To say that this topic is controversial is a misnomer because it’s already settled in the minds of almost everyone. I’m well aware that most women of child-bearing age use some form of it. So comments that I am crazy, backwards and out-of-my-mind are not unexpected. Nevertheless, my husband and I live this insane, counter-cultural lifestyle choice, and so do a lot of people. It’s also something the Catholic Church gets pounded on, so I will attempt to explain our basic reasoning. Please note, this is not a condemnation of persons who use contraception. Perhaps, this will give an open reader an invitation to reconsider the issue.
One, we start with reality as existent and normative. That means that the real things in the world matter and have moral consequences. We are human, and so that means certain things are good for us and certain things aren’t. It means we are truly male and female, not just asexual spirits happening to inhabit bodies.
The first problem we find with contraception is that it blocks nature. (Nature, before everyone goes nuts, has two senses: 1) the natural world, as in plants, mountains, things that grow without man’s intervention. 2) the internal principal of growth within a living thing. This is what we mean when we say “nature vs. nurture,” or “it goes against his nature for such a peaceful man to act violent.” Nature is what we are; it makse a thing to be what it is and directs us to be what we are. This is nature in the Aristotelian and Thomistic sense. A plant’s nature causes the seed to sprout, grow and blossom. A human’s nature causes far more…)
When I say contraception blocks nature, I mean that it interrupts something good and healthy in human beings. The hormonal birth control pill renders the healthy, functioning reproductive system of a woman dysfunctional and infertile. That’s actually worth thinking about, especially considering the first segment of the Hippocratic oath requiring doctors to “do no harm.”
But don’t we use medicine to interrupt natural processes all the time? Nature broke someone’s bone, so we intervene to fix it. On the contrary, this is equivocation between the two meanings of nature as described above. Medicine restores dysfunctioning body parts to functioning. It is quite another thing to turn a healthy system into a broken one.
But why should that matter? After all, sometimes people just don’t want to accept reproductive functioning at the moment. The problem with this is that blocking nature thing I mentioned. Sex is the act that makes babies. That is what it is, by it’s nature. No way around that. Performing the act while blocking what it does messes with one of the most fundamental of human actions: love and reproduction. Sex, because of what it is as the baby-making act and love-sealing act, cements love and reproduction together. This is what “marriage” has always recognized because in marriage sex is licit, so babies and love stay together; that is the nature of marriage. (A LOT more could be said here about the nature of sexuality within marriage, but I’m going to skip it for the sake of staying on topic for this post.)
That brings me to the second difficulty with contraception. Following from the role of sex in human life (to make babies and bond couples), severing that connection leads to sad and deadly mindsets. When romantic bonding and babies are separated, children can become merely an add-on to a couple’s relationship rather than a natural fruit of it.
This leads to the contraceptive mindset that if a couple conceives unintentionally, they shouldn’t be saddled with that “burden.” That’s where abortion enters the picture as the “fix.” (Obviously, many couples do not resort to abortion, and instead they welcome unexpected little ones or bless another couple by offering the child for adoption). But babies are not burdens; they are people. Once a baby exists, she should not be killed. Abortion can seem easy because in early pregnancy it’s easy to forget that one is pregnant; sometimes it seems like the idea of a baby doesn’t or shouldn’t exist. But the baby is already there. What does abortion get rid of if not a budding human life?
In all but the most rare cases, the couple willingly performed that act-that-makes-babies. All contraception sometimes fails. It is just not reasonable to feel that a baby was unjustly foisted upon one when one has engaged in sex, the act-that-makes-babies. Therefore, it is reasonable to accept blessed babies as the fruit of the act-that-makes-babies. (Don’t want babies? Then seriously weigh the consequences of performing the act-that-makes-babies).
So, that’s why we (and Catholics in general) believe that contraception is has some problems.
BUT that doesn’t mean we try to have as many babies as possible. While all children are blessings, there are myriad legitimate reasons a couple may want to post-pone a birth. Serious psychological, financial, physical, emotional reasons should be taken into account when dealing with the act that makes babies.
For those who keep themselves open to life, there is Natural Family Planning (NFP). (More on NFP in Part II)