth control and family planning is a Herculean one and we have only made a beginning. Although the first birth control clinic was opened in India in 1925, today we have only about 2,500 clinics giving family planning advice and free contraceptives. What we want to achieve is to cut down our present birth rate by at least a half.
This country says that she wants to remain neutral on the question of birth control and family planning in India. I say to you with all the emphasis that I can command that on a question like this, a great country like the United States cannot afford to be neutral. You must make up your mind on which side of the controversy you are.
I want you to imagine, because in a progressive country like this it requires an act of imagination and deep insight, what it means for millions of children to be born in underdeveloped countries, children who will suffer from malnutrition, who may have no proper homes to live in, who may have no employment when they grow up and may spend their lives as disgruntled, dissatisfied and bitter human beings – a prey to any new idea which might promise them better prospects and more tolerable conditions.
I must frankly confess that I am very impatient of the arguments which are advanced against birth control and family planning on the grounds of morality, and I hope you will forgive me if I speak frankly and bluntly. What is this morality which condemns millions of children to poverty and destitution? Is it moral that children should be born into this abject condition or is it moral that children should not be born at all? (9)

It would be hard to improve on the impassioned words of Ambassador Chagla, addressed to the National Conference on the Population Crisis, and equally difficult to dismiss without reflection what is fast becoming the settled conviction of millions in underprivileged countries like India and Japan – that "modern civilization should teach us how to plan one's family, how to limit the number of one's children so that one can afford to bring them up with at least a minimum of the care and consideration which they need."

Proponents of artificial contraception are disappointed over the little progress which their efforts have made so far, even granting the phenomenal success in Japan and the lowering birth tide in India. Three principal reasons are given why "the population problem has received pitifully inadequate attention." Actually the third reason is complex and a result of the first two.

Topping the opposition is Marxism which defines the causes and prescribes the cures of human poverty, and they do not include excess population growth or population control. Communism looks upon concern for population growth as a bourgeois excuse for inadequacies of the capitalistic system. Therefore the Soviet Union and other Communist countries deny that a world population problem exists.

The Roman Catholic Church is singled out as second opponent because of its stand on birth control as a matter of moral principle. It is widely presumed that the Church is against family limitation at all times by any and all methods. It is likewise presumed that the Catholic Church opposes government expenditures for social and medical research into human fertility and all forms of government aid to other countries for dealing with their population problems. In predominantly Catholic countries like Latin America, this presumption is said to induce official inaction and silence, and to a dearth of public discussion. Admittedly, however, in every Catholic country in Europe the birth rate is so low as not to be a problem.

Finally action in the United Nations and its specialized agencies, or even thorough discussion of the subject, is considered delicate because of opposition by the Communist and many Catholic nations, along with "timidity by non-Catholic countries." An official statement of the U.N. puts the matter in focus: "The Communist bloc has steadily maintained that 'Neo-Malthusian efforts to reduce the population or to restrict its growth are unscientific and reactionary'; the Roman Catholic bloc, while agreeing quite explicitly in principle that overrapid growth in regions of intense population pressure can be disastrous, has opposed any consideration which might imply the use of means of control morally unacceptable to the Church. The third group consists of the demographic representatives of the western nations who recognize the gravity of the crisis, but who have been disposed to evade the issue because of the fear of political, consequences." As a consequence, the tendency has been "to talk in generalities, and to shy away from recommendations for coordination of other United Nations efforts and for guidance to member nations in policy formation." (10) There the matter now rests, although the United Nations continues pressing its membership not to fear the Soviet opposition and to ignore the Catholic stand.

In Defense of Contraception

Inevitably those who favor contraception also defend its practice on moral grounds, and their efforts in this direction span the gamut of ethical analysis, often conflicting with established Catholic principles and sometimes opening new approaches to the very concept of the moral law.

The simplest approach to the problem is to appeal to the Bible and say that, "where the Scriptures speak, we speak; where they are silent, we are silent." Since the Bible is said to be silent on contraception, no one should presume to argue for or against it. Occasionally the Genesis precept, "Be fruitful and multiply," is dismissed for not being relevant today.

More frequently the practice is defended on biblical grounds and serious attempts are made to reconcile birth control with the Scriptures. The argument begins by postulating a new moral situation that was unknown to the ancients and, consequently, demands a reappraisal of standard principles in the light of modern conditions. The two new factors which enter the picture are that children, at least in America, are economic liabilities, and increased knowledge of physiology and chemistry makes means for preventing conception readily available and highly reliable. Hence the choice that faces a responsible Christian couple, either to go along with the current movement, without moral guidance, or pause to reflect and, if possible, square the practice of family limitation with the teaching of the Gospel.

The Christian concept of marriage should be re-examined. As described in the letters of St. Paul, marriage seeks to imitate the two primary attributes of God: His creative power and unbounded love. In Christian marriage, the two spouses receive a share in the divine creativity. True fatherhood was in God before it was in man, and our own human fatherhood is only a faint image of His creative fecundity. True motherhood must also be in God. After all, did He not make woman, and did He not give her motherlove? Thus through human parenthood, the Maker of the universe allows us to share in His own creativeness, and matrimony has been elevated to the dignity of a spiritual collaboration with the Creator of mankind.

But marriage, according to this theory, has a more important quality. Christians are called upon to imitate the infinite love of God. It would be a mistake, then, to subordinate creativity to love. If we would balance one against the other, the fostering of affection between spouses takes precedence over the begetting of children, and the procreation of offspring is secondary to cultivation of love between the married partners. Some may wonder how this agrees with the traditional claim that procreation is the primary end of marriage. They will not be surprised, however, after making a new distinction. The generation of children is primary if we take marriage as a purely "natural" or "material" institution in which biological mating is necessary to bring human life into being. But on the higher "spiritual level, as should obtain among Christians, carnal generation has been subordinated to the promotion of marital love.

Of course, the question still remains: does mutual affection justify physical union even when conception is artificially prevented? Christian writers who favor birth control answer in the affirmative. Their reason is a simple assertion that nothing, not even an assumed natural law, may interfere with the sexual satisfaction to which married people have a God-given right. On this premise, sexuality is the creation of "one flesh," between a man and a woman. The children only come accidentally as an added blessing or a kind of bonus.

The act of coitus…in its natural functioning has one "object" in uniting (or deepening the union of) man and woman, and an occasional end...of fertilizing the ovum. Hence moral reasons of a general character indicate the following conclusion: it is a bad thing to separate coitus from its "object" - mutual union, but it may legitimately be separated, for adequate reasons, from its procreative end.(11)

Inevitably stock must be taken of the natural law which, according to one large body of Christians, forbids this kind of subordination of having children to sexual (albeit mutual) gratification. Since this is the crucial issue on which everything else depends, the most incisive defense of contraception has been made by those, like Reinhold Niebuhr, who challenges the existence of a natural law knowable by reason, and therefore its mandatory character with regard to birth control.

