Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Contraception vs. Abortion

The US bishops are fighting a mandate right now by the government to make them allow for contraceptives in their employee's insurance coverage. That is about preventive health care and I don't want to address that issue here. Plenty of others are--it is all over the news. But I am concerned about the whole attitude of the magisteria about contraception which feeds into this battle.

I'd like to say a little about barrier contraception, which would include the condom, diaphragm and perhaps both together, Natural Family Planning (NFP) type of birth control which is the one and only the Church approves, and abortive type contraceptives.

The NFP is apparently as effective as many other forms of birth control when used correctly. NFP does not use barriers or pills, but counts on female cycles, with daily checks of temperature and other physiology. However, it absolutely requires abstinence at certain times in a woman's monthly cycle, such as perhaps, if a woman is irregular, on one’s honeymoon.

Artificial contraceptives are supposedly the reason for sex outside of marriage. Does it occur to anyone that NFP could be used outside of marriage? It’s like the often heard, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Human beings are the ones that sin, not the birth control method. Yet I truly doubt if NFP is used much outside marriage, even though it would be virtually without cost. That might give us an idea of its convenience.

Studies have come out that say about 98% of Catholic sexually active women use contraceptives other than NFP. At my church and at a class at my college, the people who taught NFP had at least 5 children. They perhaps wanted large families, but I'd rather be taught by a couple who was married 30 years and had zero or one child that they could confirm they planned for. People are busy these days, and perfection, as you need with the NFP method, can be hard to come by.

There are issues for the Church Magisterium to legitimately decide, but in my opinion they could be doing a better role in leadership here. They have allowed that some family planning is OK (hence the NFP). Still, their tone is begrudging, and elsewhere the teachings give the impression of pressure to keep having children whether you can cope with them or not.

If bishops would go back to the drawing board and make more of a distinction between barrier contraceptives and abortive ones, they would show their understanding toward women who find NFP an unwieldy choice. These are the very women who spend hours of their time working for the Church institutions in question, such as hospitals and universities, yet are supposed to also let every sexual encounter be an occasion for another huge responsibility. Perhaps both women and men faithful would more seriously consider the bishop's teachings in the Church's fight against abortion if the authority felt greater sensitivity toward their flocks. Yes, children are wonderful, and many couples deeply want as many as they can naturally have. But some couples have limits, and those limits seem to be remembered one minute and forgotten the next. The women especially are judged when they are different than others. Some women do not feel the call to bear many children and it seems as unfair to pressure them to have them as it would be to pressure those who want children to not have them. I realize there are complications when it comes to unnatural methods of either prevention or inducement of pregnancy and we need to discuss them. But if modern science is used to prevent miscarriage, then I think it is not unreasonable it should be allowed for prevention of pregnancy.

The Church does not force individuals to become priests (although at one time that may have been true). Young men are asked to discern their calling directly from God, not from the bishops. So it should be recognized about all of us. It is not logical for us to think that even the bishops know each gift for every person in their diocese and how they may best be used.

More than to careers or parenthood, God calls all Christians to be evangelists. Many feel they evangelize by a "regular" job or by guiding their children, but there are other paths. The Church may be concerned about the number of souls being born, but these days, children born to Catholics do not automatically become Christians. They must be directly evangelized, and more and more, re-evangelized. The culture has led many away from faith, and it takes effort on all our parts to work against that tide. Some women may become evangelists in a way other than physical parenthood, and not just in convents. Though God's command to Adam and Eve was to be fruitful and multiply, priests and nuns do not feel compelled to do so. There are other considerations, and I believe decisions about reproduction for a married couple are similarly nuanced.

Unfortunately, the contraceptives are often defended by groups that desire abortion also. These persons, both male and female, I believe have similar tunnel vision but in a different direction. The Church has said life begins at conception, and I agree. The profound dignity the Lord gives to life is worthy of our greatest respect. We are in deep trouble not only in our country, but more importantly in our Church. It is vital to be concerned whether contraceptives actually prevent conception or abort a fertilized egg. There are disagreements what the pill does in this regard. With all our modern science, we should be able to find out whether abortion may occur. If any pill causes abortion, it should not be used by Christians. But we must remember we have a pluralistic society and not everyone agrees when life starts. Some Christians do not even think abortion is termination of human life, and so it is important to convince people that life begins at conception, such as they do with ultrasounds on fetuses, rather than denigrate aborters.

I am not talking about a political-type compromise of contraception vs. abortion. However, if this were a political issue it would be obvious that this is the answer: barrier contraception is acceptable, abortion isn’t. But we are talking about getting to what is right, and I think the same answer applies. We use modern science to make medicines such as we use to prevent miscarriage, and the Church has recognized there can be a limit to resources so that family planning is necessary. To deny that barrier contraception is acceptable is to risk, or should I say continue, insensitivity to people's real lives. There may be many root causes for Christian women who either use contraceptives or have abortions. I've certainly seen a broad spectrum of speculation on why it is happening, and we need to communicate with each other within our faith. The Church took way too long to change its attitude over slavery. It took (and is still taking) the leadership way too long to take action against sexual predators. And it is taking way too long for the leadership to treat women equally.

The diaphragm is not as convenient as the pill, but perhaps if women demanded better methods of barrier contraceptives, they would come about. Yes, there may be some extramarital sex with contraceptives, but my guess is that most of the large percentages of sexually active Catholic women who use contraceptives are trying to deal with the many demands made upon them and the challenges they want to meet successfully. Modern science has brought about contraceptives as they are now. In my opinion, by saying women can't use them at all and that every sex act must be open to reproduction, the Church tried to mandate behavior in a way that drove many women away from the Church itself rather than help them cope with real life. We must be respectful of all life. The divide between what bishops are saying and millions of Catholic women are doing does not go unnoticed by the general public. That is a detriment to our unity and witness, both of which are critical to evangelization.

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