Contraception is a deliberate act calculated to prevent the conception of new life. It is available in several forms. Secular sources provide it in forms which work ‘artificially,’ as opposed to the use of natural bodily rhythm. ‘The sanctity of life’ denotes that life is sacred, and ‘sacred’ denotes entitlement to veneration and protection. Therefore, does contraception contravene the sanctity of life?
According to the thinking which dominates secular policy, and which seems to be supported by many people who consider themselves to be religious, contraception is undisputed and indisputable. Attention is directed only to the practicalities of its availability and encouragement. Thinking is less clear-cut in regard to ‘the sanctity of life,’ because there is much less agreement about the meaning and about the extent to which it should be given practical effect. Therefore, in order to decide whether contraception contravenes it, there is need to understand ‘the sanctity of life’.
Probably most people assume automatically that it refers to the life of humans, which of course it does, but the normal form of the expression is not limited in that way. What about the life of animals? Some people, especially scientifically-minded ones, seem to have an opinion that human beings are a type of animal; perhaps there is more than a coincidental connection between that opinion and the one (seemingly-obligatory for scientists and other ‘educated’ people) that humans are an advanced form of ape.
The “Catechism of the Catholic Church” deals with the sanctity of human life between paragraphs 2258 and 2317. The opening principle is that “Human life is sacred because from its very beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end.” Depending on how that is interpreted, there could be difficulty in reconciling “for ever” with “end,” because eternity does not have an end. Perhaps “for ever” was intended to mean not ‘eternally’ but ‘while it exists,’ and “sole end” to mean ‘destiny’. A problem with the latter idea is that ‘destiny’ suggests inevitability (the “Oxford Dictionary of English” defines it as that which “will necessarily happen,” and/or “the hidden power believed to control future events”), whereas (i) the “Catechism” warns against presumption, despair, and belief in predestination, and (ii) free will is a fundamental element of God’s plan for individual salvation. The most likely meaning of the quoted statement is that human life is sacred because from its very beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who created human beings to enable them to enter into perfect union with Him. Therefore, as paragraph 2258 adds, “God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end; no-one can under any circumstance claim for himself the right directly to destroy an innocent human being.”
So it is innocent human life which is sacred.
Many kind-hearted people would think immediately, ‘What about animals? They are innocent, aren’t they?’ Surely they are. The “Catechism” does not grant them explicitly the same entitlement to protection as it grants to humans, but seems to come close to it by clear implication.
In regard to the sanctity of innocent human life, the “Catechism” deals with homicide, abortion, euthanasia, and suicide, and it deals also, as ancillary subjects, with aspects of people’s dignity, and with peace and war. Each of those is a subject in its own right; discussion of any of them is beyond the present question, but they affect the answer to that question.
To repeat, “God alone is the Lord of life from its beginning until its end.” Many people, however, claim ‘Lordship’ over whether it shall be allowed to begin. That is equivalent to saying to God, ‘I accept your rules about protecting life, but you must accept my decisions about whether it begins. I’ll start it if I wish, and then hand over to you.’ Who are we to claim authority over God? What authority is superior to His? Eve, knowing that God had said ‘Do not touch or eat that fruit,’ thought ‘I’ll do as I wish.’ She exercised her free will, but will is not authority, and whoever possesses authority can act appropriately if it is defied.
Therefore there arises the question of whether contraception defies God’s will that the sanctity of innocent human life must be upheld. The primary categories with which the “Catechism” links the sanctity of life show that it applies to life which has begun.
That seems to justify a deduction that it does not apply to future life. Consequently, prevention of the conception of life is not within the reach of the law about the sanctity of life. Those interpretations of the “Catechism” seem to accord with common sense (for how could something which does not exist be sacred?), but that is not a complete answer to the question. We should bear in mind the following facts.
God has designed human reproductive organs for the purpose of reproducing humans. He has arranged various bodily functions to serve that purpose, but has done so in a way which sometimes facilitates and sometimes prevents conception. That is God’s design, manifesting His will. The anatomical design and the physiological limits which He has imposed on the ability to procreate are clear evidence that the introduction other limits is perversion of the sexual function. The regulation of human fertility, like everything else, “must be done within the limits of the order of reality established by God. A human being “is not the master of the sources of life but rather the minister of the design established by the Creator. Just as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, and with more particular reason, he has no such dominion over his specifically sexual faculties, for these are concerned by their very nature with the generation of life, of which God is the source,” and “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.”
The reference to law is important, because His Holiness declared that the teaching of the Church on this matter is “the law of God,” reiterated “by virtue of the mandate entrusted to Us by Christ.” May nobody tire of emphasising that the mandate was given to Peter, the other apostles, and their successors, not to anyone else, such as advisers whom they appoint (still less when those advisers lack unanimity, and especially when the advisers favour approaches and criteria which are contrary to doctrine constantly taught by the Magisterium of the Church). The conclusions of advisers neither bind the Pope nor dispense him from examining matters personally. However much the Magisterium may avail itself of advice, its function is not reduced merely to ratifying the opinions received; on the contrary, in interpreting and explaining God’s will the Magisterium is entitled to demand assent.
There is no human activity which is exempt from God’s dominion. Protecting the sanctity of life is one of the ways by which obedience to that dominion should be shown. Because His dominion covers every human activity it governs the commencement, as well as the protection, of life. Therefore, artificial contraception is a direct defiance of God, and as such it is intrinsically wrong.
Furthermore, even if artificial contraception, by being an act which precedes life, does not directly contravene the sanctity of life, it undermines it. Undermining can be as effective, although more slowly, than direct contravention; as the now-Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote, “Cancer acts differently from vultures.” In “Evangelium Vitae,” Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote about the effects of the omnipresent “contraceptive mentality.” This is not a mere theory; experience has shown that there is a direct link between contraception and killing, and the link has been acknowledged candidly by people who have devoted their lives to promoting both (that is a story in itself).
Common sense tells us that compliance with a principle is more difficult if relevant circumstances favour contravention of it. Precious objects often need protection from damage. Applied in the present context, that takes us to paragraph 17 of “Humanae Vitae”: “Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that men – 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.” Contraception makes it easy by undermining self-discipline, and the obvious link between the “contraceptive mentality” and the “culture of death” shows that contraception undermines, and thereby does contravene, the sanctity of life.