Putting Faith in Technical Expedients
Forty years of contraception has validated sexual incontinence as the norm
by Rita Joseph
Forty years ago, the Sexual Revolution was taking the world by storm. Many people, even Catholics, were caught up in the excitement the promise that contraceptives would free unlimited sexual activity from the threat of unwanted pregnancy. In Humanae Vitae in 1968, Pope Paul VI manifested the profound understanding of one who foresaw the terrible consequences that must inevitably flow from the reckless overturning of the moral law.
With strong words and compassion the Holy Father tried to call back a willful generation to the protection of the natural law that is written in our hearts. With profound sadness, he tried to warn the world that “human beings and 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”.1 He placed great emphasis on the absolutely critical need for human beings to use our God-given attributes of reason and free will to control our natural drives. It is self-control and self-denial, he told us, that makes the practice of periodic continence possible, and transforms the expression of love essential to married life “by giving it a more truly human character”.2 In an impeccably reasoned teaching that appealed to our higher selves, he called on us to observe and to accept from our Creator the natural law limits to the power we may legitimately exercise over our activities relating to human sexuality and the transmission of human life:
… we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed.3
But tragically, his words of wisdom and encouragement were swept away in the whirlwinds of sexual license that enveloped and damaged so many of our generation.
Emergence of radical feminist ideology
Pope Paul VI cautioned that acceptance of contraceptive methods among families may give into the hands of public authorities the power “to intervene in the most personal and intimate responsibility of husband and wife”.4
Indeed, he was right. Under the influence of the new radical feminist ideology that emerged with the Sexual Revolution, many governments were persuaded that the natural ability to procreate must be curtailed (population control), and that continence, a function of self-discipline over-sexual behavior, is no longer to be expected or entrusted to do the task. Self-discipline was replaced by “modern methods of fertility control”.
This neologism discounts the natural law requirements of men and women, as creatures of intellect and free will, to exercise sexual continence; it denies that fertility is a natural good to be protected and favored and that all that threatens it is to be avoided. The inherent mistake is the failure to understand that it is our sexual behavior, not the physiology of fertility, that needs to be controlled.
Putting “faith in technical expedients” undermines human dignity
Pope Paul VI understood the critical need for self-control as human beings are called to the dignity of responsible parenthood.
With regard to man’s innate drives and emotions, responsible parenthood means that man’s reason and will must exert control over them.5
With prescient clarity, he saw what reliance on contraceptive drugs and devices would do to us putting our “faith in technical expedients”6 would undermine our human dignity as God’s special creation endowed with reason and free will.
And in this respect how right Pope Paul VI has been proved! Indeed, the introduction of modern methods of fertility control, hailed as a new reproductive right liberating sexual intercourse from the so-called “threat of unwanted pregnancy”, has led instead to the pathologizing of women’s healthy reproductive systems for demographic, ideological and commercial purposes.
The errant premises upon which the idea of “modern methods of fertility control” has been based are:
1) that unregulated fertility poses an imminent threat to the ecological sustainability of the earth’s resources;
2) that unregulated fertility endangers women's’ and girls’ health and lives, and represents an intolerable barrier to women’s full and equal participation with men in political, economic and social life; and
3) that fertility can be regulated only with the aid of a multi-billion-dollar world-wide family planning/abortion industry, which can insure that sexually active women and girls of child-bearing age, with their sexual partners, use “a modern form of contraception”, with access to “emergency contraception” and to abortion in case of contraceptive failure.
Empowering governments to control women’s fertility
Pope Paul VI was prophetic when he warned that “fear that world population is going to grow faster than available resources … can easily induce public authorities to be tempted to take even harsher measures to avert this danger.”7
Many governments, most notably the Chinese and Vietnamese governments, have been able to implement these harsher measures precisely because of the widespread acceptance by the international medical community of modern contraceptives. Fertility is now misperceived as threatening the sustainability of the world’s resources and exacerbating climate change: women’s fertility must be controlled mechanically, chemically or surgically, if “carbon footprints” are to be reduced and ecological disaster is to be averted.
Regarding the potential for manipulative population policies, Pope Paul VI appealed directly to public authorities:
… do not tolerate any legislation which would introduce into the family those practices which are opposed to the natural law of God. For there are other ways by which a government can and should solve the population problem that is to say by enacting laws which will assist families and by educating the people wisely so that the moral law and the freedom of the citizens are both safeguarded.8
Poverty now is also being blamed on failure to reduce fertility.9 Pope Paul VI saw this false accusation coming and appealed to public authorities to eschew dehumanizing contraceptive-based population policies and to seek true solutions:
No one can, without being grossly unfair, make divine Providence responsible for what clearly seems to be the result of misguided governmental policies, of an insufficient sense of social justice, of a selfish accumulation of material goods, and finally of a culpable failure to undertake those initiatives and responsibilities which would raise the standard of living of peoples and their children.10
It has been one of the great tragedies of these past decades that radical feminism was able to find common ground with ecological utopianism, which advanced the doctrine that governments must impose population programs on their peoples in order to achieve the perfect ecology. In this perfect ecology, a small human elite would be sustained indefinitely amidst biological diversity (and gender equity). This elite few would thrive on an earth that would supposedly continue forever, provided that correct ecological (and gender) balance could be maintained.
