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Father Peter Damian Fehlner, S.T.D. Weighs in on Plan B in Connecticut. (Continued)

By October 20, 2007December 14th, 2007Fr. Peter Fehlner, News, Politics, Pro-Life

This is a response to comments on the article I posted on October 9th titled, Father Peter Damian Fehlner, S.T.D. Weighs in on Plan B in Connecticut?about the recent statement of the Connecticut Bishops on what is euphemistically and equivocally termed “emergency contraception”. I am grateful for the positive and insightful comments I received especially from Duane, who is at one with me in questioning, like Fr. Euteneur, the wisdom of this statement, and in maintaining that the pill prescribed in Plan B prevents conception via an abortion.

But Duane disagrees with me on several points. Since these are points commonly held by many well meaning Catholics and even theologians I will take his comment as an opportunity to bring this discussion to the next level.?

Duane disagrees?first with my position on the malice of contraception and maintains, with a number of theologians and Catholics, that “emergency contraception” is not intrinsically sinful, when its use is directed not to impeding procreation, but rather to protect the woman from further “violence” at the hands of a rapist.

Secondly, quoting Kara Crawford, Duane holds that a woman raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from sexual assault. Provided it is certain no conception has occurred such a woman can be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization, in effect engage directly and primarily in an act of contraception as a means to legitimate defense against sexual assault.

Finally Duane indicates that my position is not in accord with Catholic teaching and that his two points above are now firmly grounded in episcopal teaching, at least in the United States, although their application is skewed by competing interpretations and continued uncertainty as to the methods by which “emergency contraception” achieves its end, viz., protecting the woman from potential conception as a consequence of sexual assault.

Precisely this “continued uncertainty” about “emergency contraception” requires, along the lines indicated in my first posting, further reflection on what is meant by contraception and why it is intrinsically evil. Traditionally a contraceptive act and a contraceptive instrument, e.g. chemical like the pill, or mechanical like the IUD, or surgical procedures employed to effect temporary or permanent sterilization, is a moral action by nature primarily ordered to prevent procreation in the use of sexual intercourse.

Prevention of procreation is intrinsically evil prior to and independently of any good end which might be achieved thereby, such as avoiding further violence at the hands of a rapist. In my first posting I made a distinction between end and means. The woman may certainly resist and should resist to the limit permitted by divine law any sexual assault. But she may not do this by using a means which is intrinsically evil, in this case considering the conception of a child an act of violence justifying the use of contraception. Avoiding conception is one thing; doing so via contraception is another. The first can be a legitimate end; the second is always a forbidden means. When one abstains from sexual intercourse, one naturally avoids conceiving. If one does so from selfish motives, this may be sinful. But it is always sinful if one seeks to be childless via the use of contraceptives during sexual intercourse. On the other hand Our Lady as a married Virgin abstained by sexual intercourse, but not to avoid conception. Via a virginal conception she brought forth into the world the Child of children and became the spiritual mother of a vast multitude.

In regard to the abortifacient aspect of the Plan B pill Duane admits the importance of the traditional principle: the end cannot justify an intrinsically evil means. But he questions whether “contraception” in the phrase “emergency contraception” is intrinsically evil. He holds that “contraception” is intrinsically evil, only when it is used to impede conception. But this begs the question, for what else is contraception intended, but to impede conception?

Hence, this strikes me as a flawed or confused statement. Something is intrinsically evil when it is such by nature. If the medicines envisioned under Plan B are contraceptive by nature ” and this appears to be the position of Duane, then their use is morally wrong, even if the end in the case of rape, viz., avoiding an unwanted conception, is licit. In more technical moral terminology the position espoused by Duane locates the evil of contraception, not in the nature of the act as such, but the end to which it is ordered. Hence, contraception, in itself, or objectively, is not intrinsically evil. Why, then, on such grounds, should contraception be intrinsically evil for married couples, should they happen to have a sufficiently urgent reason to use these means to avoid contraception?

