Contraception: Why Not?

Janet E. Smith
Reproduced with Permission

"Contraception: Why Not?" was recorded in May,1994, as a Catholic Physicians Guild meeting at the Pontifical College Josephinum, Columbus, Ohio. Dr. Dennis Doody introduces Professor Smith.

To introduce tonight's speaker: after receiving a bachelor's degree from Grinnell College, Professor Smith went on to receive Masters and Doctoral degrees in classical languages from the University of North Carolina and the University of Toronto respectively. Following a ten year period as a member of the faculty of the University of Notre Dame, she has since been teaching at the University of Dallas where she now has the rank of Associate Professor in the Philosophy Department. She has spoken widely on college campuses, to clergy and laity and has addressed the U.S. bishops three times at Pope John XXIII Medical Moral Research Workshops. She has published extensively. She has authored or edited two books on Humanae Vitae and has published scholarly articles on Plato, Virtue, Abortion and Contraception in various academic journals. Professor Smith is currently in the midst of a grand tour of the dioceses in the state of Ohio and has kindly consented to fit us in her tightly packed schedule. We in the Guild are most pleased to be able to sponsor this segment of her trip and would like to welcome her here to our city. Professor Smith, we hope that your brief stay with us is a pleasant one and that there will be, as a result of your visit, a new and energized interest in the church's age-old teaching regarding family and marriage. So without further delay, I give you Dr. Janet Smith.

Thank you. It's really very nice to be here. I grew up in Warren, Pennsylvania. It's is not so far away. And my mother grew up in Cleveland and my father in Ashtabula. It's always nice to be around familiar terrain. It's somehow consoling.

Now, as the doctor mentioned, I've written quite a bit on the topic. In fact, I think, one book is 425 pages and the other one is longer, so that means I have a lot to say. That's not always good news for an audience, especially when you're seated in such hard seats. And I do have a problem - I'm a non-stop talker, but I want you to know that I belong to a support group for non-stop talkers. It's sometimes difficult to get away from that support group. It's called the "On and On Anon Society." And they tell us at the "On and On Anon Society" to be certain that we don't go on and on, and one way of doing that is to capture our thoughts in some short pithy statement. So I have borrowed a short pithy statement from Garrison Keeler. You may know him - he's the radio humorist who does the Prairie Home Companion and talks about Lake Woebegone. He talks about Father Emil who is the pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility Church. Father Emil gives a homily once a year on contraception. It may take you a while to see what he is up to, but it's a one sentence homily on the church's teaching on contraception. It goes: If you don't want to go to Minneapolis, what are you doing on the train? OK? Think about that for a while. You'll have a whole hour here to think about that and get the gist of it.

My topic tonight is the Church's teaching on contraception and various sexual issues. As you know, we live in a culture that thinks that contraception is one of the greatest inventions in the history of mankind. If you were to ask people if they wanted to give up their car or their computer or their contraceptive, it would be a hard choice to make. It's really considered to be something that has really put us, greatly, into the modern age and one of the greatest advances of modern medicine and modern times. Yet, there's this archaic church that tells us that, really, this is one of the worst inventions of mankind. According to the Church, contraception is one of the things that's plunging us into a kind of a disaster.

So we have this great polarization: a world that thinks contraception is one of the greatest inventions of our time and the Catholic Church that says it's one of the worst. I am going to try to help people see tonight why the Church's teaching certainly deserves serious consideration.

Most people don't know that every Christian church up until 1930 taught that contraception was wrong. There was a universal teaching against contraception within Christian churches. It was only in 1930 that the Anglican church first broke with that unbroken tradition and approved contraception within marriage for serious reasons. On December 31, 1930, Pope Pious XI published the Encyclical, "Casti Connubii", which is usually translated. "On Christian Marriage", and there he reiterated what had been the constant teaching of the Church. Within the Catholic Church there was virtually no debate on the issue until the mid-1960's. The debate starts about 1963. There was really a great acceptance of the Church, of those in the Church, of the teaching of the church. In 1960, some 66% of Catholics were living by the Church's teaching. Sixty-six percent. Now they say some 80% of Catholics are contracepting. Thirty percent of Catholics are sterilized, which is the same rate as the rest of the population. Only 4% of Catholic's are using Natural Family Planning. I personally think that might be a high estimate.