All forms of finality in expressing the moral law are questioned, with stress on the Catholic pretension to fix the limits of man's duties to God. The roots of this fixation, it is said, reach back into the medieval theory of the Fall and its tenuous distinction between pure nature and the additional gifts of grace. Accordingly "the primary mistake of Catholic theory is precisely the sharp and absolute distinction which it makes between the two. It speaks of an original righteousness which was lost in the Fall and a natural justice which remains essentially uncorrupted by the Fall." (12)

At this juncture, Niebuhr and others invoke the Kantian position which forces them to deny the power of reason sufficiently to understand nature in order to recognize an objective natural law, and at the same time causes them so to exault human freedom as to construct a set of moral values that finally depend on the dictates of every man's will. Their distrust of reason makes them impatient with any system of ethics which claims to be fundamentally rational.

The sin of man perennially insinuates contingent and relative elements into the supposedly absolute standards of human reason. Undue confidence in human reason, as the seat and source of natural law, makes this very concept of law into a vehicle of human sin. It gives to the peculiar conditions and unique circumstances in which reason operates in a particular historical moment the sanctity of universality. The confidence of medieval Catholicism in the ability of an unspoiled reason to arrive at definitive standards of natural justice thus became the very vehicle of the sinful pretensions of the age. The social ethics of Thomas Aquinas embody the peculiarities and the contingent factors of a feudal-agrarian economy into a system of fixed socio-ethical principles.

Critics of the natural law believe that all so-called rational standards of morality are involved in sin. "There is no uncorrupted natural law," they say, and the only effect of claiming the contrary is to raise "ideology" to a higher degree of unreality, while it illustrates the force of sin in the pretence of sinlessness.

Men like Niebuhr accept procreation as the prime purpose of bisexuality in nature, but challenge the making of this "natural fact" into a universally valid "law of reason," setting bounds for the free human personality.

In Catholic natural law all social relations, including family relations, are precisely defined. Inter alia it is maintained that the natural law prohibits birth control.
The prohibition of birth control assumes that the sexual function in human life must be limited to its function in nature, that of procreation. But it is the very character of human life that all animal functions are touched by freedom and released into more complex relationships. This freedom is the basis of both creativity and sin. Freedom in relation to sex may occasion license, but it may also provide for a creative relation between the sex impulse and other more complex and refined spiritual impulses. (14)

Thus a perfectly valid distinction between the primary and secondary ends of marriage is made to subserve an entirely new purpose. The generation of children is said to be primary if we take marriage as a purely biological mating that is necessary to bring human life into being. But on the higher and "refined spiritual" level, carnal generation may be subordinated to the satisfaction of sexual love.

On the further question: whether mutual sex satisfaction justifies physical union even when conception is frustrated, these moralists answer in the affirmative. The norm of morality in this case is not some artificial construct of reason, since reason (blinded by the Fall) is incapable of such conclusions, but the freely-entered agreement between husband and wife to enjoy the pleasures of marriage while excluding possible conception. Birth control, therefore, is a private matter over which no Church has jurisdiction. The means which a married pair use to determine the number and spacing of births are a matter for them to decide. If after mature reflection they decide not to have a child, they are at perfect liberty (not to say under obligation) to use the most effective method available.

It is not difficult, then, to isolate the basic philosophy behind those who advocate artificial contraception. They believe on the one hand that reason is too weak to define the limits of the moral law, and on the other hand that in all ethical matters the free will alone is final arbiter. All the talk about primary and secondary ends of marriage is hair-splitting. "Procreation is neither the end nor an essential element of marriage. The children who are born may add something to it, but marriage is complete in itself without them, since its mainspring is its spiritual purpose," (15) i.e. mutual gratification which husband and wife freely desire.

Christian defenders of birth control add another dimension. They would have divine inspiration replace reason and urge the will to birth control, meantime by-passing the law (if there is any on the subject). They compare the Catholic religion which imposes laws, and Protestantism which, in many ways, dispenses with such impositions on liberty.

Whereas the Roman Church has written its theological decisions into ethical systems and hence imposes obligations and duties, the Protestant churches have, for the most part, avoided taking such a step. Even Calvin's moral intransigence never produced a moral system. The basic rule of Protestantism is that we pass directly from faith to act and so by-pass the Law. But this translation of faith into act necessarily remains on the plane of the individual and in the sphere of a constantly renewed judgment and choice. The ethics of the Reformation is the ethics of freedom. (16)

There is more to this statement than one would suspect. It is the ultimate basis, on religious grounds, for interfering with conception. In the words of Karl Barth, the greatest theologian in modern Protestantism, "the law of nature cannot always be identified with the will of God, and it may be admitted in theory that there are cases where birth limitation is possible." (17) Writers who are not interested in theory but only concerned with practice, find many cases where artificial birth limitation is not only possible but permissible. They do not hesitate to assert that "God may actually command a man to sin against the law, as for example, when the dissolution of a marriage (or contraception) might be a positive duty. The legalist (Catholic) sees only the law against divorce (or birth control) and regards the question as closed, while the evangelical sees the overarching fact of the divine love and grace which can, in concrete situations, break through the general law." (18) Accordingly if there is a general law against contraception, yet God may inspire individuals to ignore the law and follow a more personal, dynamic divine will, which is not recognized by reason but directly illuminates the mind of every one who believes.

Comparatively few writers undertake to defend birth control on theological or biblical grounds. Their normal defense is either eugenic or sociological, either concerned to produce better children or healthier mothers, or to stem the "suffocating tide of humanity" which threatens to make the earth unlivable through over-crowding. On occasion their spokesmen break through the barrier of urbane metaphor and frankly explain the true reasons for contraception.

Half a century ago, educated persons considered a woman who knew how not to have children as someone to be envied. Having children was something to be resigned to. Surely ninety-five per cent of those born could have been considered "accidental," and nearly everyone had, according to the demonstrated facts we have today, the weirdest conceptions of reproduction.
Having children when we want them makes childbearing an ideal instead of a punishment or burden. Family regulation is here to stay. It is a simple matter not to have children, while actually not so easy as most persons think to have them.

Good heredity and good environment produce good homes, and it is from good homes that our substantial citizens come. Each of us must decide whether we can supply a good home for children. If we can't, let's have none or few. If we can, surely we need enough to give us happiness, to fulfill our lives, and pass on our ancestral heredity if it is good.

It is a matter for every family to decide. But how can married couples limit the number of their children and still have unlimited sexual intercourse?
Perhaps the word "unlimited" shocks or surprises you …We may as well break the ice with an idea which I sincerely believe to be a fact: Sexual intercourse is the world's greatest exercise. The muscles used and the heart action necessary are good for every man and woman.
There is no evidence I know of that men and women can overdo sexual intercourse if they enjoy it. They are physically limited by their own constitutions to a certain amount, and a man's condition is a guide to frequency. Indeed, the frequency with which he is able to accomplish the act is a guide to his condition. His age slows him down, but it is amazing to learn that there are many men over seventy who are in such excellent condition that they and their wives enjoy sexual intercourse once a night. The questionnaires and personal questioning of such students as Davis and Kinsey have revealed that many young persons enjoy sex relations several times a night. (19)

Such bluntness is refreshing. It confirms the judgment of those who see birth control as symptomatic of a new era in the Western world, where bodily pleasure and comfort have become substitutes for the higher aspirations of man. The Harvard sociologist, Sorokin, suggested that civilization comes in cycles, with the ideational and sensist at opposite extremes, and that our age has about touched the bottom of sensism in its preoccupation with sex. Candid defenders of birth control help to strengthen this conclusion.

