Author: Thierry Dejond, S. J.


By Thierry Dejond, S. J.

Introduction: The purpose of this article is to describe the social problems that result from the present widespread practice of contraception. This delicate issue is first and foremost and social problem, before it is a private matter of birth regulation within a husband-wife relationship. In this broader context, we can better understand why contraception poses an ethical dilemma about which the Church seeks to guide the consciences of the faithful.

The demographer Pierre Chaunu wrote: Since 1964--the take-off point for most European countries--we have arrived at a process of reproductive collapse never seen before in history...From a gradual death we are moving to an instantaneous death: Germany is dead; its situation is non- reversible (1.2 children per German woman, while an average of 2.1 children per woman is necessary to replace a generation). How is this implosion, this destruction, explained? The most blame apparently can be assigned to the contraceptive revolution which started in 1960.

This demographic trend carries with it dire consequences for European populations. Without an influx of immigrants, many European nations will lose almost half of their recruitment pool of active military personnel in the next three generations (about 75 years),and their social fabric will increasingly unravel. Evelyn Sullerot, a dyed-in-the-wool humanist who has worked long and zealously for a change of morals, puts it this way:

In ten years time, since 1972, one can see the fabric of civil society quickly falling apart: more and more free forms of "living together,"more and more divorces, more and more children born out of wedlock, more and more singles. This change is without precedent in its nature, its extent, and the speed with which it is advancing.

And she asks the question: As far as the future is concerned, who knows if the stubbornness with which the Pope keeps repeating the "why"of the Catholic tradition is not becoming new and liberating for some youngsters who are tired of the looseness of the modern way of living and (who) long for self-discipline? The first signs of such a development are already visible.

To both these points of view, formulated by non-Catholics, I will juxtapose the triumphant pronouncement of Doctor Pierre Simon, former grandmaster of the "Grande Logo de France,"which he made in his book De la Vie Avant Toute Chose.

The position of an unbeliever

"If the great blessing of medical science,"he writes, "were to do away with death, the second would be to change the meaning of life." In 1953, Pierre Simon, together with a group of like-minded French and Belgian "image doctors"- all of them free thinkers - founded the "Groupe Littre"in Geneva. The purpose of this group was the defence of life!

However, notes the author, "we are conscious that this struggle is not purely technical, but philosophical. Life as a piece of material, there is the beginning of our struggle." The purpose of this crusade by the Groupe Littre, then, was to impose the philosophical principle of materialism upon society. In the materialistic view, human life loses the absolute character assigned it in Genesis, or attributed to it by Aristotle or Buffon, to become an idea that takes form and develops according to laws, ideas, knowledge.

If one denies human life its absolute, transcendental character, the human person loses his inalienable worthiness and his inviolable rights. Then society determines what rights are to be bestowed on a person, and the State becomes absolute lord and master. As in all totalitarian regimes, the ethical function of defining good and evil does not depend on religion or conscience, but on political power. And this power is increasingly shared with medical doctors and scientists. Dr. Simon puts it this way: "Although society does not cease to influence the medical profession, the medical profession increasingly forms the face and the purpose of modern society. It becomes more and more difficult to escape the political involvement of medical doctors, because they no longer have as their only purpose the health of the people but involve themselves in changing their goal and thus in changing morals. And they participate more and more in political power, just as do other scientists."

Dabbling in metaphysics

The meaning is clear: The medical profession must exercise power over society by dabbling in metaphysics--that is, by concerning itself with the purpose of living--and by working for consequent changes in moral codes. Professor Schooyans, in his clear and courageous book about fertilization titled In Vitro, rightly terms this a "biocracy." Dr. Simon gloats over the fact that medical doctors and scientists today help direct political power and influence political decisions.

"So-called painless childbirth, contraception, abortion, the new ways of research - all this has not only altered the stature of women and restored honour to their human sexuality; these innovations have also changed the people themselves and the nature of their relationships; they have been joined with a total change of cultural and societal values."

In order to reach this goal, the Groupe Littre would zealously promote the idea that people should have free determination over their own bodies. Pierre Simon admits that "this does violence to the Christian ethic, which considers the body a gift from God. In order to promote this "freedom,"it was necessary to introduce contraception in the various countries. Indeed, thanks to "the new view of the meaning of life introduced through contraception, society will be completely changed." Dr. Simon uses the expression "introduced through contraception." He means that this logically and unavoidably will lead to "a revision of the meaning of life in a materialistic direction."

In order to sway public opinion and win the support of the masses, it is necessary to use the available means of disseminating propaganda and to "put pressure on the lower feelings"- that is, on the sexual instincts - in order to "liberate"people from the grip of reason, and thus from the restraints imposed by moral conscience.

