Categorized | Religion

Why the Church allows Natural Birth Control (but not Contraception)

Reading certain passages from Humanae Vitae makes one wonder why the Church allows natural methods of birth control while remaining strongly opposed to the use of contraceptives:

This particular doctrine, often expounded by the magisterium of the Church, is based on the inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative may not break, between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act…

…an act of mutual love which impairs the capacity to transmit life which God the Creator, through specific laws, has built into it, frustrates His design which constitutes the norm of marriage, and contradicts the will of the Author of life. Hence to use this divine gift while depriving it, even if only partially, of its meaning and purpose, is equally repugnant to the nature of man and of woman, and is consequently in opposition to the plan of God and His holy will.

Impairs the capacity to transmit life. ‘Impair’ is an active word, it is a commission and not just an omission. While abstaining from sex during the fertile period is really just an omission of a certain act in the transmission of life, it’s the counting of days since the wife’s last menstruation and the charting of her temperature to be sure she’s “safe” that constitutes the commission part. So why is natural family planning allowed? Recently released official documents of the Pontifical Commission on Population, Family, and Birth-rate shed some light. The following is an excerpt from the minority report (click here for an article on the majority report) drafted by the Jesuit theologian John Ford with assistance from another Catholic theologian, Germain Grisez:

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But is the objection really ‘nugatory’? (I had to look that up and it means “of little or no importance; trifling.”) Let us try to dissect that passage and examine it carefully:

The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
Having intercourse during the infertile period does not prevent the beginning of new life… Using science to determine exactly when that infertile period comes and deliberately scheduling all sexual activity within that period does prevent the beginning of new life.

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The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
[during the infertile period]…the couple do not have intercourse to prevent conception but for the sake of some other good. Couples using contraception also do not have intercourse to prevent conception but for the sake of some other good, which is intimacy.

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The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
The “pill” or some mechanical or chemical device does prevent conception, but these are not themselves the conjugal act. Charting to find that infertile period to avoid pregnancy is also not itself the conjugal act.

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The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
Rather they are interventions in the conjugal act. The “conjugal act” is the sexual intercourse itself and not the procreative consequence of such act. How then, does contraception intervene with the conjugal act?

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The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
Using a thermometer does not prevent conception. It does, by making sure she’s “safe”.

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The Report says: But when we try to think about it:
The couple who use the infertile period do nothing that would deprive even a single conjugal act of its power of generating a new life.

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They may be doing nothing contraceptive during that single conjugal act, but they sure did something beforehand to make sure that such act would be powerless in generating a life.

The only difference between artificial and natural methods of birth control is the timing, that is, when the act of birth control takes place. In natural family planning the method is applied before intercourse while in contraception it is during intercourse (the pill may be taken before intercourse but its effects are present during intercourse). But the intent is the same: to isolate the unitive significance from the procreative significance of the marriage act (in non-ecclesiastical language that means to enjoy sex without getting someone pregnant). As Igme once said, “What is the difference between ejaculating sperm in latex and ejaculating it in a uterus in its monthly off switch? The intent is the same!

In case the similarity is still not clear, let us use an analogy about releasing baby turtles into the sea. Let’s try to find the difference between the two:

a. Building a concrete wall along the beach to prevent the turtles from reaching the ocean

b. Releasing the turtles when the tide is out and the sun is scorching hot and the only shade under which the baby turtles can get protection from the deadly heat is from the shadows of hungry sea gulls flying overhead

In both cases the effect is the same: the baby turtles do not make it to the safety of the water, much less into adulthood. While the first is obviously a deliberately preventive act, the second, if we take a moment to think about it, turns out to be just as deliberately preventive. The concrete wall may be an artificial intervention in the life cycle of turtles, but the timing of the release during extremely unfavorable conditions is really just the same in terms of intent and effect, even if it merely takes advantage of “a faculty provided by nature.”

So why does the Church allow natural methods but not artificial ones? The only logical explanation I can think of is that the Church has a strong preference for – a complete obsession with – the adjective natural. And if this is the case, as it probably is (if you think I’m wrong there’s a comment section below), the following passage from Richard Dawkins’ 1976 book The Selfish Gene says it best:

It is a simple logical truth that, short of mass emigration into space, with rockets taking off at the rate of several million per second, uncontrolled birth-rates are bound to lead to horribly increased death-rates. It is hard to believe that this simple truth is not understood by those leaders who forbid their followers to use effective contraceptive methods. They express a preference for ‘natural’ methods of population limitation, and a natural method is exactly what they are going to get. It is called starvation.

And since starvation is natural for as long as we simply allow women to bear babies into a world where there is not enough food without actively robbing them of their food, there should be nothing intrinsically evil about it. Children dying of hunger and disease are just succumbing to a population control faculty provided by nature, and maybe that’s why the Church seems more concerned about sperm cells slamming against the wall of a condom, ending their lives in an unnatural rubbery death – while millions still wouldn’t make it to the egg, much less to the womb, even without any form of birth control.

 
DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.

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