All posts tagged: Humanae Vitae

Humanae Vitae and the Mystical Call of Chastity

How do we understand chastity? For many, the very word implies restraint, and restraint is not exactly the most exciting thought. The Ancient Greeks thought of chastity as a subspecies of temperance,[1] and if there is one virtue more alien to today’s so-called “late capitalism,” it is probably temperance—and not just in matters sexual. For others, talk of chastity brings to mind purity rings and virginity pledges, almost as if chastity is defined primarily by sexual abstinence before marriage. Hence we often speak of being chaste before marriage, but hardly ever about being chaste in marriage. Yet it seems to me that the paradigm of Christian chastity is not, in fact, abstinence, but marital sexual union. This thought may well be what distinguishes an authentically Christian understanding of sex from mere social conservatism or prudishness. For chastity, as Elizabeth Anscombe wrote, “is simply the virtue whose topic is sex, just as courage is the virtue whose topic is danger and difficulty.”[2] But why, many would object, does sex need its own, dedicated virtue—does this not …

Humanae Vitae After Planned Parenthood v. Casey

The contraceptive revolution has made quite a lot of people—especially drug companies—quite a lot of money. Imagine, for instance, that you had the Supreme Court of the United States promoting your product: The Roe rule’s limitation on state power could not be repudiated without serious inequity to people who, for two decades of economic and social developments, 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. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives. The Constitution serves human values, and while the effect of reliance on Roe cannot be exactly measured, neither can the certain costs of overruling Roe for people who have ordered their thinking and living around that case be dismissed. This, of course, is the (in)famous “reliance clause” in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the case which tried to rescue abortion rights …

Is There an Escape from the Evils of a Contracepting Society?

What a Contracepting Society Looks Like Contraception was from the beginning touted as the answer to a host of societal problems, from the old Neo-Malthusian bogeyman of over-population, down to marital unhappiness and child abuse.  But have such extravagant claims come true? Has contraception helped marriage? Contraception, after all, is sold as promoting the deeper union of the spouses. But divorce has skyrocketed to around 40-50 percent of all marriages since contraception became a widespread marital practice. If contraception increases bonding between spouses, then at least some amelioration of the divorce rate among those using contraception (that is, almost every married couple) should be evident. But no data indicate such an effect. In fact, demographer Robert T. Michael has argued that half of the rise of the divorce rate between 1965 and when it leveled off in 1976 “can be attributed to the ‘unexpected nature of the contraceptive revolution’ . . . especially in the way that it made marriages less child-centered.”[1] More generally, given the deepening of love that it is supposed to foster, contraception …

Humanae Vitae in Light of the War Against Female Fertility

It is startling for those living in a society that so relies on contraception to learn that, for nearly two millennia, every Christian denomination prohibited the use of contraception, even within marriage. This common front first cracked in 1930 when, at the Lambeth Conference, the Anglican Church made a limited exception for the use of contraceptives by husband and wife.[1] Within the half-century that followed, the pro-contraception view mutated from an anomalous exception into the dominant strain of conventional opinion. Accordingly, dissent from the Catholic Church’s prohibition of contraception is common coin, even (or perhaps especially) among Catholic theologians. Stephen Pope, a Boston College theologian, told a television reporter, “I would say the encyclical [Humanae vitae, affirming the Church’s teaching on contraception] was one of the worst things that happened to the Catholic Church in the twentieth century.”[2] In fact, it is easier to find a theologian who dissents from this teaching than to find one who agrees. Such birth-control boosterism is especially predominant among theologians who matured in the hothouse of dissent in the 1960’s, …

Natural Family Planning and the Myth of Catholic Contraception

Is our culture close to turning a corner on Humanae Vitae, half a century after its promulgation and the widespread rejection of it that followed? There are reasons for cautious optimism. The historical context of the encyclical is important, given that it came just 38 years after Pope Pius XI’s Casti Connubii, which had already reaffirmed the longstanding Christian prohibition on contraception. What occasioned Humanae Vitae was really the emergence of the pill, which unlike barrier methods of contraception did its work inside the body, and so looked scarcely different from confining sexual intercourse to the woman’s infertile period.[1] But while the pill is still the contraceptive of choice for many, there is now growing disquiet about its side effects. This is significant not just from the perspective of health but also a feminist one: We once thought the oral contraceptive liberating, but today the discourse is shifting towards recognizing that women are made to disproportionately bear the hormonal burden of birth control. Additionally, given our contemporary attraction to all things organic and natural, there …