Condom for Rape in Marriage?

Anthony Zimmerman
Letter to Fidelity
November 1993
Reproduced with Permission

Mary Coffey wants to condemn a woman who seeks to protect herself against a rapist by using a condom. She is too strict, if she refers to a woman being raped by other than her husband. The pope's teaching that contraception is evil in itself refers to sexual acts which are voluntary by both of the parties, not to a rapist's attack.

In fact, a woman ought to prevent extra-marital pregnancy when raped, because the ordinary plan of God is that pregnancy is best taken care of in married life. Mary Coffey, and others who agree with her about this rather difficult case, might turn to the Scriptures to learn that God's laws are sometimes not interpreted correctly by even the best of people. Some of the followers of the Maccabees first thought that they must allow themselves to be slaughtered rather than to defend themselves with arms on the Sabbath. The Scriptures did not approve. Here is the passage:

Then the enemy attacked them at once; but they did not retaliate; they neither threw stones, nor blocked uptheir own hiding places. They said, "Let us all die without reproach, heaven and earth are our witnesses that you destroy us unjustly." So the officers and soldiers attacked them on the sabbath, and they died with their wives, their children and their cattle, to the number of a thousand persons.

When Mattathias and his friends heard of it, they mourned deeply for them. "If we all do as our kinsmen have done," they said to one another, "and do not fight against the Gentiles for our lives and our traditions, they will soon destroy us from the earth." On that day they came to this decision: "Let us fight anyone who attacks us on the sabbath, so that we may not all die as kinsmen died in the hiding places"(1 Mac 2:35-41).

Admittedly, the prohibition against contraception is not in the same category as prohibitions against violating the Sabbath. But the passage does illustrate that good people are sometimes tragically uninformed about God's laws, to their own harm, and the harm of their dependents. The Scriptures imply that God approved the later decision of the Maccabees to defend themselves, Sabbath laws to the contrary notwithstanding.

We believe that God allows a woman to defend herself against being impregnated by a rapist attacker who is not her husband. In this I concur with the writing of Fr. Michele Simone, S.J. (in La Civilta Cattolica; cf. Catholic World Report, August/September 1993, p. 7). But she is not permitted to kill a child already conceived, and that is why use of the sometimes abortifacient Pill is not permitted. We are learning to refine this teaching with experience, much as the Jews learned God's ways only gradually in the above scriptural episode.

A douche or spermicide is licitly used by a woman violated by one other than her husband; a female condom is licit, if such be available. But the use of an abortifacient IUD or a sometimes abortifacient Pill attacks the life-or deliberately risks attacking the life-of another person. And that is an offense against God's commandment: "Thou shalt not kill." Once a child is conceived, the mother must say yes to God and allow the child, who is innocent, to live. Love covers a multitude of sins, we know; love can cover over even the sins of rapists, and make life tolerable for the violated woman and for the new baby.

May a married woman also defend herself against rape by a drunken or irrational husband? Here we must be careful. I believe she is not automatically allowed to do so; not automatically, as in the case of an unmarried woman subject to a rapist. If a wife allows the pregnancy to occur as a result of oppression by a violent and irrational husband, perhaps she and her husband can them come to better terms later; and so, in the long run, save the marriage, and love their child.

By automatically resorting to a contraceptive, she takes an easy way out; whereas by accepting the child, and by exercising a tougher love, she may yet force the issue which may save their marriage. The coming of the child may force both to come to a better understanding. Perhaps the fault for his irrational act is partially hers. I would not say that a married woman is allowed, in every case, to use a contraceptive to prevent pregnancy from intercourse even by an irrational husband who rapes her. I think we have more work to do before we can solve that case with certainty.