So, how have we in the last 30 years gone from 66% compliance to at best 4% compliance? One reason is that there really weren't very good contraceptives in the early sixties. The pill was not yet really on the market. It had just begun to be developed. Most contraceptives were illegal in most states -- at least for interstate purchase. The laws that made contraceptives illegal were put on the books by Protestant legislators. Contraception was always seen to be the source of great sexual license in society and considered to be something that a morally upright society would ban. But as you all know, because of the doctrine of the "right to privacy" found in the "penumbra" of the Constitution, those laws were thrown out in the early 1960's. The supreme court decision that threw out laws against interstate sale of contraceptives really was the precursor to Roe v. Wade. The right to privacy is found in Griswold v. State of Connecticut and then is reiterated in Roe v. Wade which legalized abortion. It was also at that time, for Catholics at least, that obedience was considered to be a virtue. It was not yet seen to be a pathological condition. So, Catholics were prepared to accept what their church taught simply because it taught it, whether or not they understood it.

In the 1960's, the pill became available and that's really when the revolution in contraceptives began. The pill was considered to be a great salvation of mankind for several reasons. It was at that time that people began to think we were headed for disaster as far as population was concerned. In fact, when I was in high school, we had posters of globes with human beings falling off the globe, it was projected to be so crowded. But there actually have been no two people who have been more wrong than Malthus and Paul Ehrlich, who both predicted huge famines and wars because of population.

I don't have time to go into the "myths" of overpopulation, but I can recommend a few books: one by a man named Julian Simon and another man, Ben Wattenburg, who are demographers. And there's many other others - Jacqueline Kasun - who have critiqued the work of Malthus and Ehrlch.

Malthus said that the population would increase geometrically and the food supplies would only, at best, increase arithmetically. It is true that population has increased enormously. That's not necessarily bad news. That's just a fact. It has increased enormously. The good news is that the food supply is wildly better off than Malthus ever dreamed. The United States could quite easily feed the rest of the globe. It's not a problem. Modern agricultural techniques have exponentially increased our food supply. And they say we haven't even begun to mine the ocean for food. And as far as for limited mineral resources, Malthus thought we would certainly run out of coal and copper and precious metals, but we actually have more coal and more copper now per person on the globe than Malthus thought we had at his time. We've discovered more resources and we need them less, because we have discovered such sources of energy as atomic energy.

Again, I'm not here to argue against the population scare. I'm just here to tell you that there is good reason to doubt it. Yet, you might wonder why we see these emaciated children on TV starving. It is easy to think we must be overpopulated - look at all these starving children. Yet, the starvation of children has little to do with population, really. It has a great deal to do with one tribal or ethnic group hating and starving out another tribal or ethnic group. It has a great deal to do with corrupt governments and the failure to distribute food. It has a great deal to do with natural disasters that we have little control over. But still, concern about overpopulation has been one of the reasons for thinking the pill to be a great advance for mankind.

Feminism has also contributed to the enthusiasm for contraceptives. Feminists believed we had to have contraceptives because women couldn't get in the work place and find their fulfillment unless they were having fewer babies and the only way they could have fewer babies is if they had good contraceptives.

It was also believed that a contraceptives, especially the pill, would make for much better marriages. Much better marriages. Because, clearly, people could now use contraceptives within marriage and get rid of the fear of pregnancy that was dampening the spontaneous and blissful sex lives that spouses hoped that they could have. It would take the tension out of the sex life that was there because of the fear of pregnancy. And it didn't take people long to catch on. Well, gee. If you could take the fear of pregnancy out of sex within marriage, you could wipe out the fear of pregnancy out of sex before marriage, and surely it would make sense to have sex before marriage.

