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.