Another version of this same position is often encountered in Europe. Artificial contraceptives are forbidden to married couples during intercourse, because their intention in intercourse must be procreative. On the other hand outside wedlock contraceptives may be used during intercourse, since outside marriage there is no particular obligation to be open to procreation. All the more so where intercourse is initiated in a forced or violent manner as with rape.

With this we come to Duane’s second observation, which is really a question about when intercourse begins. Is it when the male seed is deposited in the vagina, as St. Alphonsus held (and so rendering the flushing or “lotio” illicit)? The fact is this question is irrelevant. Unlike the sin of abortion which clearly postulates the fact of conception and hence the identification of the moment when this occurs, the sin of contraception is defined in relation to the nature of the procreative power as such, not in relation to the moment it begins. The avoidance of contraception via abstinence from intercourse may be perfectly licit. Avoiding conception from rape via a flushing before conception has occurred is but an aspect of abstinence from sexual intercourse, a negative action. But use of contraceptive medicines is a positive action whose immediate, primary end is suppression of the procreative power, leaving only personal pleasure or sexual gratification its end. Abstinence from sexual intercourse is not contraceptive; rather the positive act of contraception is what is meant when the Church speaks of contraception as intrinsically evil, prior to any consideration of the particular circumstances of those engaged in sexual intercourse: married or unmarried, willing or unwilling.

This is the heart of hedonism, and to legitimate its practice, even in limited cases, is to undermine both the physical and moral future of the entire human family. Hedonism, systematically promoted, especially via a corruption of the procreative power ” which is what acceptance of “emergency contraceptives” as morally licit implies, is the basis of a culture of death, as the late Pope John Paul II lucidly taught. To accept the child conceived as a consequence of rape is simply a blessing as contrasted with the evil of attempting to prevent such a conception via the use of contraceptive medications for all children are a blessing.

This latter is the position of the majority of reliable or approved theologians before Casti Conubii (1930) and Humanae Vitae (1968). Any medical or mechanical devise which directly renders the onset of this process closed to procreation is contraceptive and intrinsically evil, because it destroys the natural character of this process. On this insight depends the traditional distinction between natural and unnatural sins against the sixth commandment. A natural sin in this case does not mean that sin is natural, but that the misuse of the marriage act or intercourse during fornication, grievous as this is, may still be open to conception of a child, a blessing which may help to redeem the parents. An unnatural sin against the sixth commandment is the use of the sexual powers in such wise as to exclude the possibility of conception.

Serious as the natural sin may be, the unnatural sin is still more serious. Once the use of contraception is legitimized, even if only for exceptional cases, the distinction between natural and unnatural sins breaks down, and so does the distinction between marital and pre-marital sex, between heterosexual and homosexual relations. Not procreation, but pleasure or taste or convenience or personal need constitute grounds for deciding what is and is not licit morally.

The deliberate exclusion of procreation, in making pleasure the primary end of the marriage act, ultimately impinges on the very survival of the human family. Hence, to administer contraceptives to rape victims is to act in a way intrinsically contrary to the law of God, both revealed and natural. Whether the rape victim consents or not to this does not excuse from guilt those who administer medications intrinsically evil.

In conclusion, the use of contraceptives, apart from any consideration of their abortifacient character, is radically unnatural, and has been correctly described by such theologians as the late Fr. John Hardon, somewhat bluntly, but realistically, as “mutual masturbation”, hence sharing the malice characteristic of all forms of sodomy.