On the political and legal level, the change agents had to make short work, at least in France, of the 1920 law that sought to prevent the lowering of birth rates by forbidding the sale and advertising of birth control devices. Dr. Simon wrote: "To attack the law in its totality meant to liberalize abortion. {Public} opinion, however, was not yet ready for that. Therefore we had as our first goal to take apart this amalgam. Once contraception was common and accepted by law, then abortion would be accepted. The future proved us right. The struggle for contraception was to last longer and be more difficult than the struggle for abortion. To change a famous saying: We had won the war, the only thing left was to fight the last battle."The relation between contraception and abortion is clear. It is the same as that between a war and the ultimate battle: The final goal, as already seen, is to exercise freedom over one's own body as a piece of material "in the ecological meaning of the word." In other words: Once contraception is common in society, it brings about a new way of thinking; the body is seen as biological material with which one can do as one pleases. As this mentality spreads, abortion is increasingly accepted. History has proven Simon to be right. In December 1967, nine months before the encyclical Humane Vitae was issued, the Neuwirth Law was passed in France allowing the sale and advertising of contraceptives. In 1975, the Weil Law followed, which legalized abortion. By 1983 this "unspeakable crime"(Gaudium et spes, No. 51) was paid for by national health insurance - that is, by all taxpayers. The Weil Law's "conscience clause"(allowing for refusal to participate in abortion) is no more than an empty formality, since all French citizens, whatever their convictions, pay for health insurance and so participate in the funding of abortion. By refusing to acknowledge the inviolable right to life, the government has become, in effect, a totalitarian State.

Christian anthropology: the basis for ethics

Dr. Pierre Simon and his Groupe Littre have help from many groups in France, such as Parti Radical Socialiste, Movement Francais de Planification familial, Parti S.F.I.O., Parti Radical, P.S.U. and from people such as Charles Hernu, Francois Mitterand, Madame Eveline Sullerot, Rev. Andre Dumas, Abbe Marc Oraison and others, including the US- based International Planned parenthood Federation. What can the Church do to meet this challenge? Many theologians, including professionals at major Catholic universities, do not see the real issue concerned, as they are, with accommodating the Church to modern society. Symptomatic is the fact that few moralists have noticed how contraception leads to a materialistic view of human life.

Pope Paul V1 had the wisdom insight and courage to defend the worth of the human person by upholding the moral law. Many theologians believed contraception was nothing more than a question of birth control; a couple's private business. By underscoring the ethical dimension of the contraception issue, the Church shows that freedom involves choices on which the value of human nature, anthropology and metaphysics depend. Ironically, free thinker Pierre Simon said the same thing (see notes 5 and 10 above).

The ethical view of Humane Vitae is based on a "total vision of man and his vocation, his natural and earthly as well as his supernatural and eternal vocation"(No. 7). In order to understand this total vision, one must keep in mind that "the human person is a substantial unit, in other words, that the human body forms a part of the person whereby he manifests and expresses himself. Thus, one may not consider the body to be merely a bunch of tissues, organs and functions, nor handle it as one would handle an animal body." As a result, the human body with its biological laws and its sexuality cannot be treated as an object, separated from the value and transcendentality of the person.

In the present moral climate, the spiritual and material aspects of man are set against each other. The limitation that the body places on freedom, and limitation that is the sign of its dependence as a creature, is to modern man unbearable. He wishes to do with his body what he wants. Without saying so, he refuses to accept his limitations and thus his dependence on God. Significant in this view is his refusal to see his sexuality as a gift from the Creator.

The refusal to accept natural limitations is especially evident among homosexuals. It is inherent to the atheistic world view that permeate our society. The medical profession is infected with this mentality and is instrumental in spreading it. The medical establishment is geared more to deal with individual organs than with the entire body; it takes greater care of bodies than of persons. The medical profession too often sets aside its mission to care for the whole person and rather deals only with the biological aspects of care, with doctors acting as biotechnicians.

The body, the person, marriage

When we speak of the body, we must recognize two realities, as St. Paul did through the use of two different words. On the one hand there are passing functions which must guarantee our existence on earth; these are imperfect, perishable. St. Paul ascribed those to the flesh (sarx). On the other hand there is sexuality, its purposeful goal created by God ("man and woman He created them,"Gen. 1,27). This sexuality should express the uniqueness of the whole person - and it should pass on life, thanks to love. Here St. Paul speaks of the body (soma). It constitutes the human being with his dignity as a person. "While the flesh returns to dust, the body is consecrated to the Lord: hence his incomparable dignity"- and his eternal goal.

Therefore, the bodily union in marriage cannot be equated with the biological function of animals. Bodily union it the starting point and must be an expression of oneness between married persons. The marriage act must take place in a way that manifests deep honour for the other person, an honour that involves the body with its most natural functions.