The evil genius of this ideological fusion lay in the successful recasting of the population-control agenda as one primarily concerned with empowering women and girls to control their fertility, for the alleged purposes of improving their health, and of achieving equality with men in the public arena.
The unfortunate truth, however, is that though the words and rhetoric changed, the population-control programs have retained essentially the same purpose to manipulate women into tampering with their fertility.
Fertility control and women’s autonomy
Feminist dogma continues to proclaim that women and adolescent girls cannot control their own fertility without unfettered access to contraception and abortion. Without this, it is said, women and girls are denied a satisfying and safe sex life untrammeled by the threat of an unwanted child. Reproductive health “implies that people are able to have a satisfying and safe sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so”.11
But people have always had the freedom to decide if and when to have sexual intercourse, assuming protective laws and prudent social conventions of responsibility and mutual respect are secure. (Rape laws are an example of such protective laws.) Truly responsible parenthood requires discretion and voluntary restraint, together with an understanding of and respect for the natural facts of life that pregnancy is a possible and very natural consequence of deciding to have sexual intercourse during the fertile phase of a woman’s cycle.
Continence deemed obsolete replaced by commercial products and services
Personal continence, though once valued as a function of self-discipline over sexual behavior, now appears to have been rendered obsolete. Increasingly, governments, not individuals, are encouraged to assume responsibility for fertility; and radical feminism accuses governments of violating liberty and security if “a state denies women access to means of fertility control and leaves them to risk unwanted and unintended pregnancies”.12
Once sexual continence is thrown out the window, fertility control, like disease control, becomes a medicalized necessity that has to be financed, provisioned and controlled as a public health service run by governments in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
This partnership is committed to the set of new pseudo-rights called “reproductive and sexual rights”, which include the right to access “the full range of methods of fertility control” provided by the family planning industry, including pharmaceutical companies, IUD and condom manufacturers, and abortion and sterilization providers.
Fertility control advocacy has led to over-medicalization
With remarkable foresight, in Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI emphasized the enduring importance of self-control, of respecting the natural law limits that are “expressly imposed because of the reverence due to the whole human organism and its natural functions”.13
He explained that we do not have “unlimited dominion” over our sexual faculties: “… to experience the gift of married love while respecting the laws of conception is to acknowledge that one is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator”.14
But this fundamental truth has been rejected outright by many scientists and medical personnel who continue to seek to become “masters of the sources of life”. Under their overweening influence, fertility is no longer considered a natural healthy attribute most of the time it is to be rendered non-functional through surgery or ingestion of chemicals. The “key indicator” for measuring the success of the UNFPA women’s health programs is contraceptive use. Such programs refuse to see the long-term dangers of bio-technical modification of the human body by requiring continual malfunction of normal healthy reproductive systems through contraceptive use.
Yet the damaging side effects of contraceptives and other methods of fertility control are glossed over. For example, consider the chilling understatement of the WHO Reproductive Health Research Unit: “After non-surgical abortions, vaginal bleeding is an important concern, especially in developing countries where anemia is prevalent.” Regrettably, WHO’s concern about anemia stops short of removing non-surgical abortion from UN-sponsored programs.15
The length of the lists of contraindications in the current Australian medical information manual, MIMS Annual16, for all the major contraceptives and the size of the pharmaceutical companies’ insurance policies should ring alarm bells. According to WHO, the ideal contraceptive totally free of risks does not exist and is unlikely to be discovered in the near future, and there is ample evidence that many people do not use modern methods of fertility control because of their association with unacceptable side-effects and possible health risks.17
There appears to be little recognition that mass medicalization of women’s fertility throughout the globe has done immense harm to our very humanity. The international community has yet to learn the dehumanizing consequences (especially for adolescents, the naïve and the poor) of the global offensive against fertility that has been launched.
Imagine a massive campaign to administer “truth drugs” that take away part of our humanity and offend our dignity as human beings by impeding our ability to make moral decisions. Imagine the outcry if UN agencies masterminded a massive global health campaign promoting diet pills and cellulite-reduction surgeries for all women as a method of avoiding the health dangers of overweight.
Farfetched? Yet hundreds of millions of women submit to medicalized control of their fertility victims of forty years of widespread promotion of contraceptive technologies. Women and girls are being taught that fertility control is imperative to good health and that fertility control is only possible through chemical, surgical, or mechanical interference.
