This article is six years old but Humanae Vitae is always worth revisiting. The anniversary of its release is tomorrow (1968).
A generation has passed since the publication of the boldly pastoral and prophetic encyclical Humanae Vitae which upheld the ancient ban on the use of artificial contraception. Perhaps no teaching of the Church causes the worldly to scoff more than our teaching against artificial contraception. The eyes of so many, Catholics among them, roll and the scoffing begins: Unrealistic! Out of touch! Uncompassionate! Silly! You’ve got to be kidding!
The Lord Jesus had an answer to those who ridiculed him in a similar way:
“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others: ” ‘We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.’ For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and “sinners.” ‘ But time will prove where wisdom lies.” (Matt 11:16-18)
Indeed, times DOES prove where wisdom lies. Some forty or more years after widespread acceptance of contraception set in how have we done? Perhaps it is best to review some of the “promises” that contraceptive advocates made, then review the prophecies of Paul VI. Then lets review the record, looking at the “fruits” of contraception.
The Promises of the Contraception Advocates:
- Happier Marriages and a lower divorce rates since couples could have all the sex they wanted without “fear” of preganancy.
- Lower abortion rates since there would be far fewer “unwanted” children.
- Greater dignity for women who will no longer be “bound” by their reproductive system.
- More recently contraceptive advocates have touted the medical benefits of preventing STDs and AIDS.
What were some of the concerns and predictions made by Pope Paul VI? (All of these are qutoes from Humanae Vitae)
- Consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity (Humanae Vitae (HV) # 17)
- A general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. (HV # 17)
- Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection. (HV # 17)
- Who will prevent public authorities from…impos[ing] their use on everyone. (HV # 17)
So, forty years later, who had the wisdom to see? The World or the Church? Well lets consider some of the data:
- The divorce rate did not decline. It skyrocketed. Divorce rates soared through the 1970s to to the 1990s to almost 50% of marriages failing. In recent years the divorce rate has dropped slightly but this may also be due to the fact that far fewer people get married in the first place, preferring to cohabitate and engage in a kind of serial polygamy drifting from relationship to relationship. The overall divorce rate despite its slight drop remains high, hovering in the low 40% range. Contraceptive advocates claim that divorce is a complicated matter. True enough. But they cannot have it both ways, claiming that contraception would be a “simple” fix to make marriages happier and then, when they are so horrifyingly wrong, claiming that divorce is “complicated.” Paul VI on the other predicted rough sailing for marriage in advent of contraception. Looks like the Pope was right.
- Abortion rates did not decrease. They too skyrocketed. Within five years the pressure to have more abortion available led to its “legalization” in 1973. It has been well argued that, far from decreasing the abortion rate, contraception actually fueled it. Since contraception routinely fails, abortion became the contraception of last recourse. Further, just as the Pope predicted sexual immorality became widespread and this too led to higher rates of abortion. It is hard to compare promiscuity rates between periods since people “lie” a lot when asked about such things. But one would have to be very myopic not to notice the huge increase in open promiscuity, cohabitation, pornography and the like. All of this bad behavior made more possible by contraceptives also fuels abortion rates. Chalk up another one for the Pope and the Church.
- The question of women’s dignity is hard to measure and different people have different measures. Women do have greater career choices. But is career or vocation the true source of one’s dignity? One’s dignity is surely more than their economic and utilitarian capacity. Sadly, motherhood has taken a real back seat in popular culture. And, as the Pope predicted women have been hypersexualized as well. Their dignity as wives and mothers has been set aside in favor of the sexual pleasure they offer. As the Pope predicted many modern men, no longer bound by marriage for sexual satisfaction, use women and discard them on a regular basis. Men “get what they want” and it seems many women are willing to supply it rather freely. In this scenario men win. Women are often left with STDs, they are often left with children, and as they get older and “less attractive” they are often left alone. I am not sure this is dignity. But you decide who is right and if women really have won in the new morality that contraception helped usher in. I think the Pope wins this point as well.
- As for preventing STDs and AIDS, again, big failure. STDs did not decrease and were not prevented. Infection rates skyrocketed through the 1970s and 1980s. AIDS which appeared on the scene later continues to show horribly high rates. Where is the promised deliverance? Contraceptives it seems, do not prevent anything. Rather they encourage the spread of these diseases by encouraging the bad behavior that causes them. Here too it looks like the Church was right and the world was wrong.
- Add to this list the huge teenage pregnancy rates, the devastation of single parent families, broken hearts and even poverty. The link to poverty may seem obscure but the bottom line is that single motherhood is the chief cause of poverty in this country. Contraception encourages promiscuity. Promiscuity leads to teenage pregnancy. Teenage pregnancy leads to single motherhood (absent fatherhood). Single motherhood leads to welfare and poverty. Currently in the inner city over 80% of homes are headed by single mothers. It is the single highest factor related to poverty.
- Declining birth rates are also having terrible effects on contracepting cultures. Europe as we have known it is simply going out of existence. I have written on that before HERE: Contraception is Cultural Suicide! Europe’s future is Muslim. They have huge families. Likewise here in the USA white and African American communities are below replacement level. Thankfully our immigrants are largely Christian and share our American vision. But for the Church the declining birthrates are now resulting in closing schools, parishes, declining vocations and the like. We cannot sustain what we have on a population that is no longer replacing itself. Immigration has insulated us from this to some extent but low Mass attendance has eclipsed that growth and we are starting to shut down a lot of our operations.
Conclusion: Time will prove where wisdom lies. What have we learned in in over forty years of contraception? First we have learned that it is a huge failure in meeting its promises. It has backfired. It has made things worse, not better. Marriage, families, children have all taken a huge hit. Bad behavior has been encouraged and all the bad consequences that flow from it are flourishing. Most people seem largely disinterested in this data. Hearts have become numb and minds have gone to sleep. I hope you are not among them and that you might consider this information well and share it with others. Time HAS proved where wisdom lay. It’s time to admit the obvious.