Contraception: Pro-Life’s Achilles Heel

Dominic Pedulla - Contraception


(First in a four-part series)

Jesus cautions us about going into battle against a better-armed opponent, and again about starting to build a house which cannot be completed for lack of resources, in each case advising we know in advance the true costs and take them properly into account. He also tells us not to go into battle as an army divided, for if we do that we cannot stand.  He praises the dishonest steward, not for his dishonesty in defrauding his ex-employer in his dealings with his debtors, but rather for his skill in maneuvering the available resources, situations, and relationships to his advantage, all to avoid being beaten down and thrown penniless to the streets, or being made to dig ditches for a living.

Has the pro-life movement properly heeded this advice? Do we spot “deal-breaker” roadblocks in advance, crafting a plan to resolve them? Do we work to identify and challenge the forces buoying up and unifying the enemy, the better to prevail? Do we know what disrupts our own unity, preventing us from harnessing the full strength of those who might otherwise fight alongside us?

A number of years ago I wrote the following for Judie Brown, herself long-frustrated about contraception being the ongoing and unresolved “Achilles heel” in the fight against abortion:

In nature\’s plan, the woman is \”chosen\” from all others to receive love from a man, and then the child conceived is the living incarnation, symbol, and visible reminder (not unlike the living Eucharistic \”anamnesis\” of Luke 22:19) that she was a uniquely treasured and esteemed gift. Just as we can only love because Jesus has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn. 4:19), similarly the woman can only properly love the child conceived if that child is the living symbol of a genuine love she first received from the child\’s father.

Contraceptive \”love\” is a betrayal; a degradation, a form of sexual depersonalization of the woman, not consciously admitted however. The shame from this is so great that (quite literally according to the medical and psychological literature), she in many cases would take her own life rather than see that trauma exposed. Similarly, she will abort her child because, in the absence of any real path to re-personalization for herself, she will have recourse to the depersonalizing of her own child. That way, her own shame can be \”eradicated\”; i.e., in the unconscious mind of the abortion-inclined woman, the shame dies with the child.

This tells us not only why abortion occurs, but also how little this all has to do with the purely abstract question of a child\’s right to life, at least at the moment a woman discovers she has a pregnancy she does not want. Moreover, it tells us why some \”prolifers\” assiduously avoid tackling contraception. Perhaps they want to save babies, but only until the moment of steep personal cost comes, until the moment they begin to look foolish. Unfortunately, that moment is also the moment of truth in the minds of women, the core issue that will eventually win back the minds and hearts of women to our side. Until that moment comes, the baby will always be the cancer they fear more than any other.

In the ongoing fight against legalized abortion-on-demand, a sober assessment of the role of contraception puts us squarely in the middle of abortion’s most important associations, causes, and culture. I remember that someplace Pope John Paul II said, speaking of contraceptive acts, that it isn’t just that one OUGHT NOT separate the unitive and procreative meanings of sex through contraceptive acts, but also that in practice one CANNOT do so. What did this dramatic yet somewhat cryptic statement mean?

Among John Paul’s more prescient teachings one can also recall that in the theology of the body (TOB) he also said that the body is the “sacrament” of the person, that contraceptive acts go beyond the obvious attack on the procreative meaning of the conjugal act and also attack the unitive meaning of that act, and that the conjugal act is at its core a most profound truth-telling moment, as well as a moment of the deepest and most profoundly mysterious mutual reciprocal personal self-revelation, calling in turn for mutually reciprocal, honest acceptance of the other as an obligatory pre-condition of true love. What do these things really mean, when it comes to the nitty-gritty of the man-woman relationship, and how does this affect the contraception-abortion complex?

In those early days when I devoured everything John Paul wrote that had anything remotely to do with the topic of contraception and women’s happiness – and nearly everything he did write in those days was connected with these subjects in one way or another —  I couldn’t help but think that there was a part of him that wished he could have been a women’s health specialist, so deep were his insights into the existential happiness of women. But then I remembered he was an actor, and thought he must therefore have been able to juggle many different roles as needed. Let us examine the available scientific and medical data, using John Paul’s ideas and the TOB as an interpretive key unlocking their deeper meaning.

Contraceptive use drives the demand for induced abortion

Newer scientific evidence shows contraception and abortion to have a much closer relationship than many have often thought. First, wherever abortion on demand has been legalized or demanded, this movement has first been preceded by the widespread acceptance and use of contraceptives, whether in societies as a whole or certain groups within societies. Secondly, contraceptive users always show an increased tendency to declare their pregnancies “unwanted” as measured especially by the hard endpoint of more often choosing induced abortions, but also by other softer endpoints such as self-declared pregnancy wantedness.  For Christians this ought to be in itself disturbing, but perhaps equally concerning is the fact that contraceptive use theoretically ought to improve the chances of becoming pregnant only when women wish to. Therefore, with increased use the ratio of wanted to unwanted pregnancies should always increase, not decrease (as it always actually does), if contraceptives are fairly to be credited for being able to reduce unwanted pregnancies. The very best social and medical science data testifies robustly that everywhere contraceptives are used, the chance that pregnancies will be welcomed is reduced, often greatly so.

What of the often reported association between contraceptive use and subsequent “decreased abortions” in some studies? This refers somewhat misleadingly to a decreased number of total abortions where contraceptives are used, but not to the number of abortions per pregnancy, which always increases in contraceptive populations. When overall decreases in the number of abortions occur (often there are increases), they are only achieved because of a drastic fall in the total number of pregnancies, in spite of an increase in the rate of abortion per pregnancy. So individual pregnancies are actually at increased peril of being aborted, but the pregnancies themselves are so few in number, that the overall tendency is fewer overall abortions. And paradoxically this is happening even though a dramatic contraceptive effect is already at work and easily demonstrable in robust falls in the fertility rate. Disturbingly for all but especially for Christians, contraceptive using women find their pregnancies increasingly unwelcome, despite experiencing a lot fewer of them. Many are still welcomed, and presumably especially among Christians, but the association is nonetheless inescapable and worrisome for those on the side of life.

You see the problem: contraceptives don’t eliminate or even reduce unwanted pregnancy at all, rather what they eliminate is pregnancy itself, even preferentially sacrificing what might otherwise have been “wanted” pregnancies, now unfavorably exchanged for “unwanted” ones. Second, when in aggressively contraceptive societies abortion remains a problem, even an epidemic, the answer often provided is more promotion of contraception, with wider access, even though the approach is doomed to actually worsen the problem for the reasons mentioned.

Next: How contraceptives also increase rates of divorce, suicide, and sexual dysfunction

© Dominic M. Pedulla MD. All Rights Reserved.

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7 thoughts on “Contraception: Pro-Life’s Achilles Heel”

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