The fact is that, from an anthropological point of view, within most cultures, traditional practices such as periods of post-partum abstinence and extended breast feeding had a natural effect on fertility.
Drs. John and Evelyn Billings, for example, have shown that Natural Family Planning (NFP) builds easily onto such cultural foundations and is much more acceptable to a wide range of cultures in the developing world. Slowly but surely, the medical world is beginning to appreciate this truth. The turning point came when the editorial of the prestigious British Medical Journal endorsed the Billings’ NFP work (BMJ Nov. 20, 1993); and more recently, outstanding successes in large scale trials of the Billings Method in India and China have been further acknowledged. (See http://www.woomb.org.)
The positive philosophical approach taught in the Billings Method of natural family planning gives women and men a true knowledge of and respect for their fertility, together with a profound appreciation of the wonder and value of each new child conceived.
Continence an unnecessary behavioral restriction?
Despite the major scientific insights of natural family planning, the unchallenged orthodoxy still peddled today in most sexual and reproductive health education programs is that for adolescents to exercise sexual continence is “unrealistic”.18 Excessive liberalism insists that no restrictions other than the requirement to use condoms and contraceptives should be placed on sexual activity. Instead controls must be placed on fertility lest it result in pregnancy, which is presented in much the same light as sexually-transmitted diseases like AIDS or chlamydia. Indeed WHO and UNFPA literature abounds with warnings about this “dual threat” of disease and pregnancy, and these health programs concentrate on providing the education and the means to avoid both outcomes. Disease and pregnancy are presented as equally undesirable and life-threatening.19
Current education programs teach children to tamper with human biology rather than to moderate sexual behavior. They operate on the assumption that adolescents are or will very soon be sexually active. Promiscuity is a given. Teachers are told to refrain from criticism of any behavior other than not using condoms or contraceptives.20 Controversy at the UN AIDS Conference in Cape Town, June 2001, erupted over this very issue the ideological refusal to accept that risky behaviors, such as prostitution, illegal drug use and homosexual intercourse can be discouraged and reformed.
A new right to disconnect fertility from sexual activity?
Determined attempts to disconnect fertility from sexual intercourse have coincided with the advent of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the rapid expansion of research into the bio-engineering of new methods of asexual reproduction. The natural ties between fertility and sexual intercourse are now viewed as unnecessarily restrictive. One’s sexual partner is not necessarily one’s reproductive partner and the new sexual rights framework must support this choice: “Another central aspect of sexual rights work must be to enable persons, particularly women, to choose whether to connect their sexual activity to desired reproductive ends.”21
Fertility’s true context a reciprocal love proper to procreation
This disordered sexual paradigm is far removed from Pope John Paul II’s teaching that the true context for fertility is a reciprocal love proper to procreation. Pope John Paul II, building on the truths of Humanae Vitae in a 2004 message on “Natural Regulation of Fertility and the Culture of Life”, warned against a mentality that on the one hand appears intimidated in the face of responsible procreation and, on the other hand, would like to dominate and manipulate life.
“It is clear that when one speaks of ‘natural’ regulation, we are not referring only to respecting biological rhythms”, Pope John Paul wrote.
“It is a question of responding to the truth about the human person in their intimate unity of spirit, psyche and body, a unity that can never be merely reduced to an overall question of biological mechanisms. Only in the context of the spouses’ reciprocal love, total and without reserve, can the moment of generating life, to which the future of mankind is tied, be lived in all its dignity.”22
1 Humanae Vitae para 17.
2 Humanae Vitae para 21.
3 Humanae Vitae para 17.
5 Humanae Vitae para 20.
6 Humanae Vitae para 18.
7 Humanae Vitae para 2.
8 Humanae Vitae para 23.
10 Humanae Vitae para 23.
13 Humanae Vitae para 17.
14 Humanae Vitae para 13.
16 Author’s note: MIMS is an Australian publication distributed in Australia and Asia. It is an annual for doctors and lists all the drugs available (updated each year) and gives independent advice on each drug with detailed information about dosage, contraindications, precautions, adverse reactions, interactions. Having been published for forty years now, MIMS carries considerable credibility among the medical fraternity because it has built a reputation in general for maintaining scientific integrity and independence in assessing the products peddled by the big international pharmaceutical companies. www.mims.com.au/index.php.
19 For example, see WHO Reproductive Health Program Development op.cit. “Dual protection is the prevention of two unplanned and undesirable outcomes unintended pregnancy and HIV/STD infections” p. 57.
Rita Joseph has represented family concerns at UN conferences, and writes and lectures on social issues especially concerning women and families, and has made a special study of the Holy Father's writings on family and on women. She has previously lectured at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Studies in Melbourne. Rita and her husband live in Canberra, Australia.
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