Can the newer points of view be reconciled with Catholic teaching and tradition, as Duane seems to think possible? His only authoritative references are documents issued by state Catholic conferences, such as that of Pennsylvania, in the United States. Even if many of these statements enjoy unanimity, it is hardly that envisioned by the Code of Canon Law. But even if national conferences take up a certain position “unanimously”, the obligation of respect and obedience extends only to those points within the competence of the conference. One point not within the competence of these organizations is binding statements on matters of faith and morals, unless they simply repeat what all bishops in union with the Roman Pontiff have always taught. Anyone who checks the standard moral texts approved for use in seminary formation of priests before Casti Conubii (regarded by many as a dogmatic definition of the sinfulness of contraception) will see that my position is precisely the premise presupposed for understanding the terrible malice of contraception and why its introduction by Anglicans at the Lambeth Conference of 1929 was regarded by Pius XI as so tragic and so dangerous for our common future. Even minor concessions on this point, such as those first introduced by Anglicans, are fatal. Rape is no more a reason for exceptions than any other emergency. Whatever the occasion, the process of procreation enjoys a natural goodness and immunity, prior to any consideration of the subjective state of those involved in initiating this process.

St. Bonaventure in the 13th century noted that the prohibition of contraception was not a law from which even God could dispense, since it profaned and perverted the noblest perfection of human nature, the capacity of love to the point of procreating another person, a power directly reflecting the goodness of God. Because this is so, the practice of contraception soon induces an addiction to self which is the worst of all addictions and is, without a miracle of grace, impossible to eradicate. This is why the universal practice of contraception can only serve the ends of the prince of this world in seeking to frustrate the redemption of Christ by destroying its beneficiary, the family of Adam.

Ave Maria!


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Join the discussion 9 Comments

  • Ave Maria says:

    I was particularly dismayed at the action of the CT. bishops. As a pharmacist who was granted a conscience clause so that I do not ever dispense Plan B or birth control pills, I wrote to these bishops to express my dismay. When ‘the church’ begins to compromise and give way, then those who have stood fast against this intrinisc evil have less ground to stand on in some sense.

    I had to leave my profession for 8 years and work in home health because I could not, in good conscience, dispense possible abortifacients. And I sought much advice at the time in 1997 and I had 5 priests and an ex-priest all tell me I could indeed dispense these drugs. Finally at a conference and with Fr. Pablo Straub as confessor…he prayed and told me Our Lord would be pleased if I did not do this anymore. I had known it in my heart.

    When those in position of authority say ‘birth control is a matter of conscience’ and other such things, their personal opinions carry weight along with responsibility. When those in such positions do not adhere to the teachings of the Church’s magisterium, evil triumphs. We have seen countless examples in the past decades.

    This was a grave error on the part of the CT. bishops.
    Ave Maria!

  • Extra Frate says:

    St. Thomas Aquinas defines wisdom as a “certain, eminent, sufficiency in knowing, such that the wise person possesses a certitude of great and wondrous things???. Father Peter, at the risk of offending your humility, your wisdom serves the Body of Christ honorably. May God continue to bless you with such insight and may He continue to bless us with your wisdom. Thank you!

  • GenXsurvivor says:

    Fr. Fehlner: Thank you for your commentary. I agree that the Ct. Bishops’ policy is wrong on the abortifacient end. I have a few sincere questions about the contraception issue.

    Why do you think “flushing” is not contraception in this circumstance, when (if I understand you correctly) a condom or diaphram is? Aren’t both the stopping of sperm, only at a different location?

    And if flushing is OK, how about a theoretical drug that does not prevent ovulation but does incapacitate sperm by thickening cervical mucus–“freezing” rather than “flushing,” if you will?

    Perhaps more fundamentally, if a woman can tell the rapist “I will not give you my body, or my reproductive organs,” why cannot she tell his sperm “I will not give you my ovum”?

  • Timothy O'Rourke says:

    Father Peter: Ava Maria! Thank you for your needed elucidation on this vital issue. I am hoping that you can address more thoroughly the principle when forming a practically certain conscience if there is a necessary attainment an end, i.e., valid matter for a sacrament, a right of another, or the safety of another, one must choose the path that is more certain if one cannot dispel the theoretical doubt or choose the opinion according to which the child would certainly be protected from harm.