The purpose of the marriage act is thus not equivalent to the biological reproduction of animals; it is not merely the "propagation of the race." The goal of the marital act is to express mutual love by a total giving of oneself. This love naturally bears fruit in the creation of new life because fruitfulness is proper to love. Fruitfulness is first and foremost spiritual, but it can also manifest itself physically and bring forth another person - the child who is more than the sum of what the parents contribute. If the child were merely the sum, then the fruitfulness of the husband and wife would be purely worldly and biological.

The child is something else

However, the child is more than that. It is "something else." That "something else"gives it its unique self, its transcendental sign that there is more in each marriage act than what the married couple put into it - something that exceeds the act, the will, the desire and the intention of the couple. The act possesses a self-rationality, an inner spiritual logic that we can examine.

Therefore, the marriage act necessarily has a sacred character revealed in the silence and mystery that spontaneously surround it. The alternative is a lack of reverence for the sacred greatness of the marriage act, an irreverence that constitutes a "profanation of love."

For that reason the natural law forbids that the two aspects of the marriage act - unity (or oneness) and propagation - be separated. This separation, which occurs with contraception, touches the essence of the marriage act and contradicts the very meaning of love. A person who refuses to give, to develop himself and to be fruitful is not manifesting love. Love is genuine when both partners give themselves to each other completely, unreservedly and unconditionally. He who makes conditions refuses to give himself completely.

In marriage "the wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband. And in like manner the husband also hath not power of his own body, but the wife,"says St. Paul (Cor. 7,4). Here he expresses the logic of self- giving. What I give no longer belongs to me. So it is also in marriage. Only through the priceless gift of one's self can one possess another person without attachment; that is without dominating him. This gift of self is proper to the human person: He receives himself by giving himself. Thus do people love each other "as the image and likeness of God"(Gen. 1, 27) by expressing physically the love that binds the Divine Persons together.

All this touches precisely on the evil of the contraceptive act: that one knowingly introduces a contradiction in the act of love by separating fruitfulness, pleasure and unity; by having intercourse but closing the act to creation of new life. So love becomes maimed.

Abstinence versus contraception

We often hear that the church accepts natural methods of birth control while she rejects artificial means. This is not true. The Church accepts periodic sexual abstinence, based on the virtue of chastity, but she condemns every form of contraception. Contraception is "an act which has as its goal the prevention of propagation" (Humane Vitae, No. 14). This is not the case with periodic abstinence. With periodic abstinence, the person is honoured in the sexual relationship-the wife through her own biological rhythm, the husband through the sperm that he gives. No separation disturbs the oneness of the marriage act, the oneness of spirit and body. There is no contradiction between the (good) goal and the means.

The Church considers contraception a moral disorder, not for biological, ecological or naturalistic reasons, nor out of fear for science and technique, but for spiritual, anthropological and metaphysical reasons. Contraception casts man himself in the role as lord of life, allowing him to use his body as a piece of material that is subject to his desire; as an object he can manipulate as he wishes. His desire then becomes the only criteria of his actions. His morality is based on situation ethics; on subjective standards.

By periodic abstinence, however, man accepts himself as a creature of God, sublimating his will to that of his Creator. He sees his body as a sign of his dependence, and at the same time as a symbol of his transcendence. His desire - which is always obscure and confused - submits itself in freedom to the law that is written in his nature, and which therefore becomes a reasonable, true human desire.

We thus see that there are two ways of approaching sexuality; two totally contradictory anthropological and metaphysical conceptions. "It concerns a difference that is more important and goes deeper than one usually thinks. In the last analysis, it involves two conceptions about the person and human sexuality which are irreconcilable" (Familiaris Consortio, No. 32).

Fatal separation

By separating what God has joined, by detaching love from fruitfulness, contraception has given birth to a deformed way of thinking - one which, when followed, results in tragic consequences.

The first consequence - the most miserable, but one that at first escapes attention - is practical atheism. Whenever a man raises himself to the status of lord and master over life, to the role of "boss"over his own body, he ceases to recognize and acknowledge his dependence on God. Such a man fantasizes that he is creator, thereby mentally placing himself of God's throne. The person who does this becomes an atheist without even recognizing it. Such a person does not need to expressly deny God; he merely needs to accept a premise that is intrinsically sinful and materialistic rather than spiritual and holy.

This is not to say that the practice of contraception automatically produces atheists. But justification of the practice brings a man imperceptibly nearer to the way of thinking which results in atheism. Dr. Simon clearly understood this when he wrote that contraception introduces a revision of the meaning of life and that "it changes the people as well as the nature of their relationship."