I was a teenager in the 60's and this became to be the wisdom of the times. Surely, none of you would buy a car unless you took it for a test drive. It's just as idiotic, of course, to get married without having sex with your prospective spouse. And none of you would really buy a car without test driving several cars, right? That would also be idiotic. You want to find out what model you like. You want to see how it drives. It was the same thing in the 60's. This was wisdom at the time. For the earlier generations, it was unfortunate that they, more or less, had to restrain themselves before marriage and sort of plunged into marriage because they were desperate for sex. Now we could be free from that kind of desperation by having sex outside of marriage and thus we could make a calmer, cooler, more collected assessment of our future spouse by being able to have a sexual relationship before marriage. This was considered to be great wisdom.

We also thought that contraceptives would make for an enormous decrease in the number of unwanted pregnancies. Surely contraception would help people not get pregnant when they didn't want to get pregnant. And, concomitant with a decrease in unwanted pregnancies, there would, truly, be a decrease in the number of abortions. Now, these were the expectations for the contraceptive pill in the 60's. I think none of these were stupid expectations. For all my sarcasm, it seems to me, on the surface, there is a great deal of plausibility to these expectations.

But the Catholic Church at the time said no, that won't be the case. Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae in 1968. It looks like some of you might have been alive and aware at that time. You might remember that it fell like a bomb on the Church and the rest of society. It was a shock to everyone that the Catholic Church reiterated its constant teaching against contraception. Pope Paul VI, in Section 17 of Humanae Vitae, made several predictions about what would happen if contraceptives became widely available and widely used in society.

He said, first of all, that there would be a general lowering of morality in society. Now, for those of you who were here in the 60's and were awake and aware and are here in the 1990's, I don't know that I have to do a lot to convince you that there's been a general lowering of morality. I remember watching TV when I was a teenager in the 60's. We saw the Donna Reed Show, I Love Lucy, Father Knows Best, The Spin and Marty Show - all sorts of great family entertainment. And now, I can hardly watch the advertisements on TV without being offended, let alone afternoon soaps which are surely soft porn, let alone the talk shows that introduce perversions into my mind that I hadn't even imagined, let alone MTV which approaches being hard-core porn. I call this "the frog in the water effect." Some of you might have heard that if you put a frog into boiling water, it will actually jump out. But if you put a frog in a pot of lukewarm water and gradually raise the temperature to boiling, it will quite happily boil to death and not notice. And I think that's what has happened to us. In the 1960's, my father and every other father on the street, I think, would have taken the TV and smashed it on the pavement if MTV would have come into our homes. But now we are quite happily boiling to death with the TV that we have. Not to mention, of course, crime in the streets, not to mention drive by shootings, not to mention gangs and all the things we are all frightened about. You might say, "How can you trace any of that to contraceptives?" And I'll do it for you in a minute. But first, I want to go through Pope Paul VI's predictions.

Secondly, Pope Paul VI he predicted that there would be a general disregard for the physical and psychological well-being of females by males. Pornography is a great assault on a woman's psychological and physical well-being. There seems to be an enormous outbreak of sexual abuse of women. The statistics are just overwhelming for how many women have been sexually abused by someone in their household. Let us also consider the fact that 60% of poverty in the United States is accounted for by single women with children. Most of those living in poverty in the United States are single women with children. That seems to me to be clearly psychological and physical abuse of women. And how did it happen? How did we get all these single mothers with children? I'll talk about that in a minute.

The third prediction was that governments would use family planning programs for coercive purposes once contraception became widely available. It's outrageous what's going on in this world in this respect. Some of you have been watching the efforts of the UN, highly backed by the United States, to say that all economic aid to third world countries will now be tied to aggressive population programs. These countries must have aggressive distribution of contraceptives, sterilization, and ready access to abortion if we are going to feed and take care of the poor. I don't know if you've seen this in the news, but it's been in the Catholic press, that the women delegates to the UN are outraged at this. They find this insulting and demeaning. They fell like they're being treated like breed cows. What they want is better prenatal care. What they want is better medical care. What they want is more access to education and food for their children that's not tied to contraceptive programs. And some of you may be familiar with the work of Steven Mosher - it's very well documented - that there are forced abortions in China. In many areas of China, if a woman has more than one pregnancy, more than one baby, the second pregnancy will be forcibly aborted. Women are actually dragged out of fields late in a pregnancy and forcibly aborted. Now we've all lived through several weeks of seeing the national outrage because an adolescent is being caned in Singapore, as a great violation of human rights. But do any of you hear or have you seen any sort of national outrage for what's going on in China?

