Bishop's Column

The tragic link between abortion and contraception

In 1992, the U.S. Supreme Court made the second-most important decision about abortion to date. The case was Planned Parenthood v. Casey and at issue was the right of states to regulate the practice of abortion.

The court's decision was a double-edged sword. Tragically, it confirmed the decision of Roe v. Wade and affirmed the principle that abortion should be legally available in the United States through all nine months of pregnancy. The decision was wrong, from both a moral and constitutional perspective—and its consequence can be measured in millions of children killed by abortion.

But Planned Parenthood v. Casey also confirmed that states have at least some authority to oversee the way the abortion industry is regulated. This paved the way for the widespread popularity of parental and spousal notification laws, of counseling and ultrasound requirements, and, in some places, of waiting periods before abortions.  Many of these laws have led to a reduction in abortions—they’ve saved lives.

Because Planned Parenthood v. Casey considered abortion in great detail, the court reflected on the causes of abortion in American culture. Its findings were chilling.  The court stated: “abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception. … For two decades of economic and social development, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.”

In Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court confirmed something that the Catholic Church has long proclaimed: abortion is directly related to the use of contraception. Cultural acceptance of contraception mandates a paralleled acceptance of abortion. The statistical increase of abortion since the time of the “sexual revolution” confirms this fact.

The Guttmacher Institute itself, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, reports that “54 percent of women who have abortions had used a contraceptive method during the month they became pregnant.”

The reasons for the correlation between abortion and contraception are clear.  The use of contraception is predicated on the premise that we control our fertility. At the heart of the contraceptive mentality is the notion that a couple can engage in sexual activity and avoid its natural consequences. Couples who unintentionally conceive a child while using contraception are far more likely to turn to abortion.

The contraceptive mentality is predicated on the premise that we have absolute control over every aspect of our lives and that we have the right to live according to our own desires and plans.

This mentality subtlety chips away at our trust in and dependence on the providential care of God.  It turns us more directly toward ourselves and our selfish wants. And it feeds an egoism in which our own desires and plans become the center of the universe.  Gradually but steadily that egoism erodes our conscience.

Many couples who at the beginning of their marriage would never dream of being unfaithful or divorcing or having an abortion, find after years of using contraception their consciences have changed. Slowly, the lens for evaluating the world becomes governed by convenience and ease. It becomes rooted in the self.

Consider the prophetic words of Pope Paul VI in the 1968 encyclical “Humanae Vitae.” The widespread use of contraception, he said: “could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings, especially the young who are so exposed to temptation, need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.”

He goes on to say that: “another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

Contraception makes us consumers of pleasure and slaves to our passions, leading to infidelity and to disrespect for women. Ultimately, that slavery leads to abortion. Millions of women know that firsthand.  The Church knows it, too.  And so does the Supreme Court.

So often the Evil One tempts us with a seemingly small and fairly common sin.  But he uses the openings we give him to draw us away from God.  Compromise begets compromise.  Sin begets sin—and the compromise of contraception far too often leads to the tragedy of abortion.

All of us should be aware of the temptations of compromise—it may lead us far beyond our expectations.  But God’s mercy far exceeds the temptations of the world and the slavery of sin.  All of us are in need of God’s mercy and we will always find it in the sacrament of confession.  God’s mercy leads to true freedom. And the Resurrection assures us that no matter where we are, the Lord is always eager to set us free and start us anew in the freedom of his love.

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