Christian Principles

While the Catholic Church is by no means alone in its attitude towards contraception, its stature in the moral and religious spheres has made Catholic teaching on the matter practically normative for many persons who are not even Christian. The amount of literature covering the moral aspects of birth control and re-examining the reasons why it should not be practiced makes a library of information. Yet the authoritative basis for this teaching is easily defined and identified, since it comes from repeated pronouncements of the Roman Pontiffs, notably Pius XI, who have left no doubt where the Church stands on the most critical moral issue of the day.

Writing in the encyclical on Christian Marriage, Pius XI said he wanted to speak at length on what many have the boldness to call the disagreeable burden of marriage, and which they say is to be carefully avoided by married people, not through virtuous continence but by frustrating the marriage act. Some, he observed, justify this abuse on the ground that they are weary of children and wish to gratify their desires without their consequent burden. Others say they cannot either remain continent or have children because of difficulties for the mother or of trying family circumstances.

But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good. Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose, sin against nature and commit an action that is harmful and intrinsically vicious. (20)

Since this is the pivotal argument against contraception, that it frustrates the purpose of marital intercourse, the application of natural law to coitus needs to be explained. Not a few people who practice birth control would be insulted if asked whether they approved lying, or murder or adultery. Nevertheless the same principles which outlaw these crimes also prohibit contraception.

As seen before, the natural law of which we are speaking is a moral and not a physical law. It has nothing to do with valence, atomic numbers, expansion of gases or specific gravity. Its unique function is to regulate man's conduct in accordance with the established order of God's universe. Among its provisions is that every human action should have a purpose, that this purpose can be recognized by reason (enlightened by faith), and that the pleasure connected with an action is only a means to securing the determined end.

The joys of conversation and human speech illustrate the idea. We are to use our tongues to communicate with others, in order to promote friendship and cooperative relationship between ourselves and whatever persons enter our lives. Conscious lying would destroy that purpose, creating distrust, quarrels, hatred and dishonesty in society. No matter how much satisfaction I might get from lying, I have no excuse for telling lies because the purpose of speech (to foster social intercourse) may not be subordinated to the selfish desire for pleasure.

The same with eating and drinking. If anyone gorged himself at the table and then frustrated the purpose of food by ejecting what he ate (as some ancient Romans used to do), this would be contrary to right reason and therefore against the natural law which says that the enjoyments of eating are meant to be to attract us to food and to be a reward for this human action.

Nature has built into ethical conduct the inseparable triad of action-purpose-pleasure, where the action is lawful if the purpose is not deliberately separated from the pleasure. It becomes unlawful if the purpose is deliberately eliminated or made impossible of fulfillment, as happens in contraception.

Viewed from a different angle, birth control means that a natural act (intercourse) is performed and at the same time the couple try to destroy the natural effect of their action. It is therefore evil because it perverts a natural faculty. When Catholic morality further brands this sin as grievous, the reason is that the perversion is of something on which depends the survival of the human race. Nature provides no other way of reproducing mankind. Anything less than grave sin would not deter people from indulging their passions while sparing themselves the responsibilities of parenthood.

Another approach to the same principle of the natural law sees the act of intercourse between husband and wife as an expression of their inmost love, so that the whole of sexual morality can be summarized in the phrase: one may falsify coitus which is nature's eloquent word of love.

By his act of intercourse, a man pledges the gift of himself to the one he ostensibly loves; but if his affections belong to someone else, he lies and is an adulterer. Sex perversions are worse. They not only represent a lie, but they falsify the symbol of marital love by becoming instead a symbol of human depravity.

What better symbol could there be of isolation of one's person from reality, of self-willed and self-pitying loneliness, of the bleak sterility of self, loved in itself, than masturbation? Sodomy is a genuine symbol of sentimental shallowness of character, of perpetual juvenility and adolescent ambivalence, as well as of radical contempt for one's own sex and for all sex. And so on into the depths. Yet these puerile monstrosities are called love and passed off as such, adding to the basic lie of impurity the consent to the known unreal, the fraudulence of shoddy forgery.
It is to this company of perversions that contraceptive intercourse belongs. The woman who uses a diaphragm has closed herself to her husband. She has accepted his affection but not his substance. She permits him entrance but does not suffer him to be master.
Sometimes the man will use a condom for the same reasons; sometimes for more characteristically masculine reasons of selfishness. In either event he no longer dominates his wife as a person, he does not permit his activity to penetrate her; he takes no responsibility for her. Her helplessness is deceptive - if she is not armored, he is without efficacy. He worships her with his body - but not enough to share with her his substance. (21 )

Such couples appear to perform an act of love, but they are deceiving one another in their hearts and bodies. They use what all the laws and literature of nations say perfect union and corrupt it so that it can only express mutual gratification. Where true love consists in giving, contraceptive intercourse is pseudo-love which consists in taking – pleasure received at the expense of the other, without giving of one's substance in return.

Moralists rightly point out that if contraception were licit, then no sexual perversion would be wrong. Masturbation and sodomy, fornication and adultery, prostitution and homosexuality could not be called sinful because in all of them the goal sought is pleasure – uninhibited and often intense sexual pleasure, cut off from any higher or more noble purpose. So, too, in contraception. Pleasure is sought and procured, for itself, while the normal effects of coitus are cut off by a physical barrier or spermicide that insures killing the seed of human life.

Effects of Contraception

The moral law is consistent with the rest of nature, so that a willful disregard of the principles of right conduct inevitably results in bad effects elsewhere in the world of human existence. This is eminently true of contraception, and one of the dramatic vindications of the Church's stand on birth control is the price that men and women, and society at large, are being called upon to pay for the privilege of getting sexual pleasure without assuming marital responsibility.

A new image of family life is entering the "contraceptive civilization" which birth control is creating. There is a gradual disappearance of families which deliberately have several children. A good index of this tendency are the figures for a recent ten year period in the United States, where the standard of comparison was the number of married women between 45 and 49 years of age, correlated with the number of live births which they had. These women were born between 1893 and 1905, and were from 20 to 25 years old between 1925 and 1930, that is, at the time when contraceptive propaganda was gaining its first fruits in America.

Number of Children

It is well known that those who have been brought up in larger families tend to have a proportionate number of children themselves, so that the present situation is evidently a break with tradition. In other words, children beyond a small number have been discredited, which the United States admits by its policy of providing no subsidies for large families, as happens in other nations. France has learned from experience the consequences of widespread family limitation. Her easy conquest by Nazi Germany was occasioned by a debilitated man-power brought on by a generation of massive birth control. France is now encouraging larger families by government assistance to parents with several children.