A second miserable social consequence of the contraceptive mentality is that is makes it impossible to receive a child as an unexpected and undeserved gift from God. Rather, the child, is perceived merely as the object of parental desire ("I want a child"or "I really wanted that child"). Because the child is not seen as a gift, but as "wanted"(an acquisition), it is increasingly viewed as an objects. The value of the child then depends entirely on the will of the parents. The child is no longer known for what he or she is: someone who, simply by being, requires absolute respect.

Once this fallacious reasoning is embraced, it is but a short step to abortion, especially when the child is not "wanted." Tragically, this step is made without much difficulty. Dr. Raymond Pearl of the United States established in 1937 that couples who use contraception have three or four times more abortions than couples who do not use contraception. A 1952 Japanese study of 3,500 families showed that couples who used contraception aborted their children six times more often couples who did not use contraception.

A mutilating encroachment

A third consequence: Sterilization is no longer seen as a mutilating encroachment on human dignity and divine providence, but as a radical and definitive contraceptive method. According to research by the Family Planning Service in England, the number of sterilized couples rose from 4 percent in 1970 to 24 percent in 1983. It is anticipated this percentage will rise to 33 in 1995.

Pope Paul VI pointed out that contraception is a dangerous weapon in the hands of government. How many governments in the Third World promote contraceptives or advance sterilization to solve their demographic problems? The rich countries encourage them, driven by thinly disguised imperialism. Who could blame a government for applying, as a solution to the problems of the community, those means acknowledged to be permissible for married couples in solving a family problem (Humane Vitae No. 17)?

A fourth consequence of the contraceptive mentality is that the field of medicine is evolving into a bio-technology and the medical corps is becoming a health bureaucracy responsible for the regulation of a health policy formulated and enforced by political might. Pierre Simon exulted in advance over this evolution, as we saw at the beginning of this article.

In practice, the doctor who is consulted about contraception already is an agent or merchant promoting a product. He knows that, in prescribing contraception, he is not performing a medical act. Who would dare to argue that pregnancy is an illness? Rather, by dispensing contraceptives, he is seeking to make a healthy woman unfruitful. In the process, the doctor undermines his integrity and his credibility as a healer.

Licensed to kill

This is even clearer in the case of abortion. Here there is no talk of a medical act, but of a crime which is covered with a medical garment so that it is performed in a hospital or clinic by a little angel maker with a medical diploma. The same can be said of the implements of torture discovered by the pharmacists of the Soviet Gulags, or of electrical shocks administered under medical supervision in some Latin American countries. This the medical profession is increasingly reduced to an instrument of political and social policies.

The fifth social consequence of contraception we will deal with here involves the separation of the marital act from marriage and propagating, thereby depriving it of its designation as "a private matter." As the social meaning of marriage disappears, will the community no longer have anything to do with it? Why make a distinction between marriage and non-marital living arrangements? Why speak about rights and obligations for one person and not for another?

Non-marital sexual relationships separate propagation from bodily oneness and reduce sexuality to a public issue. The State and other organizations then become involved in order to bring sexual conduct into conformity with the general welfare. The moral problems posed by in vitro fertilization result from this separation. Some people even talk about "the right to a child,"against which the Church's instruction Donum vitae rightly objects (11 8). In any case, it seems government involvement is unavoidable since in vitro fertilization concerns propagation which does not take place within the marriage act, but in a laboratory. It is not the work of a married couple, but of technicians, and it thereby becomes a public matter subject to purview by the State.

Why should there not be laws governing sperm banks and their "donors,"surrogate mothers, "superfluous"embryos, ects.? In such an environment, under what moral principle can one deny the power of the totalitarian state to favour certain racial or ethnic groups over others, or to do away with handicapped children, or those who are at risk of becoming so? (In many Belgian delivery rooms this currently is the practice.)


The widespread use of contraception unavoidably and inexorably results in a number of catastrophic social consequences. Marital oneness, propagation and the very meaning of love are divorced from the marital act when contraceptives are injected into a relationship. The underlying roles of man and society are thereby jeopardized.

We therefore can see the great wisdom of the Catholic Church in upholding the moral law from which no human activity is excluded - not even science. Science is not neutral. Properly used, it must serve the welfare of the people and respect their dignity. Contraception is not a private matter without moral repercussions for society at large. As we have seen, widespread contraceptive use thoroughly impacts the very foundations of the culture that embraces it. Enlightened by the teaching of the Church, we believe that man can come again to a practice of birth regulation that respects human dignity and the sacred character of marriage and of life.

The detailed practical solution that each married couple must find for themselves is not covered here. Those are concerns that do not belong to instruction, but to the pastoral care of the Church. Various Church documents provide guidelines for such care. Married couples must solve this problem for themselves at different moments of their married life. However, they should never lose sight of the fact that Church law is the voice of grace and liberty. Prayer will help when give shape to their life of love that is at the same time supernatural and physical.

This article originally was printed by Emmaus under the title "Contraception: a social problem."

Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN