Welcome back! It’s Day 3 in our weeklong series on natural family planning (NFP).
DISCLAIMER: This series is meant to inform and spark conversation about the Church’s teaching on respect for human life. While these answers are in-line with Catholic Tradition, they are by no means exhaustive or comprehensive. We are not bioethicists nor moral theologians and do not claim to speak on behalf of the Church in answering them. For more information, dive into resources provided by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. **Special thanks to Fr. Albert Bruecken, Conception Seminary College, and Adam Storey, Director of Marriage and Family Life for Diocese of Des Moines, for sharing inspiration, ideas, and words for this series.
One of the great lies of popular culture is that we will have more happiness and freedom if we can have more sex with fewer consequences. Who would define happiness and freedom that way? Consider the following passage from Exodus:
The enemy boasted, “I will pursue and overtake them. I will divide the spoils and have my fill of them. I will draw my sword; my hand shall despoil them!”
Since the sexual revolution drew its sword and despoiled sexual intimacy of its life-giving purpose, are we really happier and freer, or have we become slaves to our own pleasures? Have our relationships become better or worse? Do men and women respect each other more or less? The fruit of the sexual revolution is decidedly rotten, straight from the devil.
True happiness and freedom consist of being in right relationship with Jesus, who is Truth itself. How do we forge that relationship? Jesus tells us in the Gospel, “For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.” Simply put, artificial contraception has no place in God’s plan for human sexuality. In that spirit, let’s take up a couple common questions related to artificial contraception.
Question: Isn’t it a double standard to allow couples to use natural family planning in order to avoid pregnancy but yet not allow artificial contraception?
This is a common question that goes straight to the heart of what makes an action moral. There are three considerations:
- The intention,
- The act itself, and
- The circumstances.
The question posed here considers the intention and the act itself. Through prayerful discernment and the use of God-given intellect and reason, a couple may discern that it is advisable to avoid or postpone pregnancy. However, the way they go about it (the act) matters.
Consider the analogy of trying to lose weight. If someone is ten pounds overweight and wants to lose it, that’s advisable; the intention is positive. There are a number of ways to go about losing the weight. One can employ a moderate regimen of diet and exercise, which is a good method. Another approach would be bulimia, which might be just as effective but decidedly unhealthy. The intention of losing extra weight is a good one, but the method chosen is a bad one.
The same thing is true of artificial contraception, which the Church always considers to be immoral when used explicitly for contraceptive purposes. The Church teaches that God’s design for sexual relations has two purposes:
- To bring about new life, and
- To draw husband and wife together in intimacy.
The aim of artificial contraception in every case is to frustrate God’s plan by separating these two purposes. This is precisely what “despoil” means — to strip of belongings, possessions, or value.
Question: I have a medical condition that requires me to be on the birth control pill. Am I in a state of sin by taking it?
Taking hormonal birth control, as prescribed by a physician, for explicitly non-contraceptive purposes is not a sin. However, one should abstain from sexual relations during such a course of treatment. Aside from the clear moral conflict of interest, there is also the drug’s abortifacient potential. This means that fertilization (fusion of sperm and ovum) could occur to produce an embryo, but this new life could not implant in the uterus and would thus be aborted due to the effects of the drug.
Also, it would be advisable to seek additional medical opinions, which might uncover more effective treatments. In many cases, the use of hormonal birth control masks symptoms while the underlying cause remains. As an analogy, what if someone sought treatment for a broken bone, and the attending physician prescribed Vicodin for the pain but failed to set the bone? That would likely be considered irresponsible, if not even malpractice. Unfortunately, this is exactly what is often done with hormonal birth control. Many conditions can be treated more effectively and/or without compromising fertility with alternate medications. Visit One More Soul to find your nearest NFP-only physician. If none is available in your area, ask an NFP teacher to recommend an NFP-friendly physician.
Links to other posts in this NFP series: