Forty-five years ago, a quiet gentlemen from Northern Italy named Giovanni Battista Montini caused a big stir with a little pamphlet. The stir was not because his pamphlet said anything new but because many people were hoping that it would say something new, and it did not. Instead, it courageously restated what the world had known for (I do not exaggerate) thousands of years. History remembers Giovanni Battista Montini as Pope Paul VI and his pamphlet as Humanae Vitae, the papal encyclical that confirmed what the Catholic Church (and all Protestant churches until 1930) had always taught: Artificial contraception is intrinsically evil.
It’s not altogether true that Humanae Vitae, which turns 45 this year, said nothing new. Expanding on centuries of Church teaching, the document laid bare in a manner that can only be described as prophetic what was in store for a world that embraced contraception: “conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.”
It’s hard to argue with Paul VI. The Pill may not be the only reason that Americans tolerate the commonplace presence of homosexuals on prime time, Oval Office infidelities, Viagra and Victoria Secret ads during football games, “reality” shows that make a circus out of marriage, and a 41 percent illegitimacy rate—but, as Archbishop Charles Chaput noted some years back, the sexual revolution and the consequent cultural “unraveling” would not have been “possible or sustainable without easy access to reliable contraception.”
Contraception did more than enable the sexual revolution. It inspired it. As Paul VI warned, a man using contraception will “forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires.” If you doubt that this exploitation of women has come to pass, then you must be unaware of the international pornography trade and the untold number of marriages it has destroyed.
Paul VI also warned that contraception would become “a dangerous weapon . . . in the hands of those public authorities who take no heed of moral exigencies.” If a husband and wife could sterilize themselves on the grounds that another child would break their limited means, the Pope concluded that governments could apply the same solution to “the problems of the community.” Overpopulation. Crime. Feeblemindedness. Take your pick. Americans might find Pope Paul’s warnings a little fantastical until they discover that controlling the populations of the Third World is a not-so-secret element of American national-security policy.
When we contrast the promised benefits of contraception (spontaneity, romance, pleasure) with the realities that Paul VI predicted (divorce, adultery, political tyranny, disease), we should not be surprised to discover that the proliferation of contraception has done nothing to slow abortion. On the contrary, the former leads to the latter. It’s easy enough to see how abortion steps in when contraception all too frequently fails. But the more profound relationship between contraception and abortion is this: Both are a deliberate rejection of human life, the true end of marriage. Marriage begins as an act of love, the total gift of oneself to another. The child is the fruit of this love. Contraception deforms marriage into an arena of self-gratification or lust, to use a word out of fashion. What is the bitter fruit of lust? Abortion.
This year we marked the fortieth anniversary of the Supreme Court’s creation, out of whole cloth, of a mother’s “right” to kill her baby. If you fear for the soul of a nation that promotes this “right” to the tune of some million-and-a-half innocent babies a year, here is my suggestion: Read Humanae Vitae and, if you are married, of course, have another baby. Bringing a child into the world is the most pro-life thing you can do.