Parallel with weakening its virility, a country that widely limits the birth rate becomes prematurely senile and takes on all the characteristics of a people who have lost their natural vitality. Money and comfort are valued more highly than men. The desire to create, to pioneer, to achieve, gradually disappears. People ask themselves: Why should we exert ourselves for the sake of future generations if we look upon these as the minimum necessary who will cost nothing and disturb nobody? Instead of a creative spirit, the kind that makes great nations, an unhealthy lethargy sets in, where the only concern is to maintain the status quo at any price, even at the cost of human liberty.

The term "sclerotic nations" has been coined to describe countries whose population is getting progressively older, and therefore no competition for young, vigorous and creative peoples. Writing of his native France, a prominent demographer notes that "Malthusianism by its fear of excess leads in practice to a policy of the least effort – a pillow of idleness, if I may call it so, on which a great nation falls asleep and slips into an abyss that we were able to measure in 1940 but from which we have not yet emerged." (22)

Debasement of marriage ideals and inversion of marital happiness flow from contraception as surely as ideas follow on people's practice. Generosity, asceticism and the strength of character which comes from selfless love are either ignored or ridiculed by those who have created a new concept of matrimony, in which the pleasure motive is dominant and convenience, not control, is the guiding star. A standard manual of preparation for marriage sets forth these ideals with brutal clarity. "There is no longer any question as to whether we shall or shall not have, practice or permit contraception...But we still have far to go before we become a nation that regulates the production of human babies as efficiently as it regulates the production and improvement of its livestock." (23)

More immediately drastic is the effect which contraception in marriage has on the sexual practices of the unmarried and the moral values that are debased in the minds of the young. The logic is simple: if society provides sex experience in married life with technical guarantees of no burdensome consequences, why should young men and women deprive themselves of the same experience outside of marriage? All the evidence converges to show that societies in which contraception is commonly practiced have the largest incidence of pre-marital sex indulgence. This refers especially to women. Statistics published by the respective countries are deceptive. In Sweden, for example, where contraception is widely diffused, the percentage of illegitimate births has dropped radically in the past forty years; but this is due mainly to the "protection" which contraceptives afford those who wish to have sex relations, along with legalized abortion which takes care of unwanted children, whether before or after marriage.

The Kinsey report describes the situation in America with a guarded realism that leaves nothing to the imagination. In context, Kinsey and associates were analyzing the marked increase in pre-marital coitus during the past thirty years. They state flatly that one of the contributing factors was "the increased knowledge of contraception." Men were not much affected by the changed climate; their sex experiences with professional clients declined by a half, but only because now they could enjoy the same advantages with other women who gave them sexual satisfaction without exposing them to the risk of unwanted fatherhood. Women, on the other hand, who in pre-contraceptive times would not have "taken a chance," now felt safe about having coitus because of efficient birth control devices. (24)

Deep-seated psychic conflicts arise in the minds of people who deliberately obstruct the vital purposes of the marriage act. The resulting maladjustment is typical of an "adolescent" sexuality that haunts the mind and may even become a compulsive obsession. Instead of developing a sense of security through normal intercourse, they are made to feel that marriage is unreal as an institution and that gratification of one's emotions is somehow unworthy unless it leads to reproduction. While suppressing these guilt feelings, a couple (especially the wife) may end up with serious emotional disturbance within their own personalities.

Sigmund Freud would seem to be the last one to advocate normal intercourse, and it is an understatement to say he was no friend of Christian morality. In fact, in his early days he favored contraception, but experience with emotional disorders convinced him that the psychological essence of sex perversion is the severance of the marital act from its natural relation to procreation. His words deserve to be memorized for the light they throw on the psychopathology of birth control.

It is a characteristic common to all the (sex) perversions that in them reproduction as an aim is put aside. This is actually the criterion by which we judge whether a sexual activity is perverse – if it departs from reproduction in its aims and pursues the attainment of gratification independently. You will understand therefore that the gulf and turning-point in the development of the sexual life lies at the point of its subordination to the purposes of reproduction. Everything that occurs before this conversion takes place, and everything which refuses to conform to it and serves the pursuit of gratification alone, is called by the unhonored title of "perversion" and as such is despised. (25)

Psychoanalysts are slow to follow this trail opened up by the master, perhaps because propaganda has also convinced them that Freud himself was a Puritan! Christian psychology tells us that nature always ends by producing a disturbance when force is used to make it achieve a result opposed to what its own structure demands.

Contraception is producing a new attitude towards motherhood, where the bearing of children is almost a curse and becoming a mother is less than the joy that nature intends it to be. The effect on the character of husband and wife is to weaken their wills and spiritual freedom, both of which are essential conditions of true happiness. Fear of another unwanted child may haunt their relations, and, instead of having the liberty that married people should enjoy, they tend to look upon each other as potential liabilities – the husband on his wife as a possible vehicle for another costly baby, and the wife on her husband as a threat to her comfort and independence by another pregnancy.

Instability in marriage as a direct fruit of contraception will be taken up in the chapter on divorce. Here it will be enough to state that in four countries that are considered pioneers of contraception and where the use and diffusion of "scientific" methods have been adopted, the incidence of divorce has grown immensely and the ratio of marriages made and broken is the highest in the world. Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland and the United States have the record for divorces both in absolute numbers and in the percentage of increase since the evolution of contraceptive marriage.

Finally there is a close connection between sexuality indulged with no reference to procreation and the practice of homosexuality. As with premarital relations, the logic is clear enough. If erotic activity between two persons has a complete meaning in itself, if its purpose is entirely psychological and uniquely concerned with the service of the couple, if the "work of the flesh" is quite incidental and almost accidental to intercourse, why confine erotic pleasure to heterosexuality? Why not enjoy sex between two men or two women, if the real function of genital pleasure is solely "to establish the couple in a state of enosis (one flesh) by making it possible for the two partners to communicate to one another the ineffable meaning of their love," with no prospect of love terminating in the conception of a child?

Professional studies based on years experience with Lesbian clients confirm this conclusion, that a contributing factor to female homosexuality is the frustration of woman's deepest instincts in contraception. "Women unconsciously prefer to fulfill their maternal role and to be loved by a man." The freedom they have found in modern life has been misdirected. "Freedom for women means freedom to love. But we cannot go against Nature. Woman is intended for reproduction; she has been appointed to take an active part in the reproduction of the race by pregnancy and child birth. And while these laws of Nature remain every attempt at emancipation is futile." (26) In theory, birth control emancipates them from the servitude of home, but in practice it may release hidden drives that will find satisfaction outside of marriage and inside their own female sex.

Population Control

To a Christian reading the terrible forebodings of the future growth of population and the fixed idea that only one was can save the earth from destruction, they sound unreal, quite apart from the coating of emotion or accusing the Catholic Church of celibate articulations of the natural law with no relevance to present reality. The world population has been growing steadily for over a century, yet no grave concern for the fate of mankind was manifest until the past few years, in fact not until the birth control movement got fairly under way in the late twenties.

