Lisa Everett
Family & Pro-Life Office
January 17, 2018 // Perspective

Forty-five years of legal abortion: Is contraception part of the solution or part of the problem?

Lisa Everett
Family & Pro-Life Office

Jan. 22 marks the 45th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the infamous Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand in our nation. Since that fateful day, almost 60 million innocent unborn children have lost their lives through methods which would constitute cruelty to animals in the minds of most Americans.

In the decades since Roe became the law of the land, many well-meaning people have proposed that better access to contraception is part of the solution to the problem of abortion. Even within the pro-life movement, conventional wisdom often dictates neutrality or silence on the question of contraception. What is becoming increasingly clear, however, is just how closely contraception and abortion are connected.

This connection was firmly grasped by “first-wave” American feminists such as Susan B. Anthony. Far from insisting on contraception and abortion to regulate procreation, 19th century feminists condemned both. They considered contraception to be “unnatural,” “injurious” and “offensive” to women, and feared that its use in marriage would relegate women even further to being regarded as sex objects by their husbands. More than a century later, Pope Paul VI sounded the same alarm in his prophetic encyclical, “Humanae Vitae,” whose 50th anniversary will be celebrated this year: “A man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

The original feminists also foresaw, as did Pope Paul VI, that widespread use of contraception would facilitate adultery and leave women even more vulnerable to being victimized and ultimately abandoned by their husbands. This situation set the stage for what these early feminists considered the ultimate exploitation of women — abortion. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, mother of seven, who in her spare time organized the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, classified abortion as a form of infanticide and described it as an affront to the dignity of mother and child alike: “When we consider that women are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit.”

St. John Paul II connected the dots between contraception and abortion even more clearly in his beautiful encyclical, “Evangelium Vitae,” a quarter-century after “Humanae Vitae” was issued. Contraception attempts to sever the link between sex and procreation, which, if unsuccessful, can be definitively accomplished through an abortion:

“Despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. It is true that in many cases, contraception and even abortion are practiced under the pressure of real-life difficulties which nonetheless can never exonerate from striving to observe God’s law fully. Still, in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfillment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception … It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation to abortion. But the negative values inherent in the ‘contraceptive mentality’ — which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act — are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected.”             

Just a few years before this encyclical was written, a similar cultural connection between contraception and abortion was noted in a striking, even startling, way by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 1992 Casey decision, which reaffirmed Roe v. Wade: “… in some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception … for two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their view of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.” That many people do use abortion as a backup to failed contraception is demonstrated by studies that have found among women who have abortions, over 80 percent are experienced contraceptive users and over half say they were using a contraceptive in the month they conceived. In addition, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the former research arm of Planned Parenthood, has published data that clearly show that states such as New York and California, which rank highest in access to contraception, also have the highest abortion rates in the country.

However sincere their intentions, those who promote contraception in the hope of reducing the incidence of abortion are inadvertently fueling its fires. Our only hope is a renewal in American society of the timeless Christian ethic regarding sexuality and procreation. May we who have been blessed by the Church’s clear and beautiful teaching lead the way.

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