Pope Paul VI's fourth prediction was that we would begin to treat our bodies as though they were machines. We would no longer have respect for the human person as an integral unity of body and soul, but the body would now be a machine that we can treat however we like. Now there is no greater evidence than that of our use of reproductive technologies, of surrogate motherhood, for instance, and many of the in vitro procedures. Some of you may have heard the story around Christmas time of a fifty-nine year old woman in England who conceived a child through in vitro fertilization. Erma Bombeck said that this would never catch on. She said that fifty-nine year olds will leave a baby in a room and forget where they left it. Or show up at a high school graduation and not know what they were doing there or why they were there. But, the point is that any woman can buy a baby. Any woman can go to an in vitro clinic and simply buy herself some semen and get herself impregnated and get the kind of baby she wants. It gives a new meaning to the phrase "designer jeans." If you want a nobel laureate, you go to Stanford. If you want a hot whiz kid from MIT, you go to a clinic outside of MIT. If you want an east coast, Ivy League whiz kid, you go outside of Harvard. Any woman - married, unmarried, homosexual, heterosexual - can buy herself a baby, any woman who has the money. Tell me we are not treating our bodies like machines.

Well, who was right? The secular world of Pope Paul VI? What about the predictions of the secular world who thought contraception would be so great? What about the prediction that marriages would be better? I think, in some respects, marriages are better, but the divorce rate shows us that there are a lot of very bad marriages, or at least marriages that end because people think they are very bad. In fact, the divorce rate doubled between 1965 and 1975. The divorce rate had been sort-of sneaking up all century long until in the mid 1960's it was at 25%, and then in 1975 it had got up to 50%. In a short ten year period, the divorce rate doubled. There's a social scientist at the University of Stanford named Robert Michael who was intrigued by this and he wondered why it was that the divorce rate doubled in a ten year period. He actually discovered that as the contraceptive pill became more and more available, divorce became more and more popular. In about 1975-1976 when about every woman who wanted access to the pill had it, that's when the divorce rate leveled off.

In his statistical scientific investigation, he's discovered three reasons why he thinks the use of contraceptives have contributed to this massive increase of the divorce rate. He says he can attribute 45% of this increase to increased use of contraceptives. These are his reasons. There are three. I think there are others, as well.

Michael's first observation is that the statistical data show that those who use contraceptives have fewer children and have them later in marriage. His statistical data show that those who have the first baby in the first two years of marriage and another baby in the next couple years of marriage, have a much longer lasting marriage than those who don't. Now I'm sure everybody here in this room can tell me of someone they know who's been married for twenty-five years with eight or ten kids who's gotten divorced and it's all very sad but that's the rarity. It's the rarity. His data shows that those who have babies sooner in marriage have a longer lasting marriage than those who do not.

I'll give you about three seconds to figure out why. He gives no explanation. I think there's several. One is that, again, some of you look like you've been around for a while, some of you are actually pretty newly married, and it might become clear to you for as blissful and as happy as those early years of marriage can be, they can also be very difficult. You've got two people with different habits and different expectations and different modes of communication trying to build a life together. I've noticed with my friends who are newly married, at some point in that first year or two, it seems that one or the other gets in a car and goes for a drive around the block and around the highways and you don't really know if you are going to come back. You're pretty darn mad about something. But if Junior's in the house, there are somebody's smiles you don't want to miss in the morning. So, you go back and you work it out with the person you're mad at. There's two people in the house you love - one you're mad at and the other whose smiles you can't think of missing. If you have another child, there are two people whose smiles you really want and one you're mad at. You're mad, but you go back and you work it out. And that's very important in marriage - to work those things out early in the marriage.

