What is really required … is to address the thought processes and motivations that prompt people to seek abortion as a solution to a personal problem that should not have occurred in the first place
Catholics, and our counterparts in other religions, are making headway in the struggle against abortion. Women coming to clinics seeking abortion have often been convinced to turn around and plan to give birth to the baby. Legislatures in many states have thrown up roadblocks by introducing requirements such as time delays, requiring parental consent, or requiring a woman to view a sonogram of the developing baby before going ahead with a planned abortion. Court action has often been taken in cases of underage girls being coached on how to falsify their story and in cases where girls have been transported across state lines to locations where abortion was legal. A few states have even denied funding to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest abortion provider. And, through C-FAM, we have been fighting the abortion agenda in the halls of the United Nations.
The publicity front in the abortion war has also been moving ahead, with a concentration on young women and on ethnic groups that have statistically higher rates of abortion. Pro-life inserts are placed in college newspapers, presentations of photos showing the true nature of abortion are given on college campuses, a film has been produced referring to abortion as black genocide, and a campaign is under way to introduce pro-life literature into barber shops in minority neighborhoods.
The success of the overall effort can be realized from the fact that the numbers of abortion clinics and abortion providers have been sharply reduced, especially in rural areas.
But the effort thus far has been aimed at preventing the act of abortion itself or reducing the numbers of abortions performed. What is really required, however, is to address the thought processes and motivations that prompt people to seek abortion as a solution to a personal problem that should not have occurred in the first place.
The first of these attitudes and motivations is the widespread acceptance, and widespread practice, of contraception, even among Catholics. When the Obama administration targeted Catholics and used a mandate to force many Catholic institutions to fund contraception for all their employees, the Catholic bishops responded on the freedom of religion aspect of the issue, but contraception is itself a major moral problem to which the Church has not been giving proper attention for several decades.
People develop a mistaken idea that contraception prevents pregnancy 100 percent of the time, and when an unforeseen pregnancy does occur, they are tempted to resort to abortion. The Guttmacher Institute reported in 2009 that 54 percent of abortions were performed on women who had used contraceptives in the month before they became pregnant. The United States Supreme Court in 1992 (Casey v. Planned Parenthood), based a judgment against allowing obstacles to abortion on the very fact that people rely on abortion when contraception fails.
There is an abundance of evidence as to why contraception is morally wrong, beginning with God’s striking Onan dead for using it (Gen 38:9-10), continuing through the earliest Church tradition (the Didache), and the writings of numerous Church Fathers and Popes, right up to Vatican Council II (Gaudium et Spes 48, 50).
In addition to the moral arguments are the harmful natural effects – the increase in adultery due to the lessening of the fear of pregnancy; the resulting increase in divorce, leading to an increase in the number of women forced to be single mothers living in poverty; and, associated problems of their children receiving poorer education, making them vulnerable to incentives toward delinquency and crime; the decline in men’s respect for women; and the tendency of governments to institute population control measures, including forced abortions. Besides these sociological effects, there are still others – the fact that contraceptives do not prevent the transmission of venereal disease, the damage to reproductive systems from water supplies that contain runoff from the urine of women using the pill, and the damage to Social Security and Medicare because fewer young people are entering the work force, resulting in the fact that contributions are insufficient to match the outlays to retirees.
But the objective of the Catholic Church goes beyond preventing a host of worldly problems. The reason for the Church’s existence is to help people to gain heaven, but contraception prevents children from even existing. Couples who seek the pleasure of sex, without its natural consequences, are acting in a way that’s directly opposed to their achieving salvation.
The most direct result of using contraception is the fact that it violates the very purpose of sexuality. When one wants to find the purpose of anything, it is necessary to consider what it does that nothing else does. In the case of sexuality, it’s procreation. Nothing else in nature accomplishes that. Using this God-given faculty in a way that deliberately frustrates its God-intended result is a direct offense against the Creator, who wishes the couple to accept this new human being, and to raise this child in a way that will lead all three of them to life with God. So, life-long monogamous marriage is the proper and necessary environment for the exercise of sexuality.