It is equally strange that spokesmen in the most prosperous nation on earth (and one of the least populated) should be so zealous to ward off impending doom by resorting to contraception. Mahatma Gandhi was no Christian, but he was a shrewd observer. "Contraceptives," he declared, "are an insult to womanhood." The greatest harm done by the propaganda for birth control "lies in its rejection of the old ideal and substitution of one which, if carried out, must spell the moral and physical extinction of the human race. Contraceptives of a kind there were before and there will be hereafter, but the use of them was formerly regarded as sinful. It was reserved for our generation to glorify vice by calling it virtue." He admitted that "millions in this world eat for the satisfaction of the palate; similarly millions of husbands and wives indulge in the sex act for their carnal satisfaction and will continue to do so and pay the inexorable penalty in the shape of numberless ills with which nature visits all violations of its order." (27)

If one looks at the population expansion objectively, the conclusion will be drawn that there is less danger of overpopulation than of distorted and dangerously irregular developments among different countries. Each country has to be evaluated separately, and no blanket panacea for the whole world can be intelligently prescribed. Demographers calculate that by the year 2000 the twenty-one million inhabitants of 1950 will have grown four times that size, while Northern and Western Europe with its one hundred and twenty millions will have increased only by thirty-five per cent.

The real question, then, is what means should be adopted on a world scale to help those countries with a violent discrepancy between a feverish growth in people and a deplorable economic, social and cultural inertia. No simplicist solution like contraception would begin to solve the deep-seated problems that beset these nations. At most it could temporarily hide the symptoms, and at worst create new problems far worse than a large population.

On the economic level, the first thing to be done is to reduce the wasting of foodstuffs, which can reach staggering proportions. Along with this must go an improvement in food production by modernizing the methods of cultivation. Japan, for instance, has been forced to squeeze every ounce of growth energy from the soil. Latest figures show a daily production of the equivalent of 13,200 calories per acre, compared with half that amount for Western Europe, one-fourth in the United States and one-sixth in India. As an example of what can be done, India increased its basic food production by twenty per cent during the first five years of its existence as a Republic.

The very fact that certain nations are called underdeveloped should point to their great potential for economic and industrial progress, which has scarcely been tapped. India and China are illustrative. Both have enormous populations, but they also have enough land and natural resources to sustain their people, as the new Communist leaders in China have been dinning into the ears of the masses. Their problem, therefore, is to develop internally, which means to use what they have.

A prominent geographer described India as "one of the world's richest domains, far more valuable than either Canada or Australia. It is probably the third most gifted of the world's regions with respect to industrial capacity and the second or third with reference to agricultural resources." (28) India has probably the world's largest iron ore deposits, still mainly untouched, great rivers like the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra, mountain ranges for vast hydro-electric power, and enormous tracts of unused arable land which, according to United Nations figures, amounts to thirty-seven million hectares or the equivalent of about three and a half billion acres.(29)

In not a few countries, therefore, what appears to be a population crisis may well be mainly a problem of inadequate industrialization. Until a generation ago, Japan was a flagrant example of a large nation still living on pre-modern industrial standards.

Demographic objectives in population control must include special attention to the marriage rate among a given people. This can mean refer to the frequency of marriage or, more practically, to the age at which they enter marriage. The ideal age for marriage is commonly much higher than the actual age at which the people marry in what are called underdeveloped countries. Students of the subject have proved that, if no method of voluntary restriction of births is used, a marriage is all the more fertile if it has been contracted by younger people. At least this is the case as regards the women. In other words, the early age at which a mother marries is one of the most prolific sources of fertility; so that control at this stage would substantially reduce the population rise of a nation.

The age at which people marry in Asia is very young, and any change in this direction would substantially reduce the birth rate. The Indian custom of giving young girls in marriage became in 1927 the focus of a far-reaching controversy, when Katherine Mayo published her Mother India to expose the true facts in that country. Taking the three decades before the controversy, figures show that every tenth Indian girl between five and ten was a wife, that nearly half the girls of ages ten and fifteen were married. Laws of various kinds were passed to reduce the number of child unions, but the situation is still far from what it is in other countries. A recent study indicated that, in a given area, marriages of over fifteen years' duration produced an average of 6.4 children per family when the mother married before the age of fourteen, on down to 3.5 children when she had married after the age of twenty-one. Current statistics give the national average age of girls when they marry as about fifteen, which is an increase of less than two years in almost a century. Comparing this with averages in other places highlights the difference. Canada's marital age for women is twenty-one, in the United States it is almost twenty-one, and in Ireland it is almost twenty-seven.

Prejudice against later marriages runs deeper than national custom; it is built into the fabric of the people's religion. The often-quoted saying of Marichi illustrates the attitude: "He who gives a girl of eight in marriage attains heaven; the giver of a girl of nine attains a higher heaven; the giver of a girl who has attained the tenth year, but no puberty, is given a place in the highest heaven; and the giver of a mature woman is condemned to hell." (30)

Correspondingly the index of female celibacy in Far Eastern countries is minimal compared with what it is in Christian civilizations. The ratio is two and a half times as large in Europe as in Asia. This affects both the number of those who remain single in the world and those who dedicate themselves under religious vows.

A little publicized factor in underdeveloped regions is the economic handicap of having, not too many people, but not enough children who reach the adult age at which they can work to cultivate a nation's resources. India is again a prime example. If that country could be assured of obtaining the necessary equipment and capital investment, it would yet be left without sufficient people of an age that could exploit these possessions. Asiatic countries, as a rule, have only about a third of their population engaged in skilled and professional work; the rest are either too young or too old to work. Life expectancy in India is slightly over thirty years, compared with over sixty in Europe and about seventy in the United States. Half of the Indian population dies before the age of thirty-one.

Certain countries like Japan have little land and have done everything possible to use what they have. In spite of Japan's impressive efforts and results, both Western and Japanese demographers do not believe that the country can sustain an increase in population. Japan's solution, unlike that of China and India, is external - in part through emigration. Yet the actual number of emigrants has been small, due mainly to restrictive measures imposed for political and economic reasons. Only an international cooperative would improve things. All of mankind has a right to the resources of the earth, and no single nation may legitimately horde either its land or natural possessions, at the risk of gravely offending against that community justice to which the Communists are always pointing in their criticism of the West.

Pope John XXIII in his masterful letter, Mater et Magistra, has set forth the principles that all right-minded persons have praised for their clarity and sanity in tackling the population problem. In his judgment, the present relationship between population increase and food supply should not create the sensation that some would have people believe. "In every case the elements from which one can draw sure conclusions are too uncertain and changeable."

