Fruits of the Same Tree
One cannot be both pro-life and in favor of contraception
Since its promulgation in 1995, St. John Paul II’s encyclical Evangelium Vitae has become like a pro-life manifesto. It is often cited not just for its eloquence but for its passionate defense of the great dignity of human life. The saintly pontiff is quick to point out not just the offenses against bodily life but the soul-deadening effects of many practices associated with the culture of death. From abortion and artificial reproduction to murder to euthanasia, the saintly pontiff runs the gamut of life issues, pointing out not just the bodily dangers but also the soul killing aspects of these evil practices. Despite its relative popularity, there is one section that is consistently overlooked and that is when the Holy Father speaks on contraception.
The saint says “despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree” (Evangelium Vitae 13). He means this on two levels, both of which are typically ignored. The first is the truth that there is a medical connection between abortion and chemical contraceptives that remains hidden in plain sight. This connection “is being demonstrated in an alarming way by the development of chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines which, distributed with the same ease as contraceptives, really act as abortifacients in the very early stages of the development of the life of the new human being” (ibid).
Most assume that the Holy Father is talking about things akin to the “morning after pill” but he also has in mind the ordinary birth control pill. Anyone who has looked at the package insert for the Pill or picked up the Physicians’ Desk Reference will find that oral contraceptives work by suppressing gonadotropins which will help to inhibit ovulation. But this suppression also leads to other alterations including changing the cervical mucus, making fertilization more difficult and altering the thickness of the endometrium, reducing the likelihood of implantation. It is the latter property that makes it an abortifacient; implantation occurs after fertilization, that is after the child has been created. So the Pill is not just a contraceptive but an abortifacient.
This is why in truth you cannot be pro-life while at the same time being in favor of contraception. It is not just because the literal meaning of contra-ception is “against life.” It is because, as St. John Paul II points out, contraception and abortion are fruits of the same tree, capable of causing not just bodily death but spiritual death. Those who rely on these practices are not just succumbing to a boring hedonism but depriving themselves of the natural opportunities that make personal fulfillment possible.
JPII was fond of quoting what he dubbed “the law of the gift,” that “man finds himself only by making himself a sincere gift to others” (Gaudium et Spes, 24). The meaning of life is to make a gift of yourself. A Culture of Life is one that promotes this loving generosity. We should not be surprised, then, to find that the Culture of Death works to destroy the inherent capacity for self-gift in marriage. Mutual use masquerades as love and life becomes meaningless.
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