Contraception Again: A New and Interesting Account

William E. May
Reproduced with Permission
The Culture of Life Foundation

Patrick McCrystal's Who's at the Center of YOUR Marriage…The Pill or Jesus Christ? Contraception's Disintegrating Effect on Marital Harmony, is a very helpful book, rooted in the author's and his wife's personal experiences and research. In 1993 McCrystal, an Irish pharmacist, resigned his position in an Irish drugstore rather than fill prescriptions for the "contraceptive" pill. Disappointed to find that no one would hire a pharmacist with pro-life views in "Catholic" Ireland, McCrystal's profession led him to a new vocation. He and his wife Therese became actively involved in the Ireland Branch of Human Life International, where he served as its Director from 1997 to 2004 and decided to write this book in 2008, upon the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae. The book was published in 2009 in Dublin by Human Life International Ireland.

McCrystal's book is of important and educational value, particularly because of his summary of the damage the practice of contraception does to marriage, frequently leading the couple to divorce. Pulling from his experience and research, the book also shows how Natural Family Planning (NFP) strengthens a marriage and helps husbands and wives to grow in love for each other. The many summaries laid out for the reader are based on McCrystal's personal interviews with many couples and on interviews of and research done by competent medical scientists, psychotherapists and others.

For example, he cites Dr. Robert McDonald who shows the following marital problems commonly experienced by contracepting couples: the husband's focus shifts from giving himself to his wife to pursuing his own pleasure and he begins to treat her as a sexual object, and vis a vis; he begins to look for more sources to stimulate his desires such as pornography in magazines and on internet. All this leads to the spouses becoming alienated from each other, frustrated, angry, and then perhaps committing adultery (pp.72-73). Although not every contracepting couple will divorce, with the subsequent harms divorce brings upon their children, use of contraception damages marital love and opens a door through which unsettling doubts can enter (cf pp.74-78).

On the other hand, couples who reject contraception and practice NFP as a means to either avoid pregnancy when there are good reasons not to cause the wife to become pregnant (e.g., a serious health problem, financial struggles, emotional and physically ability for the mother to care for more children at a certain time in the marriage, etc. ) or to achieve a pregnancy helps enormously in improving spousal communication. This communication brings about a greater awareness and respect for one another's needs and desires, deepens spousal love, etc. (see pp. 101-107).

McCrystal likewise does a good job of presenting seven key principles of responsible parenthood, namely: 1. Spouses are free to choose how many children they ought to have, either generously raising a large family or because of legitimate circumstances (excessive burdens that another pregnancy might cause) necessitating the couple to postpone a new birth; 2. Spouses should seek to discern God's will regarding family size; 3. No one, not even the Church, can tell spouses how many children they should have; 4. Responsible parenthood is about more than limiting family size but includes a willingness to have a large family if this is God's will and the couple are apt to care for a large family; 5. Responsible parenthood requires faith in God's loving providence; 6. Responsible parenthood requires repudiation of immoral methods of limiting births, e.g,, contraception and abortion; and 7. Periodic abstinence can help spouses grow in love (see pp.114-116).

McCrystal also advances reasons why contraception is intrinsically immoral, emphasizing the idea, presented frequently by Pope John Paul II, that contraception violates conjugal love and is an "anti-love kind of act," a "lie" because the conjugal act is meant to be an act of self-giving love whereas contraception makes it an act in which spouses refuse to give themselves unreservedly to each other, deliberately withholding their God-given fertility from their spouse, regarding it not as a great blessing but as a pathology or evil.

In giving reasons to show that contraception is immoral, McCrystal does not mention the argument that contraception is also an anti-life kind of act. A long Christian tradition used this argument, beginning with the Fathers of the Church, continuing through the middle ages and Reformation period, up to today. Some notable examples include St. John Chrysostom, around 395 AD, who stated that sterilizing medicines given to or forced on women results in her killing, as it were, the child to be born by preventing its very beginning. St. Thomas Aquinas, around 1262-64, taught that non marital intercourse was wrong because it deprived any child conceived by such acts of the home that only married persons could give to it. When someone objected that this harm to the child so conceived could be prevented if the parties used a contraceptive, Thomas replied: "after the sin of homicide whereby a nature already in existence is destroyed, this type of sin appears to take next place, for by it the generation of a human nature is impeded." Even the Reformer John Calvin, writing in the middle of the sixteenth century, judged that the withdrawal from coition in order that semen fall to the ground and not enter the woman was "to extinguish the hope of the race and to kill before is born the hoped-for offspring." [In Calvin's day such withdrawal was widely regarded as a means of contraception.] Finally, this argument has been developed at length in our day by Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, and William E. May in "'Every Marital Act Ought to Be Open to New Life': Toward a Clarification," The Thomist, 52.3 (1988) 365-426.

Some contemporary authors have claimed that these so-called "anti-life" arguments against contraception are based on Aristotle's faulty embryology. This claim is not accurate. Although these authors' understanding of abortion was flawed because of that embryology, since pre-Christian times people had used various methods to sterilize women or to prevent them from conceiving: smearing the woman's vagina with crocodile dung (which may in fact have had a spermicidal effect unknown to them), filling the woman's vagina with pebbles, taking certain kinds of herbicides, and withdrawal from coition. They realized that none of these steps could ahort what had already been conceived.

Several other texts could be cited to show that, for centuries and also today, the Christian tradition has held and still holds that contraception, in addition to being an anti-love kind of act, is also an anti- or contra-life kind of act, and can be, such as with the use of abortifacient contraceptives, analogous to intentional killing.


McCrystal's book, simply written, filled with interviews that he had with different couples, and rooted in his own experience and in very good research into relevant literature, is a very helpful book. It is of special educational value because it shows the harm that the practice of contraception can do to marital life and love, and also shows the benefits couples experience who use NFP as a morally legitimate way to limit (or increase) the size of their families.