Natural Family Planning (NFP) is not the universal solution. In the very encyclical in which he proclaimed that contraception is immoral, Pope Paul VI also declared that NFP is allowable only under certain conditions – medical, psychological or financial – that make it permissible for a married couple to restrict their marital acts to times when procreation is not likely to occur (Humanae Vitae 16 and 10). While today’s financial environment could mean that more couples qualify now than forty years ago, Pope Paul made it very clear that NFP is not a universal solution for everyone.
But while procreation is the very purpose of sexuality, then the concept of recreational sex, so widely accepted today, is a fundamental component of the attitudes and beliefs that lead to abortion. When a person is open to the idea that sex is primarily recreational, they seek to explore it, at first vicariously, by means of pornography, and then with actual, contracepting partners, either in one-night stands, or in an ongoing arrangement of cohabitation. Very often, it leads to abortion.
Contraception, with its underlying concept of recreational sex, has also led to the movement on the part of homosexual people to have their lifestyle, and their relationships accepted, and even considered to be marriage. After all, if heterosexual people can enjoy the pleasure of sex while preventing the birth of children, then it’s difficult to justify the belief that people who cannot have children should be forbidden to have sex. But our willingness to accept people with same-sex attraction as human beings, and as God’s children, does not mean that one should condone actions that God himself punished with fire and brimstone at Sodom and Gomorrah.
So, we see that abortion, horrible as it is, is just the tip of the iceberg that consists of a series of evils, threatening the salvation of everyone in today’s world. The notion of recreational sex is a major part of the problem. So, how must we conduct this part of the fight?
Obviously, we have to publicize arguments regarding the purpose of sexuality, plus the nature and the purpose of marriage. We must add to this the reasons why contraception is wrong, both the harmful natural effects that apply to everyone, including secularists, and also the evidence from Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition that applies to Catholics and to other Christians. Parishes need to insure that these are dealt with properly in pre-Cana meetings, in adult education, in training for parents of children and of teen-agers, and in RCIA classes. Instructors in Catholic schools, and in CCD classes, must be properly trained. Catholic high schools and colleges must also ensure proper proclamation of the message.
These must be accompanied by strong opposition to pornography, insisting on proper enforcement of laws that are in effect, plus seeking more restrictions on the distribution of prurient material through the Internet, on television, in magazines, and other media outlets.
But dissemination of the message is the easy part. It will be more difficult to gain acceptance of the message, given that people have become accustomed to a lifestyle built around the concept of recreational sex. The Church has been silent too long regarding the expression of that lifestyle through contraception.
Just as there were a series of issues underlying abortion, there is another series of issues involved in convincing people what they need to do, for their own salvation, and to overcome the evils throughout society.
The first obstacle that needs to be addressed is the loss of respect for the authority of the Church. Catholics need to be reminded that Christ’s words to Peter included: “I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). This authority given to Peter and his successors involves morality as well as doctrine.
Many baptized Catholics intellectually accept the Church’s right to promulgate the moral law but do not act according to what they have been taught. They rationalize it, finding ways to justify acting as they want, rather than as they ought. Rationalization involves a misuse of conscience. These people must, therefore, be led to a proper understanding of conscience as a matter of discerning through the intellect, and not a matter of deciding for themselves through the will, influenced by feelings.
But for other baptized Catholics, who do not accept Church authority, the obstacle is a failure of faith, as people question the right of God himself to direct their activity, having been led by a secular world to think of themselves as subject to no one, with an unlimited right to do as they want. They need to be brought to realize their own limitations, that they did not bring themselves into this world, and that their existence and their well-being depend on others. They need also to recognize Christ as divine, possessing the nature and authority of God, who came into our world to redeem it, and to point out for us the way to eternal life with him by leading an earthy life based on his teachings.