Besides, God in His Goodness and wisdom has diffused in nature inexhaustible resources and has given to man the intelligence and genius to create fit instruments to master it, and to turn it to satisfy the needs and demands of life. Hence the real solution of the problem is not to be found in expedients that offend the moral order established by God and which injure the very origin of human life. They are to be found in a renewed scientific and technical effort on the part of man to deepen and extend his dominion over nature. The progress of science and technology, already realized, opens up in this direction limitless horizons. (31)

Therefore the true solution to whatever population explosion can be verified is to be sought only in economic development and in social progress which respects and promotes true human values, both individual and social. "It is to be found only in economic development and social progress that is brought about in a moral atmosphere, conformable to the dignity of man and to the immense value possessed by the life of a single human being, and in cooperation on a world scale that permits and favors an ordered and fruitful interchange of useful knowledge, of capital and of manpower." (32)

No doubt pessimists are oppressed by what look like impossible situations in overcrowded countries, and no one should minimize the gravity of the problem. But even if the worst forebodings were true, which they are not, the Christian faith requires that "we immediately and clearly state that these problems must not be confronted and these difficulties are not to be overcome by having recourse to methods and means which are unworthy of man and which find their explanation only in a completely materialistic concept of man and of human life." (33) The population problem is not a mirage, but at the same time its solution may not be reduced to the status of breeding animals. Those who believe in God and trust in His providence are confident that what in large measure has been created by man’s ingenuity and greed, can also be cured by man’s wisdom and divine grace.

Periodic Continence

Periodic continence, or the "rhythm method," is based on the simple biological fact that, from menstruation to menopause, women are only periodically fertile each month, during the time of ovulation. 'Then ovulation takes place, a mature ovum or egg cell is released from the ovary and passes into the generative channel, i.e. into either of the two Fallopian tubes that lead to the uterus. The life of ovum is believed to be less than twenty-four hours, and some would have it alive for only a matter of minutes. Unless it is fertilized during this short period, the result will be a menstrual discharge.

Spermatozoa, or male fertilizing cells, are also short-lived and capable of activating the ovum for only about twenty-four hours after intercourse. Putting these two elements together, the time during which a female egg can be fertilized each month is relatively short. Doctors commonly hold that ovulation (the production of a mature ovum) normally comes only once during each monthly cycle. Consequently conception will take place only if marital relations are had for two or three days before ovulation (allowing the sperm to remain "waiting" for the egg to mature), on the day of ovulation (when the egg actually matures), and, with likelihood, on the day after ovulation occurs (when the egg may still be alive).

The whole question is: when does ovulation take place? If this can be predicted with reasonable accuracy, then sex relations outside the comparatively short time of ovulation would not result in conception.

There are two general types of methods for determining ovulation; the one is a variety of clinical tests that have to be taken by a physician; the other is several different ways accessible to each woman for herself. They are 1) the simple calendar calculation of the “safe periods," which theoretically follow the pattern of ovulation occurring fifteen days before the onset of menstruation, 2) testing the glucose concentration of the cervical secretion by the use of a "Tes-tape" which changes from yellow to maximum green at the time of ovulation, 3) taking the basal body temperature, since it has been discovered that women of child-bearing age show a marked variation of temperature during the menstrual cycle, i.e., a lowering and then sudden rise which marks the ovulatory point.

Medical opinion differs on the efficiency of the rhythm method, mainly because the cycles for different women are not the same and may even fluctuate for the same woman. However, the latest publications on the subject, written by experts in human fertility, indicate that no matter how irregular, ovulation can be accurately predicted in the majority of cases. The basal body temperature method is said to be the most reliable, provided it is combined with at least some consultation with a physician. Three classes of women are envisioned: the ninety per cent for whom this method is highly efficacious; about ten per cent for whom it will never be suitable and only abstinence seems effective in the present state of medical knowledge; a small number whose irregularity (or other factors) can be remedied by appropriate treatment, e.g., the use of gestogens to stabilize irregular cycles. The rule regarding gestogens is that if a doctor assures a woman that her irregularity is pathological, then the drug can be used as a stabilizer, and the wife may use this medication as an effective cure. Under the same conditions, with medical care, freedom to marital relations remains during medication because there is no direct intervention with the sexual act. Only if the drug were used simply as a sterilizer would intercourse be contraceptive. (35)

The morality of using rhythm depends on a number of factors, namely the circumstances and intention that make it either permissible or illicit. Since the issue is often raised, it is important to recognize periodic consequences as in itself morally indifferent. Husband and wife do not interfere with the normal physiological process of generation freely set in motion by coition. Only the positive and direct interference with this process of reproduction constitutes the essential sin of using contraceptives. When a couple practice rhythm they have normal sex relations and fully respect the laws of nature which they initiate by having intercourse. Certainly they profit from their knowledge of the periods when the wife is fertile or sterile, and they restrict relations to the infertile times. But this is not immoral, no more than it is wrong to eat beyond the exact minimum which the body needs for sustenance.

Having said this, however, rhythm does not become automatically good. Both husband and wife must first agree to practice periodic continence, and especially the wife should not too easily assume that the husband goes along with her desire to abstain from relations during her fertile span. The marriage vow assumes that each has a right to the other's body, without arbitrary restriction on either wide. Both must also be honest in appraising the reaction that the frequent practice of rhythm may create in their bodies and emotions. If either finds that they or their partner is becoming seriously tense, inhibited or otherwise handicapped in their manifestation of love, then rhythm may not be used. Any grave threat to the harmony between spouses is a sign that periodic continence is not for them. St. Paul explained these two conditions, agreement and avoidance of temptation, when he told the Corinthians: "The husband must give his wife her due, and so too the wife her husband. So also the husband has no right over his own body; that right belongs to the wife. Of this right do not deprive each other except perhaps temporarily by mutual consent, that you may be free for prayer; then resume your common life, lest for lack of self-control, Satan tempt you." (36). The husband may find it harder to abstain than the wife, and unless she is realistic in this regard, she may unwittingly lead him into temptation by not permitting intercourse during a certain period each month.

Moreover there must be sufficient reason for the use of periodic continence, either to increase one's chances of pregnancy or to reduce its possibility. Some people find that they increase their chances of conception if they limit intercourse to the periods of ovulation or fertility. With minor qualifications, this practice is to be encouraged for those who want to make sure that pregnancy takes place.

Generally, though, rhythm is used to avoid or postpone pregnancy, and then the reasons must be correspondingly more demanding. Apart from these reasons, the exclusive use of the so-called "safe period" over a long space of time is sinful. Catholic moralists differ on the seriousness of the sin, and some even teach that no sin would be committed if the couple had already contributed their share toward the preservation of the human race.

What are these serious reasons which justify the temporary or prolonged practice of rhythm? They were spelled out by Pius XII in a famous address he gave to the Catholic Union of Midwives in 1951. "There are serious motives," the Pope said, "such as those arising from what are termed medical, eugenic, economic and social 'indications,' that can exempt for a long time, perhaps even the whole duration of the marriage, from the positive and obligatory carrying out of the act. From this it follows that observing the non-fertile periods alone can be morally lawful; and under the conditions mentioned it really is so." (37) What the Pope meant was that, since a couple may for various reasons abstain from carnal intercourse in general, they may also do so during the wife's sterile periods – provided such abstention is justified.

Further specified, the medical reasons might be that childbirth would be dangerous or that one of the parents is too ill to help in the rearing of children. Eugenic reasons might be the real likelihood of mental abnormality or serious hereditary defect in children, or mental weakness on the part of the parents. Social reasons could be the lack of housing facilities, overcrowding, the husband's employment in a public office, such as military service, which is at least partially incompatible with sound family life. And familiar economic reasons may be summarized under the head of inability to provide decently for children according to the reasonable standard of a living family wage.

But this is not the end of the issue. Once we have explained the morality of rhythm in terms of what is sinful and what may be done without sin, we still have a large area of religious motivation that is stock-in-trade among Catholics; they are not only concerned with absolutely avoiding sin but in going beyond the call of duty. This is the bedrock of Catholic idealism and the foundation of Christian generosity. Granted that a couple might avoid sin if they practice rhythm, yet they should often be counseled that it would be better and more pleasing to God if they continued to build their family and placed their trust in divine Providence. Instead of taking their cue from the non-Christian world around them, they may be advised to follow a profound instinct of the spirit and do more than their minimal share in rearing children for the faith on earth and for eternal happiness in the life to come.

Or again a Catholic couple may be advised, on occasion, to consider the possibility of complete sexual abstinence. To the unbelieving critic of the Church this is madness, but not to those who love God and know the strength of His grace. Unique in the religions of the world, Catholicism offers its members the idealism of perfect continence, not as a duty but as an opportunity, and the hundreds of thousands who live consecrated lives of celibacy are a standing proof that it can be done. Married people who already have several children, and where the wife's periods are irregular and unpredictable, may be told that abstinence is not fantastic. The Church has formally encouraged this where it seems advisable.

It will be objected that such abstinence is impossible, that such heroism cannot be attained ...It is wronging men and women of our times to deem them incapable of continuous heroism. Today, for many reasons – perhaps with the goad of hard necessity, or even sometimes in the service of injustice – heroism is exercised to a degree and to an extent which would have been thought impossible formerly. Why, then, should this heroism, if the circumstances really demanded it, stop at the borders established by the passions and inclinations of nature? (38)

Finally Catholics are asked to bear in mind that they are the salt of the earth, whose example of a selfless married love is badly needed by millions for whom marriage is anything but a life of sacrifice and obedience to the will of God. There are plenty of books and pamphlets on the subject of rhythm sponsored under Catholic auspices, and no one can deny the importance of a clear understanding of periodic continence for meeting the challenges of modern secularism. On the other hand, it is possible for Catholics to be swept along with the tide and seriously to look upon rhythm as a kind of "Catholic birth control:" They may forget that birth control is the abuse, periodic continence is the non-use, of conjugal rights. If family limitation is sought in both cases (as it would be even among celibates), the means are totally different. The one is always sinful, while the other is morally indifferent.

A frank statement of the Catholic attitude was expressed by the former secretary of state under Pius XII, and one who knew the Pope's mind as perhaps no one else on the subject. He was critical of those, including priests and teachers, who talk about rhythm as though it were the normal thing to do.

We may wonder if nowadays too much interest is not shown in this question (of periodic continence) and if, in this way, we are not trying rather to encourage the limitation of births than their natural coming to light. We should speak more about their increase and less about their limitation. Too often selfishness tries to justify the reasons for limitation. And yet selfishness is what extinguishes life, fertility and love. We should like to see the Catholic family do its utmost to preserve its nobility as a source of fertility, where the children brought into the world are at once a tribute to the virtues of the parents and a sign of their role as procreators of life. A large number of children will proclaim their parent's fidelity to one another, their love of God and faith in His providence, and their affection for the offspring which He gave. (39)

By the same token, those who believe that God will not be outdone in generosity will not ask how little but how much they can do to prove their confidence in His help, without which all the talk about birth control is so much rhetoric. In the last analysis it takes complete trust in Providence to remain true to the mandate in Genesis, "increase and multiply," when the whole tempo of modern civilization in a country like America is geared to keeping the family down to an absolute minimum; where the size of apartments and the amount of a man's wages, and even the conditions for renting a home are such that only faith and more faith will resist the attraction of following the crowd and falling into the ways of those, like Bertrand Russell, who oppose Christianity as the great enemy of self-indulgence and Christ Himself as an obstacle to the enjoyment of pleasure.

Specialized Problems

Anyone with experience in marriage counseling knows that birth control is one of the most critical areas of moral concern for many couples, either because of personal difficulties or, more commonly, because husband and wife cannot see eye to eye on when to have children, or whether, or how many.

By way of prelude, it will be useful first to mention the various privileges that married people have with respect to each other, and then, in contrast, the single limiting factor of contraception.

  1. Husband and wife are allowed everything that is necessary or useful or pleasing regarding intercourse, even for experiencing fully the pleasure attached to it, and then neither party can sin in looking at, touching or acting in any other way towards his own or his spouse's body. Therefore no restriction is placed on them in showing to each other mutual love, so that they cannot sin either by look or touch or any other manifestation of love, no matter how long they continue, so long as they do not neglect other duties of greater moment. They may also speak and think about and desire those things between themselves, with only the common sense proviso of not involving a third party in this communication.

  2. In all their marital relations they should be led more by the desire of pleasing the other than by the fear of sinning. They will act in a way more pleasing to God if they anticipate the desires of their spouse, rather than await a request. At the same time, true love also avoids demanding what the other would find inconvenient.

  3. These rights and duties remain unchanged during their whole life, even when they cannot have children. No mention of normal conjugal relations should be made in confession, otherwise the confessor may suspect that something sinful has been committed, whereas coition and all its accompaniments are not only not sinful but virtuous and sanctifying to husband and wife.

  4. Husband and wife must learn that their chastity is very different from what it was before they married. The whole state of their life is changed. They are neither brother nor sister, neither master nor servant. Before God, they will be held responsible for many things that do not concern the unmarried; their duties are different. For this reason, He has attached numerous privileges to the married state that no one else may legitimately enjoy.

  5. All sins of either with a third person are doubly more grave than those between unmarried persons, because they are adulterous. Thoughts about such sins, if deliberately fostered and indulged, are also gravely sinful. In order to protect oneself and spouse from occasions of sin with another, nothing (after the grace of God) is more important than sustained manifestation of affection, even when the feelings are contrary or the body is tired or worries and personal trials may occupy the mind. A constant and external reminder of their mutual love is the best human guarantee of a life-long fidelity.

Accordingly, husband and wife can commit only one sin that is grave (besides adultery) in what pertains to actions between themselves. That sin is knowingly and willingly to impede generation or to intend to have a pollution. If this happens without their wishing or foreseeing it, there is no sin. Variously called contraception, birth control or onanism, it is mortally serious and must be mentioned in confession in order to obtain absolution. It does not matter what method is used – whether withdrawal or using a diaphragm, by means of a condom or chemical barriers to fertilization, by using jellies or spermicides, with foam tablets or pills – they are all equally illicit as deliberately chosen to prevent conception in spite of marital intercourse.

