[Update: An enlightening look at the viability of the study mentioned in this post.]
A recent study supports the popular opinion (used to justify the HHS birth control mandate, among other things) that providing free contraceptives to women reduces the rate of abortion:
Free birth control led to greatly lower rates of abortions and births to teenagers, a large study concludes, offering strong evidence for how a bitterly contested Obama administration policy could benefit women’s health. The two-year project tracked more than 9,000 women in St. Louis, many of them poor or uninsured, who were given their choice of a range of free contraceptives.
– Quote from NYT, based on findings in this study.
People infer that the Catholic Church is 'wrong about contraception' and should accept contraception because free contraceptives are proven to reduce abortions and unwanted pregnancies.
But this view of the Church is wrong. Oh so wrong.
This may come as a surprise, but Catholics don't actually care whether free contraceptives reduce abortion rates and unwanted pregnancies. Sure, it's interesting to know this fact, but this has no bearing on whether or not we belive artificial contraceptives are morally acceptable.
Catholics believe humans are sexual beings—male and female. We belive that God made us to be united to one another, in loving and sexual relationships. These relationships have two essential characteristics: they must be unitive, and they must be procreative.
"They are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, no human being must separate." (Matthew 19:6)
For every sexual act in a loving, sexual relationship, both characteristics must be present. If one is not, the sexual act is the opposite of love—it is devoid of love. The sin of rape is when someone forces another into a sexual act. The sin of adultery is when a sexual act is committed outside of a loving relationship (marriage), or is committed in a way that divides the love of the couple (as in masturbation). These are sins against the unitive aspect of a sexual relationship.
But the other aspect, that of procreation, is quite simple: don't mess with nature (basically).
When you place a barrier between the male and the female, or make one or the other infertile intentionally, you are destroying the procreative characteristic of sexual love. Therefore, the act is sinful.
Other people can explain this teaching more in depth.
There is no way the Church can ever approve of forms of birth control that destroy human relationships. It is irrational to allow something into a relationship that you know will destroy it.
So, is the Church against family planning? No.
Catholics practice methods of family planning that (a) unite couples, and (b) don't interfere with God's plan for loving sexual relationships. The Catholic Church supports and recommends Natural Family Planning methods (which are more effective, when used correctly, than any form of birth control).
Natural Family Planning uses natural signs of fertility to determine when a couple would likely conceive or not conceive a child as a result of sexual intercourse. Then, the couple chooses whether they will abstain from intercourse (if they wish to not conceive) during times of fertility.
It's an extremely simple method of family planning. It works, it doesn't require any taxpayer funding, or extra materials, or hormone-altering drugs, or possible-side-effect-inducing devices. And it builds character and relationship in two distinct ways:
- NFP increases communication. Communication, as Dr. Phil would say, is key to any relationship—especially one so intimate as a married relationship.
- Abstinence builds self-control, and makes the relationship more 'we', and less 'me'. Anyone who can't commit to not having sexual intercourse for a week or two is doing no better than a lion in a field. We're not animals on the Discovery Channel.
Most important, and the reason the Church recommends it, is this: NFP is aligned with the Catholic view of wholesome sexual relationships—which are essentially unitive and procreative.
There are other benefits as well, like teaching a woman more about her body, and giving her indications about other potential health and fertility issues, but I'll leave it to the reader to discover them.
So, No Artificial Contraception?
Nope. Not now, not ever. This won't change unless the Church backtracks on its entire understanding of human existence. And that's not gonna happen.
Even if artificial contraception lowers the number of abortions and unwanted pregnancies, it is not allowed in the Catholic worldview. The ends don't justify the means.
Sources and further reading:
- Couples' Views of the Effects of Natural Family Planning on Marital Dynamics - VandeVusse, L., Hanson, L., & Fehring, R.J., et al.
- The effectiveness of a fertility awareness based method to avoid pregnancy in relation to a couple's sexual behaviour during the fertile time: a prospective longitudinal study - P. Frank-Herrmann, J. Heil, C. Gnoth, E. Toledo, et al.
- Use Effectiveness of the Creighton Model
Ovulation Method of Natural Family Planning - Fehring, R.J., Lawrence, D., Philpot, C.
- Peer-reviewed and Academic References as a Foundation to NaPro Technology
- The Facts of Life & Marriage - Social Science & the Vindication of Christian Moral Teaching - Wilcox, W.B.
- Humanae Vitae ("On Human Life") - Pope Paul VI