Abortion and Contraception: Fruits of the Same Tree
Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
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about the transforming power of this
Sex is an extremely powerful force, and never a neutral one. Either it serves
life, or it serves death. Its fruit can be the highest joy of earth, bringing
forth new life in the embrace of self-giving, or else its fruit can be violent
and destructive activity, ruining and ending the lives of others or oneself.
Society is not obsessed with sex. It is afraid of it…afraid of
the total reality and power of what it represents, where it comes from, and
where it leads. Sex properly understood requires that we acknowledge God who
made it. More than that, sex can never be separated from its purpose: to insert
us into an immense, powerful movement of life and love that started when God
said "Let there be light" (Genesis 1:3) and culminates when the Spirit and the
Bride say "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Revelation 22:17).
Sex is deeply symbolic. It is a language that speaks of things beyond sight
and feeling. Many think of the Church's teaching about sex as "You cannot do
it except in marriage and when open to life." That is true, but the fuller
understanding of why this is true comes when we can see that sexual activity
means so much that it is wrong to diminish its message or deny its full
reality. It belongs in the context of committed love (sealed by marriage) and
openness to life precisely because this is the only context great enough to hold
its message and reflect the greater reality to which the gift of sexuality
directs and commits us. The teaching is not just that it is wrong to have sex in
certain circumstances. The teaching is that it is wrong to run away from the
full reality of sex. It is wrong to think we have the kind of control that
can change that reality to suit ourselves.
The most bitter fruit of this flight from the full meaning of sex is
abortion. Thousands of lives a day in our nation are deliberately killed in
order to control who will be born and when. They are even destroyed in
the very process of being born. If we ask why abortion happens, or how we
arrived at the culture of death, we would do well to consider another question:
What happens when you distort the meaning of sex?
One of the many ways in which the meaning of sex is distorted is through
contraception, which is an intrinsically evil act. The links between
abortion and contraception are more and more widely recognized, and not only in
They are linked by a common mentality, which is that I may stifle the power
of sex to produce a new life. Pope John Paul II wrote in his encyclical The
Gospel of Life, " It is frequently asserted that contraception, if
made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion.
The Catholic Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion, because she
obstinately continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception. When
looked at carefully, this objection is clearly unfounded. It may be that many
people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of
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" (n. 13).
They are linked sociologically. Every culture and subculture which has
opened the doors to contraception has likewise experienced an increased practice
of abortion. The Alan Guttmacher Institute indicates the following as the main
reasons women offer for their abortions. Ask yourself what resemblance they bear
to the reasons for birth control. " On average, women give at least 3 reasons
for choosing abortion: 3/4 say that having a baby would interfere with work,
school or other responsibilities; about 2/3 say they cannot afford a child; and
1/2 say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their
husband or partner" (from the website www.agi-usa.org).
They are linked in law and jurisprudence. In 1973, the Supreme Court's
Roe vs. Wade decision legalizing abortion clearly built upon the recognized
privacy right behind contraception. In 1992, the Supreme Court reaffirmed Roe in
its Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision, and explained that they could
not remove the "right" to abortion from "people who, for two decades of economic
and social developments, have organized intimate relationships and made choices
that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance
on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail"
(505 U.S. 833, 835).
They are sometimes linked by being identical. Some "contraceptives" have a
backup mechanism whereby a newly-developing life may be destroyed in its
microscopic stages. These drugs and devices are abortifacients, capable of
causing early and usually unknown abortions. The morally relevant point here is
that "it is objectively a grave sin to dare to risk murder" (Declaration
on Procured Abortion, 1974, n.12-13). If your action might kill a
person, and you do it, you declare your willingness to kill a person (like
shooting at what is behind the bush when you are uncertain whether it is a bear
or a man).
The nature of the link between abortion and contraception needs to be
accurately understood. The Pope writes, "Certainly, from the moral point of
view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the
former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of
conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former
is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the
virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment "You shall not
kill". But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception
and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree" (n.
"Fruits of the same tree." Contraception, in other words, is more like the
sister to abortion rather than the parent. What gives rise to them
both? The Pope continues, "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" (n. 13). Dr. Bernard Nathanson,
when asked whether contraception was "the beginning of the downfall of
the issues of reproduction in this country," said that "contraception was not
the fount…that spawned all of these other horrendous technologies...it
was the perversion of autonomy…If you elevate autonomy to a deification
status…then people are going to make choices which are irrational…"
(Presentation to 1999 Legatus National Conference).
Yes, abortion and contraception are linked. They are linked with each other
because they are linked with many other evils: the disconnection of freedom from
truth, a relativistic view of morality, a positivistic view of law, a culture of
hedonism, and many other problems.
What lies at the solution to these problems is to rediscover the dominion of
It is perfectly legitimate to acknowledge that there are circumstances in
which a couple should not have a child. There can be medical, social, financial,
psychological, or other reasons for this. To acknowledge God’s dominion does not
mean to act imprudently. Methods of natural family planning are legitimate. (We
are not referring here to outdated calendar rhythm methods, but to modern
methods such as those made possible by naprotechnology.) In planning
one’s family, however, one may never destroy the meaning of sexual union on
one’s own initiative. Natural family planning respects the body's cycles, during
portions of which God closes the door to life. In contraception, we close the
door. We have no authority to do so.
There are two basic truths that each person has to admit in this life: 1. There
is a God. 2. It isn’t me. To understand these lessons is to understand why both
contraception and abortion are wrong. Only God has absolute dominion over human
life. "None of us lives as his own master and none of us dies as his own master.
While we live, we are responsible to the Lord, and when we die, we die as His
servants. Both in life and in death, we are the Lord's" (Rom.14:7-8).
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