The newest form of contraceptive, often simply called "the pill," raises moral problems that are no different than before but may have become obscured because of intensive advertizing through birth control agencies. One popular form, Enovid, is a hormone which women take over a period of time in order to produce the same net effect of what happens when pregnancy occurs, i.e., to prevent egg cells from being released. Other drugs are based on the same principle, and, according to reports from the Planned Parenthood Federation, over a million women are taking the pill regularly. Its effectiveness is supposed to be one hundred per cent, although reports from various countries indicate that unexpected side effects have been directly responsible for the death of a number of women who were taking oral contraceptives.

What complicates the issue morally are two factors, not commonly associated with other contraceptive methods. The oral type can also be used to stimulate fertility. Researchers have used the pills on infertile patients. They found the drug very effective in helping women become pregnant, because the rest which the ovaries received (by having egg cell formation inhibited) made them more active than ever once the drug was stopped. The result was explained as a "rebound effect" that had been known to medicine before but never before induced artificially in this way.

Obviously the use of pills for this purpose would be morally justified, and, in fact, progestational compounds originally were developed to protect pregnancy or to correct menstrual and reproductive disorders. Should they occasion infertility under these circumstances, this can be permitted on the principle of the double effect. The purpose desired is restoration of health and correction of a functional disorder. Also in terms of using such preparation as Enovid, it would be wholly unreal to speak of sterilizing a woman who for all practical purposes was already sterile; so that if the end sought is to cure a disorder and thereby restore fertility, these drugs may be used licitly.

In the same way, some of the gestogens have also been found effective in the treatment of various gynecological maladies such as amenorrhea (absence of menstruation) and metrorrhagia (bleeding of the uterus). Clearly they could be licitly administered for curing these disorders, even though temporary sterilization were caused. An undesirable side-effect is permitted for the sake of a great good.

But once the overt and immediate intention is to induce sterility, albeit for a time and not permanently, the moral principles that apply to other contraceptives are applicable here. If anything, the gravity of the sin is greater because, besides impeding conception, these is a kind of mutilation of a bodily function by suppressing the faculty of reproduction.

Planned Parenthood advocates have not seen fit to reveal the complete story on oral contraceptive pills, whose risks and complications are being reported in medical journals. Thus the Food and Drug Administration has limited the use of the pill to not more than two years for any individual woman because of uncertainty about its long-range dangers. It is also known that the pill creates a false pregnancy with the attendant confusions, and signs and symptoms associated with pregnancy: nausea, vomiting, breast pain, weight gain, increased darkening of the skin. Polls of physicians indicate that the majority would not prescribe the pills to their wives and daughters, and that about half of those who had used the pill on private patients have already discontinued its use because of its many complications.

It is significant that the medical committee of the Planned Parenthood Federation has contra-indicated the use of the pill in women with preexisting tumors because the pill stimulates the growth of the tumor. But the federation has kept silent about the fact that twenty per cent of white women and over thirty per cent of Negro women have pre-existing uterine tumors, most of which are not detected clinically. Also the public has not been informed that use of the pill has led to the unnecessary removal of female organs.

There has recently been discovered a drug (MER-25) which experiments on animals show has the power of causing the product of conception to disintegrate in early stages of cell division before descent into the uterus. At what point this occurs is not altogether clear, but it is known to be after conception. From a moral standpoint, this would involve an attack not only on the reproductive function (as in other contraceptives) but also upon the human embryo. Drugs of this kind should be classified along with other, more common preparations which can cause abortion after pregnancy has been established. In either case, the abortion would be direct and therefore illicit, and forbidden by the natural law.

Christianity is on trial as never before in history to defend its concept of marital sublimity, and the progress of science adds newer challenges to the Christian faith. Yet, rightly used, this very progress can become the means of improving happiness in marriage, not by removing the burden of children – who belong to the essence of marriage – but by relieving parents of the drudgery of former days and giving their children amenities that until recently were not even known.

Chapter VII

Birth Control References

  1. T.R. Malthus, An Essay on Population, London, 1958, pp. 201, 51-51.

  2. Leon Whipple, The Story of Civil Liberty in the United States, New York, p. 285.

  3. Lambeth Conference, London, 1920, Resolution 68.

  4. Lambeth Conference, London, 1930, Resolution 15.

  5. Lambeth Conference, London, 1958, Resolution 115; also the Encyclical Letter, 1:23.

  6. Moral Aspects of Birth Control, Federal Council of Churches, New York, p. 5.

  7. "Le controle des naissances," Reforme, November 10, 1956, p. 6.

  8. Does Overpopulation Mean Poverty?, Center for International Economic Growth, Washington, D.C., 1962, p. 15.

  9. Mahomedali Currim Chagla, The Population Explosion, New York, 1961, pp. 6-8.

  10. Population Bulletin, March 29, 1959.

  11. H.C. Warner, Theological Issues of Contraception, London, 1954, pp. 552-554.

  12. Reinhold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man, London, 1945, p. 297.

  13. Ibid., pp. 297-298.

  14. Ibid.

  15. M.J. Ellul, "Position des Eglises protestantes a 1'egard de la Famille," Renouveau des idees sur la Famille, 1954, p. 270.

  16. Ibid., pp. 270-271.

  17. Karl Barth, Die Kirchliche Dogmatik, III, pp. 300-311.

  18. W. Graham Cole, Sex in Christianity and Psychoanalysis, London, 1956 p. 173.

  19. Leon F. Whitney, Birth Control Today, New York, Colluer, 1962, pp. 26-28.

  20. Pius XI, Encyclical on Christian Marriage, num. 54.

  21. Paul Quay, "Contraception and Conjugal Love," Theological Studies, March 1961, pp. 34-35.

  22. Le renouveau demographigue francais, (Paul Haury) Paris, 1956, p. 17.

  23. H.A. Bowman, Marriage for Moderns, New York, 1954, p. 483.

  24. Alfred C. Kinsey et al, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Philadelphia, 1953 p. 300.

  25. Sigmund Freud, Collected Papers (James Strachey editor), London, 1924, I, pp. 237-239.

  26. Frank S. Caprio, Female Homosexuality: A Modern Study of Lesbianism, New York, 1962, pp. 133-134.

  27. Mahatma, Gandhi, Harijan, June 5, 1937: May 5 , 1946; March 28, 1951.

  28. L. Dudley Stamp, in The Population of India and China (Kingsley Davis), Princeton, 1951, passim.

  29. The United Nations Yearbook of Food and Agricultural Statistics, 1955, Table I.

  30. David and Vera Mace, Marriage East and West, New York, 1960, p.213.

  31. John XXIII, Mater et Magistra, May 15, 1961.

  32. Ibid.

  33. Ibid.

  34. John Ryan, Family Limitation, New York, 1960, pp.25-26.

  35. I Corinthians 7:3-5.

  36. Pius XII, Address to Italian Catholic Union of Midwives, October 29, 1951.

  37. Ibid.

  38. Cardinal Montini, Osservatore Romano, Vatican, April 22, 1960, p.3.

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