A Matter of Principle: Why the Church won’t budge on contraception, and what’s at stake!

By “Democritus”

My purpose in writing this essay is not to rehash all the arguments for or against contraception. What I want to do is to go beyond all the common arguments and to reduce them to the basic moral attitudes upon which lie the positions of the Church and her anti-life opponents. I will not attempt to describe all the principles that are at the heart of these respective positions; I will simply point out the attitudes that summarize these principles.

Broadly speaking, the supporters of contraception appeal to reasons or ends such as: the need to stop “overpopulation”; the “health needs” of sexual partners, be they married or not; and the alleged right of couples to determine the number of their children. Other reasons would include “personal choice”, “bodily autonomy”, “reproductive health,” and even “gender equality”. There is little if any consideration as to whether contraception, of itself, has any moral dimension. (For that matter, there is very little consideration whether the just-mentioned “ends” are actually good, or if they have any other purpose beyond themselves.)

Contraception, then, is seen purely in relation to the above-mentioned ends, and it is seen as good because it makes these “ends” easier to attain. In short, contraception is seen as good basically because it is a supposedly effective means to achieving supposedly good ends.  Whether they realize it or not, the supporters of contraception believe – and, to the extent that they actually use contraceptives, live – according to the dictum “the end justifies any means” Conversely, the defenders of contraception maintain that because the Catholic Church opposes contraception, therefore it also opposes all of the above-mentioned “ends”.

Now, the Church doesn’t exactly share the view that all these ‘ends” are really worthy ends of human behavior, or are even good. However, the Church does share some of the concerns of the defenders of contraception, although the Church does not look upon these concerns in the same way. For example, the Church is not blind to poverty and ignorance. She is not blind to the problems that unwanted pregnancies and irresponsible parenting could bring.

The Church is not indifferent to the complexities that attend the size of certain populations and the consequent unavailability of basic resources for many. In fact, the Church possesses an awareness and understanding of these problems far greater than any of her opponents could ever hope to have, for she has been in the business of understanding, alleviating and even sanctifying human suffering for 2,000 years. Why then does the Church refuse to join the contraceptive bandwagon, opting instead to cling to unpopular moral principles and to teach difficult solutions?

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