Does Contraception Show the Dignity of Man?

Reading Time: 7 minutes

By: Rachel Alexander, Franciscan University

Many societies around the world have adopted the idea that contraception is both acceptable and beneficial; some say that pro-life activists should encourage the use of contraception to minimize the number of abortions. The topic of contraception is highly controversial, and has been debated for many years. In this article, different teachings regarding contraception will be explored to deduce which perspective ultimately demonstrates greater respect for the human person.

Planned Parenthood is an organization that promotes “women’s health and reproductive rights” by providing contraception and abortion services. PP’s view on contraception is that it is acceptable and should be used to prevent pregnancy if a woman is not ready, financially-stable enough, or simply does not wish to have a child. It is the woman’s choice to have children, and her choice alone. PP mentions that some contraceptives are more effective than others; some provide greater protection than others from sexually-transmitted-infections (STIs). It also acknowledges abstinence as a way to prevent pregnancy (with a one hundred percent success rate), though this type of birth control is found beneath nineteen other methods of preventing pregnancy including but not limited to: the pill, the morning after pill, condoms, and birth control implants. Promoting abstinence is secondary to PP’s encouragement of liberal sexual activity; “Everyone deserves to decide if and when to become pregnant and have children.” (1) “…all people…are entitled to sexual pleasure and fulfillment.” (2)

The Catholic Church has a different teaching on contraception. Here is a quote from an encyclical, Humane Vitae, written by Pope Paul VI. “We base our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when we are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.” (3) This Church document states that any method of preventative conception is immoral, because it disregards God’s plan. “…the Church’s condemnation of contraception does not imply that the couple has bad intentions but that they are using a means that is immoral. Married couples are free to have intercourse (or to agree to abstain from it) on any given day, regardless of the wife’s fertility. But when they do join as one flesh, they must not frustrate the purpose God designed that act to have. It is God alone who has the power to create an immortal soul as a result of the marital act, and to contracept is to say that God’s presence is not desired.” (4) 

The Catholic Church and PP are two very different organizations, and the authority of each needs to be determined before making a decision on whether to believe one or the other. The Church was founded around two thousand years ago when Jesus Christ said to Peter his apostle, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” (5) Planned Parenthood, on the other hand, was founded on October 16, 1916 by Margaret Sanger, a contraception activist. who established PP because she wanted to convince, “Americans and people around the world that they have basic human rights: that every woman has a right to control her body, and every child should be wanted and loved; that all people should be able to decide when or whether to have a child, and are entitled to sexual pleasure and fulfillment.” (6) Based on these observations, the organization that has more authority is clearly the Church. It is two thousand years older than PP, based in Jewish tradition (which goes back to the beginning of time), and was founded by Jesus Christ, who is the Savior of the world in the belief of Christians. The real goal of birth control is linked to a false sense of entitlement. It is to disconnect the natural, biological outcome of intercourse: the creation of children, from the marital act itself. This connection allows people to have “sexual pleasure and fulfillment” without enduring the “burden” of becoming pregnant. 

Eugenicists recommend contraception as a means of creating a superhuman race. They say that people who would pass on “bad” traits (e.g. down syndrome, bipolar disorder, etc…) should be sterilized or use birth control. “The term eugenics, meaning “well born,” was coined in 1883 by Francis Galton, a scientist at University College in London.” (7) Eugenics was more popular in the 19th and 20th centuries, but there are still eugenicists alive and well today as shown by this Time magazine article: “Informed consent is a concept at the core of both liberal democracy and the ethical practice of medicine. That is just one reason why a new report that, between 2006 and 2010, at least 148 women were sterilized illegally in California prisons should deeply disturb us.” (8) Even though most contraception activists are not eugenicists, they are still out there, and are one of the reasons why many men and women were forced to be sterilized.

In her work, The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propaganda, Margaret Sanger talks about eugenics. “As an advocate of Birth Control, I wish to take advantage of the present opportunity to point out that the unbalance between the birth rate of the “unfit” and the “fit,” admittedly the greatest present menace to civilization, can never be rectified by the inauguration of a cradle competition between these two classes. In this matter, the example of the inferior classes, the fertility of the feeble-minded, the mentally defective, the poverty-stricken classes, should not be held up for emulation to the mentally and physically fit though less fertile parents of the educated and well-to-do classes. On the contrary, the most urgent problem today is how to limit and discourage the over-fertility of the mentally and physically defective.” (9). She also wrote, “Birth control is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defective.” (10) This quote shows how much Margaret Sanger wanted to discourage the fertility of the “unfit”. Who are we to decide which humans are “fit” or “unfit” to reproduce, and does Sanger mentioning this “fitness” show that some promoters of contraceptives have hidden motives favoring particular traits?