Apologetics, giving the reasons for the truths the Church teaches, is a necessary first step. It is necessary for presenting the evidence for Christ’s divinity, and it is necessary also for showing that the Catholic Church is the instrument for proclaiming his message, thus showing people the reasonableness of faith. From there, one can go on to show that the Catholic Church is the one founded by Christ; that the moral law is essentially the road map to salvation; and how to make the proper use of conscience. All Catholics, but especially parents and teachers, should be trained in the essentials of apologetics. But apologetics, necessary as it is, must be accompanied by prayer, and a spirit of sacrifice, on the part of those who already believe, all for the sake of conversion of others, that they may be led to realize these truths.
It’s a campaign that needs to be waged on many fronts simultaneously. The essential theme that needs to permeate the entire effort is love that includes forgiveness. Christ came into our world out of love for us, precisely to redeem every member of the human race by means of the sacrificial offering of himself on Calvary. His action there included a prayer that his persecutors might be forgiven, and his promise of Paradise for the repentant thief. Then, at his first meeting with the eleven remaining apostles, he even gave them the authority to forgive sins against him.
Besides making our salvation possible by his suffering and death, Christ also told us how to achieve salvation, telling us that we must live out the Ten Commandments internally, as well as externally. He gave us the Beatitudes, and the instruction of more than a score of parables. Christ went even further, by giving us the means of gaining salvation, through the sacraments. Three of these are especially relevant in combating abortion.
The Sacrament of Reconciliation re-unites the repentant sinner with Christ and his Church. For one who is truly sorry for offending God, resolved to avoid further sinful acts, thoughts and words, and willing to make restitution for damage done to others, the sincere and complete confession of the sins can bring total forgiveness for multiple abortions, for decades of contraceptive acts, and indulgence in pornography, as well as for other sins they have committed. A loving Christ is, thus, applying to an individual the fruits of his sacrifice on Calvary.
But sexual abuses, especially pornography and contraception, frequently become addictions, difficult to overcome, so a person needs special help to fight their way back to a moral way of life. The Sacrament of Holy Eucharist provides that help. A loving Christ comes personally to the individual, and he himself is the special food that builds up spiritual strength for the struggle against the temptations that inevitably will return. Frequent reception of Holy Eucharist, even daily if possible, together with quick returns to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, if lapses should occur, can help the person to overcome eventually their long-standing inclinations and weakness.
But there is yet another sacrament that is especially relevant to the struggle against abortion, and that is the Sacrament of Matrimony. One of the promises the couple makes at the marriage ceremony is to accept all the children God may send them. A person normally receives this sacrament only once, in contrast to Reconciliation and Holy Eucharist which should be received frequently. But the effects of marriage are constantly renewed throughout life in order to assist the couple in the day-to-day effort to live out their vocation to love each other, and to love the children God sends them, in a way that will bring all of them to be with him. Given the realities of human nature, and the fact that we frequently offend others, the act of forgiveness—which we often need to request, as well as to extend—is a necessary feature of a healthy married life.
We began this discussion by trying to find the means to attack abortion at its roots, and what we have arrived at is a Catholic way of life, and the day-by-day effort of married persons to live that life. And that’s exactly the point. When one is truly convinced that sex is not for pleasure, but for children; and that marriage is a vocation for bringing up children, one is much better able to resist the lures of pornography and of contraception. Those who do not practice contraception, are far less likely to seek abortion. Even if chemical abortions are increasing to fill the gap left by the decline in surgical abortions, the same arguments apply.
The Catholic concept of marriage—involving the commitment of one’s very life to serve God in the small community of husband and wife, pledging their mutual love exclusively until death, and sharing their love with the children their love brings about—is an ideal way of life that others do not possess, but which they would really want to have if they can be brought to recognize its value. It must be presented to them in a way that leads them to that recognition. This way of life is based on faith in God and his Son, Jesus Christ. It is recognizing the love he has shown to us. It is appreciating the Church he has given us. It is thankful obedience to the rules pointed out by his Church. And, it is the willingness to direct one’s life according to his will for us, so that we may eventually experience the eternal happiness he holds out for us.
It is a matter of carrying out the fundamentals of Catholic life in a humble, prayerful way, driven by a lively faith that expresses itself in love, and then evangelizing others from that point of view.