Even for many Catholics who attend Mass on a weekly basis, the Church’s teachings on birth control are often misunderstood — or completely unknown. It can be even more complicated for the faithful when high ranking clergy make confusing statements about these beautiful teachings.
One of the tools Human Life International is using to set the record straight on birth control is a new booklet series that covers what the Catholic Church teaches about contraception, and also discusses the well documented medical and cultural harms of contraceptive use.
In HLI’s booklet “An Introduction to Church Teaching on Contraception,” readers learn that the Church’s teaching about contraception is based on her positive teachings about sexuality and marriage, which are “primarily an affirmation of great goods to which the Church proclaims a resounding ‘Yes!’”
This is a “Yes!” to the truth about the human condition, and to genuine love. As Saint John Paul II explained in his The Theology of the Body: “[W]hen the conjugal act is deprived of its inner truth because it is deprived artificially of its procreative capacity, it also ceases to be an act of love.” Contraception is ultimately opposed to love because it blocks the complete gift of self between married couples, and thus harms their relationship with God.
Contraceptive use goes against God’s divine plan for the marital act, leading couples into sin, as described in HLI’s introductory booklet:
God has established an ‘inseparable connection’ between these unitive and procreative purposes of marital love, so when a couple rejects one of these beautiful purposes of their sexual union they harm their spouse and their marriage, even if their intentions are good.
Contraceptive intercourse involves a choice against the possibility of new life so as to prevent pregnancy. It deliberately makes infertile a sexual act within marriage that should be fertile. The couple who freely and knowingly does this commits a mortal sin.
What can be really confusing for some people is when they hear that the Church is against birth control, but embraces Natural Family Planning (NFP). Often the question is asked: What is the difference between contraception and NFP?
The short answer is that NFP is not just another, “natural,” method of contraception. It’s not even properly understood as birth control at all, but rather as a means of informed self-control that, when used with an attitude of trust in God’s will and openness to life, can help a married couple postpone, or even achieve, pregnancy.
The Church is against birth control, no matter the method, but she does encourage married couples to practice responsible parenthood.
From HLI’s booklet “Contraception vs. NFP”: “Every married couple has the responsibility to prayerfully practice what the Catholic Church calls ‘responsible parenthood,’ as it pertains to the number and spacing of children. Spouses are to exercise this responsibility with generosity in receiving the gift of life, and with prudence, while avoiding selfishness and carelessness.”
“Although children are the supreme gift of marriage, Catholic couples are not obliged to have as many children as humanly possible. While always remaining open to the possibility of a new life, couples may, when a serious reason is present, choose to postpone pregnancy . . . . Instead of using contraception, couples who have a serious reason to postpone pregnancy may use a method based on fertility awareness, and then choose to abstain from intercourse when it is known that pregnancy is likely.”
“Done with the right intention, fertility awareness, or ‘Natural Family Planning (NFP),’ is fully supported by the Church, and it can be an effective and beautiful way for a married couple to embrace the gift of marriage responsibly.”
Unlike contraception, “NFP expresses a profound openness to God’s will for a couple and embraces both the unitive and procreative meanings of marital intimacy . . . . Sexual intercourse remains a true act of love, and never involves acting against a potential child – the couple is never opposed to the fruit of their love and thus they are capable of giving and receiving the complete gift of self that they desire.”
Beyond helping people understand the clear Church teaching against birth control, HLI’s booklet series also discusses why the pro-life movement should care: Because contraception is anti-life.
Contraception contributes to a culture of death by creating an environment in which children are treated as an unwelcome burden, an impediment to personal goals, or even worse, an enemy to be avoided at all costs. This negativity toward new life is part and parcel of the ‘contraceptive mentality,’ and is why so many children conceived are considered an ‘accident,’ ‘unplanned,’ or ‘unwanted.’
HLI Founder Father Paul Marx talked about this issue throughout his life. Saint John Paul II understood the connection between contraception and abortion as well, writing in Evangelium vitae that the two are “fruits of the same tree.” In fact, many “contraceptives” actually cause abortions, as another booklet in HLI’s contraceptive series details. While marketed as contraceptives, these drugs and devices fail to stop fertilization from taking place and can kill a developing child in the womb.
It is important not only for Catholics, but for all pro-life advocates, to understand how contraception leads to the destruction of life, of family and of our culture. This is why Human Life International will continue to focus on this issue, and on providing new, dynamic, educational resources as part of its mission to build a Culture of Life around the world.