Pope Saint John Paul II’s Evangelium vitae just about says it all when it comes to discussing the sanctity of human life, threats to life in the modern world, and the related Catholic Church’s teachings on the issues. In today’s culture – where the deciding factor of an action among young people tends to be “if it feels good, do it” – this encyclical should be added to the top of our student reading list.
Let me tell you why reading through the pages of The Gospel of Life is crucial.
If you’re a liberal arts major pondering the universe, Evangelium vitae covers moral issues from one end of the spectrum of human life to the other: abortion to euthanasia, embryonic research to the death penalty, contraception to in vitro fertilization, and so on. At our time in our lives we are confronted with so many challenges and we need to know how to defend human life in all its stages, right? And this encyclical covers so many threats to life humanity faces, we need to both know and understand what it says.
In Evangelium vitae, not only does John Paul II condemn the immoral practices that destroy human life, but he also discusses the links between these and the rise of the “culture of death” – a culture that values self-gratification above everything else.
Two of the immoral practices condemned in this work are contraception and abortion. These inextricably linked evils are key to recognizing the culture of death throughout the world. A growing number of young people admit that abortion is wrong, but they’re not convicted contraception is also gravely immoral. Seeing images of the unborn via ultrasounds has greatly helped to expose the lie that an unborn child is just a “clump of cells.” Contraception seems “harmless” by comparison; it is as simple as using a condom, or taking a pill. And nobody gets killed, so we’re told (though numerous women have suffered fatal side effects from contraceptive use, and some are actually abortifacient).
But the Pope was wise, he understood all our struggles. Unlike the culture of death, Christianity is a love story. Remember all those thousands of confessions he heard? In Evangelium vitae he speaks to our hearts. Pope John Paul II reaffirms the immorality of contraception because it “contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love” and promotes “a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality” (13). The immorality of contraception is rooted in a violation of the nature of the sexual act, which is an act of total self-giving to one’s spouse. Yes, that means within marriage, it’s not just about “me.” I and my spouse need to be open to each other, to life and to children. Because of today’s contraceptive mindset, which sees the sexual act as solely a source of self-gratification, many sadly see procreation as a disease to be avoided.
Though “the close connection which exists…between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious” (13), in our over-sexualized culture it is unfortunately still not very clear to the average person. It’s just as important to tell those who think contraception is the best way to decrease abortions, claiming it prevents “unwanted pregnancies,” that it’s a lie and the numbers just don’t add up. In many countries where contraception is widely available, the abortion rate has also remained high, and sometimes even increased.
In the UK, the British government launched a “Teenage Pregnancy Strategy” program in 1999, which spent hundreds of millions of dollars to promote contraception in an attempt to lower the teenage pregnancy rate. But abortion rates among teenage girls in the UK are now higher than before the program started. Today over 60% of pregnant teens under 16 years of age abort their unborn baby.
You see, where contraception is everywhere, pregnancy is treated like a disease, an enemy: “The life which could result from a sexual encounter becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception” (13). So when contraception fails – which it often does – abortion is seen as “necessary” and becomes widespread, as other assaults on life and human dignity naturally follow. The destruction of those who are inconvenient, whether it is an unborn child or a severely disabled person, gradually appears to be a reasonable and “enlightened” step to take.
Our pro-life generation needs to witness. Learn your Faith. Try to come annually to Marches for Life. Share prayer support and fellowship. Youth in the U.S. and around the world have to recognize and understand the tragic effects of contraception on our wider culture if we truly wish to abolish abortion and defend life.
So again, why not start with reading Evangelium vitae? We are the future; it’s increasingly important we understand its teachings so we can spread them far and wide, and finally free ourselves from this culture of death in which we live.
Deborah Piroch contributed to this report.