    Excluding contraption being intrinsically evil, which I know that it is, I believe that there is too much practical doubt to ever have a practically certain moral conscience in administering Plan B in the way to which our Fathers have decided.

    I am currently arguing the point that we should not act not because there is not absolute certainty but because we cannot dispel the theoretical doubt that would even enable us to form anything close to practical moral certainty to act by administering the drug without the ovulation test.

    It does not matter that not to give an ovulation test before administering Plan B is not intrinsically evil, since we do not know for sure the effects of Plan B, as our Fathers claim. The fact that we do not know for sure the effects of Plan B are precisely what forbid us from not administering it without an ovulation test. A clear explanation of why this is true would be of great benefit to explaining to our Fathers why they cannot employ one of the criterions of the Principle of Double Effect in this way, as I suspect they are, because it is not permissible to do so because we are dealing with a necessary attainment of an end: fife and allowing the possible Baptism for eternal salvation of those to whom it could be denied if the test was not administered.

    Also, our Fathers seem to employing the Principle of Double Effect, or maybe the moral system of Probabilism, when they state that they have made a prudential judgment to keep the hospitals open “for the good of the catholic hospital and those they serve???. How can these things even be considered to be more important than doing all we can to save life or not being complicit with destroying it?

    Thank you Father,


  • C says:

    Dear Fr. Fehlner,

    I must tell you what your writing on this topic has done for me! It has been a soothing balm to my soul! In the weeks that have passed since this infamous decision was handed down in Connecticut, I have sought clarity on Plan B. I must be well-informed in my position as a counselor at a women’s clinic. I am thankful that all of us who work in the clinic are united on this issue. I can tell all of your readers that this diabolical set of pills (there are two in the pack), is a scourge upon women and that the youngest and most vulnerable women are preyed upon by older males (statutory rape) who purchase this drug and literally force their ‘dates’ to take it! All of the predictions of the valiant pro-life authorities who gave testimony before the FDA approved this drug for OTC use have come true. I can verify this by what I see day to day, and I am only one counselor in one clinic! Many, many Catholic women are included in this group of victims.

    The ‘exceptions for rape and incest’, while put forth by well-meaning people, have always been the foot in the door for PP and the abortion lobby. I know human beings who are technically the ‘products of rape and incest.’ There can never be a reason to use any contraceptives or to sanction an abortion. We must take the hard line on this and stand up for these women.
    Bishop Fulton Sheen predicted the in final age of the Antichrist (which he defined as anti-cross), we would see Theology as Politics. That is surely what is happening here. Buying these drugs is sleeping with the enemy in more ways than one! I pray our great Pope B16 issues a current binding statement (which to my satisfaction has been done already), so that no group of bishops can muddy the waters any further!

    Again, I thank you, Father from the bottom of my heart! I do not have your knowledge or abilities, but I knew the truth! God bless you!


  • Arline Saiki says:

    Re: Rape and Plan B
    Isn’t this the same argument given in defense of aborting a child conceived by rape? The purpose of Plan B is to destroy a life, period. Self-defense is killing to keep from being killed. Killing a baby has nothing to do with self-defense. Its simply murder of another person. In the end, only God can create human beings and to terminate them or to attempt to terminate them would seem to be contrary to the 5th commandment.
    Why do the bishops keep trying to confuse us?

  • Ave Maria says:

    The Holy Father is speaking on this issue as well:

    Pope urges pharmacists to reject abortion pill
    Mon Oct 29, 2007

    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pharmacists must be allowed to refuse to supply drugs that cause abortion or euthanasia, Pope Benedict said on Monday, calling on health professionals to be “conscientious objectors” against such practices.

    The Pope told a convention of Roman Catholic pharmacists that part of their job was to help protect human life from conception until natural death — the Church teaching that rules out any deliberate termination of pregnancy or euthanasia.

    “It is not possible to anaesthetize the conscience, for example, when it comes to molecules whose aim is to stop an embryo implanting or to cut short someone’s life,” the Pope said.