Can one now conclude which position clearly demonstrates more respect for the human person? PP advocates for contraception which encourages people to hook-up whenever they desire without consequence. In a book by Jason and Crystalina Evert, How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul, they talk about the benefits of waiting for marriage and how this shows your spouse that you respect him or her. One chapter talks about hooking up. “Within hookup culture, many students perform sexual acts because that’s ‘just what people do,’ because they are bored, because they’ve done it once before so why not again and again, because they’re too trashed to summon any self-control, because it helps them climb the social ladder, and because how else is a person supposed to snag a significant other in a community where nobody ever dates? Living within a hookup culture means putting up an ‘I don’t care’ front about behavior, submitting to unwanted experiences, and, in many cases, slowly chipping away at personal standards, expectations, sense of self, and respect for others, until these are sublimated so fully that students almost can’t remember what they were in the first place.” (11) A chipping away of standards and sense of self does not sound like it shows respect for anyone having casual sex. Further, the dangers of contracting STIs if you have relations with many people are high. “More than half of all people will have an STD/STI at some point in their lifetime. Recent estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Infection show that there are 19.7 million new STIs every year in the U.S. In 2008, there were an estimated 110 million prevalent STIs among women and men in the U.S. Of these, more than 20% (22.1 million) were among women and men aged 15 to 24 years.” (12) Despite widespread belief, using a condom will not prevent the spread of many common STDs and STIs for varied reasons. (13) The saying “safe sex” is clearly an elusive phrase, and the complications that can arise from ‘the pill’, sterilization implants, plan B, and abortion are too numerous to list here. 

Some might ask what is the view that shows more respect for the human person, if some married couples can’t use contraception and end up with more children than they can support? The Catholic Church allows the use of Natural Family Planning (NFP), a practice where women track their cycles to find out when they are fertile, and incorporates abstaining. It preserves their personal dignity and does not reduce either spouse to objects of pleasure while still encouraging a loving and fulfilling relationship. This method requires self-control, a virtue which shows the selfless love that spouses have for each other when they are not selfishly seeking sexual pleasure. The bible says: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control.” (14) Clearly, the teaching that shows more respect for the human person is the Church’s teaching, because it emphasizes that everyone has value and dignity given by our Creator, and that He loves us infinitely. An organization like PP that attempts to falsely act as God cannot show anyone that same respect.

End Notes

1) Planned Parenthood. Sexual and Reproductive Control. 12 January 2016. 5 December 2016.

2) Planned Parenthood Action Fund. The Layered, Complex History of Margaret Sanger – Planned Parenthood Founder and Reproductive Rights Trailblazer. 13 October 2016. 5 December 2016. 

3) VI, Pope Paul. Humane Vitae. 25 July 1968. 2016 December 5.

4) Chastity Project. What’s the big difference between NFP and contraception? n.d. 5 December 2016.

5) “Matthew 16:18.” The New American Bible. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., n.d. Book.

6) Planned Parenthood Action Fund. The Layered, Complex History of Margaret Sanger – Planned Parenthood Founder and Reproductive Rights Trailblazer. 13 October 2016. 5 December 2016.

7) Cold Spring Harbor Labrotory. Chronicle. n.d.

8) Campos, Paul. “Eugenics Are Alive and Well In the United States.” 10 July 2013. Time. 5 December 2016.

9) Sanger, Margaret. “The Eugenic Value of Birth Control Propoganda.” October 1921. NYU. 5 December 2016.

10) “Woman and the New Race.” 1920. Bartleby. 5 December 2016.

11) “Hang Up on Hookups.” Evert, Jason and Crystalina. How to Find Your Soulmate Without Losing Your Soul. Lakewood, CO: Totus Tuus Press, 2011. 122.

12) ASHA. Statistics. n.d. .

13) “Can I Get an STI if…” n.d. Options for Sexual Health. 4 December 2016.

14) “2 Timothy 1:7.” The New American Bible. New York: Catholic Book Publishing Co., n.d. Book.

Edited by: Noein

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