This week is National NFP awareness week and many Catholics—as well as other Christians—in the United States practice some form of artificial birth control. By looking at the origins of the widespread dissent among many Christians from the apostolic faith on marriage and the one important danger of the pill that I think is too often ignored, I hope Natural Family Planning will be seen as more faithful to God’s teaching for marriage and better able to ensure a the life of a child in the womb. Both artificial birth control and natural family planning are forms of birth control, but artificial means are immoral while natural methods are morally good. The moral quality of these methods will have to be addressed in a different post.
All Christians Were Against Artificial Birth Control Until 1930
That’s a long time! For nearly 2000 years all Christians shared the same belief in the dignity of marriage by keeping it united to its primary purpose of procreation. I was taught in my class on Christian Marriage that the Anglican Communion made the first move to try and permit artificial means of birth control but only now looked at the actual documents themselves. About every ten years, all the Anglican communities come together at what is called the Lambeth conference to address contemporary issues and foster communion among themselves. The resolutions at this conference on not binding but they are very influential. At the Lambeth Conference of 1930, we read:
Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles.
[S]eeing that the primary purpose for which marriage exists is the procreation of children, it believes that this purpose as well as the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control should be the governing considerations in that intercourse.
The Conference affirms…the privilege of discipline and sacrifice to [the duty of parenthood and raising a family]
It is surprising that the conference allows someone to forgo a life of discipline to use a non-abstinent form—i.e. an artificial form—of birth control. If one chooses to avoid children and avoid abstinence for what the conference vaguely calls a morally sound reason, this actually contradicts the life of self-discipline under the power of the Holy Spirit and the primary purpose of marriage for procreation that this same conference teaches. The permission to use artificial birth control has no biblical, theological, or traditional teaching to support this separation of procreation from marriage and the marital act. To use a non-natural method is to choose to not live a disciplined life because it enables the Christian to choose an immoral means to satisfy their sexual desire instead of empowering them to say “no” to the passions of their body for the good of their family. This seemingly compassionate but injurious divide between marriage and procreation inspired Pope Pius XI to write Casti Connubii in which he affirms the true teaching of marriage that has always been held by the Church.
Ever since this shift from the divine meaning of marriage among the Anglicans, many Protestant communities have fallen suit and the Lambeth Conference of 1958 stated that birth control methods—which may be artificial or natural—can be determined by a Christian’s conscience that both spouses find acceptable. The rhetoric of determining birth control by one’s conscience pervaded the the Catholic Church during the 1960s and there was a huge expectation for years that the Church would change her teaching away from the apostolic tradition of nearly 2000 years. Humanae Vitae’s confirmation of the divine plan for marriage upset numerous Western Catholics and many continued to dissent from God’s plan for marriage by placing their conscience as the determining factor of what is morally right and wrong over divine revelation. Now Jesus did not explicitly address contraception or many other issues—such as the Trinity or homosexuality—and in ancient times contraception was linked to abortion so that it is difficult to separate the two sins but these summaries by Fr. Mitch Pacwa and Fr. John Hardon begin to show the general consensus of the Church against the sin of contraception throughout history.
One Way Hormonal Contraception “Prevents Pregnancy” Is By Aborting the Child
The most popular form of artificial birth control is “the pill” and this is the only method space permits me to address. The pill causes three effects in the woman’s body to “prevent pregnancy.” It is important to note that “pregnancy” is now often defined by many medical professionals to mean the occurrence of when an egg implants in the uterus and not when the egg is fertilized. The first effect of the pill is to suppress ovulation so that no egg is released. The second is to thicken the mucus so that sperm cannot reach the egg. The third and most devastating effect is the thinning of the uterine wall so that a fertilized egg cannot implant and the consequence is that the fertilized egg—or child—is aborted. Thus, according to some doctors, there is no pregnancy because there was no implantation but the child in the womb dies.
Awhile ago I found studies on “the pill” and was shocked by the numbers I read. I am unable to find the site right now but this website—especially the last four questions—has similar numbers. Hormonal contraception only suppresses ovulation about 90% of the time. The remaining 10% results in an implantation of the fertilized egg or an abortion of the child so that a woman will have a child attached to her uterus or one child is aborted every year. Chapter 1 of the booklet Contraception of Grief confirms that 1.4—4.1 million children are aborted from “the pill” every year. That is a staggering figure and many of those taking the pill call themselves Pro-Life Christians yet have no idea they are aborting their children. Even if it is only one child a wife/mother may abort every year because of the pill, I just don’t think it is worth taking that risk. It is a an act of complete selfishness to satisfy one’s sexual urge at the risk of killing one’s child. What is interesting is the Lambeth Conference of 1930 condemned abortion but the pill actually causes abortions even though it only occurs about once a year if a women does not have an implanted fertilized egg that year.
Seeing that marriage—as communicated by God in His divine revelation—has always been taught to be intrinsically connected to the possibility of the generation of offspring, NFP is a more appropriate form of birth control that encourages temporary abstinence each month and does not contradict God’s plan for marriage which all Christians believed until the 20th century. Furthermore, NFP does not risk aborting a child for the sake of sexual gratification. For these reasons, the abandonment of the pill and employment of NFP can only help a couple to live a marriage according God’s design and ensure that through no fault of their own any child in the image of God will be lost.