I think it's also the fact that people who have children, become better people, I want to say, almost instantaneously. Almost instantaneously they become better. It's been my good fortune to have met several of my male friends as they've exited from the delivery room. And some of you may have experienced this or seen others. Such individuals are generally delirious and they babble and they say things like, "It's incredible. It's the most miraculous, marvelous, mysterious thing I have ever been a part of in my whole life. It's the best day of my whole life. I can't believe it." And somewhere along the line they say, "Everything's different now." "Everything's different now." And that's absolutely true because yesterday they could care less who the mayor was or who was chief of the police force or who was president of the school board and whether the playgrounds were safe or how they spent their money or how many movies were rated PG and what was on TV. But today they care. And today everything's different and now they're going to be careful about all these things. When you're single, who cares about all these things. It doesn't affect you. When you don't have any children it doesn't affect you. When you have a child you're sending out to the world, all of the sudden you become protective of this child and you know that all these influences need to be attended to. You also become more patient and generous and kind and hardworking because this baby is very demanding. It takes a lot of your time and a lot of your effort. And so you become a better person and you're married to a better person and that makes for a better marriage.

So that's Michael's first reason. People who contracept have fewer babies later in marriage and their marriages are weaker and it seems clear to me why that's the case.

Secondly, he says since contraceptives have arrived on the scene, there is much more adultery than there was before. I'll give you two seconds to figure that one out. People have been tempted, for the history of mankind. It's easy enough to think about wanting to have an affair but wanting a child out of wedlock is another story. But if most every woman is contracepting, then most every woman is available in a certain sense and there is no real reason to say no. Adultery is absolutely devastating to marriages.

The third explanation is that women are financially more independent. They do have fewer children. They do go into the work place. And, again, when they have difficulties in the marriage, it's much more easy to say, "Take a walk," than it is to work it out because they need their husband for one fewer reasons than they did before.

Now, I think there are several other reasons why contraceptives are damaging to marriage. It's hard to get really clear statistics on this but just recently in "U.S.A. Today", I read that one poll shows that 37% of high school students are sexually active. Another said 57%. I saw another that said that 87% of college students have been sexually active. I think that most of you know that there are very few people going into marriage as virgins anymore. They're harder to find. And I think all this sexual activity before marriage is not good for marriage. Most people have been lied to at some point. Most people have made promises and broken those promises and had promises made to them and those promises have been broken. And they're marrying someone who has lied and made promises and had promises broken and they don't trust each other quite as much. They don't even trust themselves quite as much. "I've said these things before, I've made these commitments before - can I keep them? He's said these things before, he's made these commitments before - can he keep them?"

I've seen lots of people actually just slide into marriage. This whole notion that by having sex before marriage you could make a better choice of a spouse - I think is absolutely erroneous. It seems to me that the sexual passion can obscure things rather than clarify things. You get used to the sexual relationship and it makes you ignore whether this person is selfish, or lazy, or egotistical - things that, another two years from now, might really bother you. Right now, because of the sexual relationship, you overlook these things. I had a friend who had a boyfriend. There was an enormous sexual attraction between the two of them. They started to have a sexual relationship but found out that it was making both of them quite miserable. But, they couldn't really get away from each other. That relationship went on for about five or six years even though they lived on opposite coasts. They would telephone each other and have these very heated phone conversations. At one point I asked her, I said, "Are you going to marry this man. I mean, it's just going on forever. You've been more or less not seeing anybody else because he's been in the picture for the last five or six years." And then she finally said, "You know, I just couldn't see him being a parent to my children. I can't see that. He's crazy. We have very different values. I'm a committed Catholic. He hates Catholicism." And when she said this she finally realized that she had to break it off. But, that sexual attraction and attachment, for years, had obscured this until she finally figured it out.

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