Within Humanae Vitae Pope Paul VI included a dire warning about the “dire consequences of artificial birth control”. He listed four specific consequences: conjugal infidelity and a general lowering of morality, loss of respect for women, possibility of governmental coercion, and the temptation for man to exercise illicit dominion over his body. To quote Mary Eberstadt from her book Adam and Eve after the Pill:
“Four decades later, not only have the document’s signature predictions been ratified in empirical force, but they have been ratified as few predictions ever are: in ways its authors could not possibly have foreseen, including by information that did not exist when the document was written, by scholars and others with no interest whatever in its teaching, and indeed even inadvertently, and in more ways than one, by many proud public adversaries of the Church.”
Conjugal Infidelity & Lowering of Morals
Paul VI foresaw the negative impact that contraception would have on marriages. By effectively removing the procreative aspect the essential nature of marriage changed. No longer was it fundamentally oriented towards the raising of children, but rather it became focused on the emotional relationship of husband and wife. Since Margaret Sanger’s contraception crusade in the 1920’s divorce rates have risen sharply while marriage rates in the age of the Pill have dropped. Just this week a study from Bowling Green University revealed that the marriage rate in the US has reached a record low with only 31 marriages for every 1,000 women.
The Pew Research Institute published a study detailing the changing face of families in the United States from 1960 to 2010. They found that the number of adults who had never been married had nearly doubled while those who have been divorced or separated increased three fold. The Pew report notes, “With the arrival of the birth control pill in the early 1960s, American women gained a new measure of control over their reproductive lives. Public attitudes about sex outside of marriage have changed dramatically since that time.” Citing a Gallup poll they noted that in 1969 68% of the public believed premarital sex was wrong; by 2009 only 32% held that position. I recommend taking the time to look at the Pew study, to see the empirical evidence of the moral decline of our society. Increased divorce rates, fewer marriages, greater numbers of children being raised in broken homes, all of these factors place a disproportionate burden upon women and children especially.
Lionel Tiger, Charles Darwin Chair of Anthropology at Rutgers University and no friend of organized religion, wrote a book called The Decline of Males. In it he documents empirical links between contraception and the breakdown of families, female impoverishment, and single motherhood. His research has also led him to make the claim, “Contraception causes abortion.” Even though Paul VI did not explicitly link the two in a causal relationship it is clear that contraception leads to sexual promiscuity and that abortion becomes the backup plan when birth control fails.
Loss of Respect for Women
In the words of Paul VI, “It is also to be feared that the man, growing used to the employment of anti-conceptive practices, may finally lose respect for the woman and, no longer caring for her physical and psychological equilibrium, may come to the point of considering her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.”
For all those who accuse the Church of waging a war against women Paul VI demonstrates that sexual liberties actually lead to the abuse and objectification of women. Although he could not have possibly foreseen the explosion of pornography as the result of the internet, the pope did warn against its spread through modern media. In truth, without easy access to contraception and abortion the porn industry could not possibly exist in its current form.
The recent political debate over abortion restrictions in Texas afforded the world an uncensored glimpse into the heart sexual revolution. Beyond the offensive signs and slogans, apart from the mocking cheers of “Hail Satan!” the world was introduced to the Bro-Choice movement. What is Bro-Choice? In their own words, “A bro-choice is where I am pro-choice because I am a man and if women don’t have access to abortion on demand then I won’t get laid as often.” There’s probably no better spokesman for the hook-up culture of today’s youth and young adults. So much for chivalry and respect for women.
Humanae Vitae was published the same year as Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb. Paul VI even cites concern about the earth’s growing population as one of the reasons for examining the question of birth control. The pope recognized that if contraception along with abortion and sterilization became acceptable means for married couples to regulate births then governments would be emboldened to use them as well.
(For concerns about over population I refer you to this excellent site.)
The most obvious example of this prediction coming true is China’s notorious one child policy. Beginning in the mid-1970’s China encouraged its citizens to limit their families to only two children. When this suggestive approach failed to significantly impact birth rates the communist government instituted a mandatory one child per family rule. This policy relies on the effectiveness of widespread contraception along with abortion and sterilization—both methods often applied through force.
Some population alarmists in the West put suggested legitimate debate over the ethics of introducing contraception to the water supply to control population growth. In an ironic twist, concern is rising as hormones from oral contraceptives (making their way through the sewer system) are building up in water supplies to the point of causing sexual mutations in fish. Even though it may not yet be affecting people it’s proving expense to deal with.
Government intrusion into family planning is currently a source of great controversy over the implementation of Obamacare in the US. Here we see the federal government coming into conflict with religious liberty by attempting to force individuals, businesses and even some religious ministries to pay for and provide free access to contraception, including the abortifacient morning after pill.
Illicit Domain over Our Bodies
Paul VI’s final concern was that “the mission of generating life” would be exposed “to the arbitrary will of men,” and that this would lead to crossing over lines relating to the use of technology over our bodies that violate the “integrity of the human organism”.
Ten years to the day after the proclamation of Humanae Vitae, on July 25, 1978, Lousie Joy Brown was born in Oldham, England. She was the first “test tube baby” to be born using in vitro fertilization (IVF). We had moved on from a new form of artificial contraception to a new form of artificial conception—both deemed illicit for separating the procreative from the unitive aspects of the conjugal act. With the advent of IVF new ethical dilemmas arise in protecting the dignity of the human person and the dignity of the marriage act.
The process of IVF itself contains morally offensive acts by creating multiple human embryos. Typically multiple embryos are implanted and often some are selectively aborted intentionally or merely cannot survive a crowded womb on their own. Other embryos are kept in a state of suspended animation, cryogenically frozen either temporarily or permanently. Embryonic research, which necessarily results in the killing of embryos, is only possible due to IVF. Recently the US Department of Health has given a nod of approval to three-person IVF. In this procedure a donor egg has its nucleus removed and replaced with the mitochondria of another woman and then combined with sperm for fertilization. This embryo can then be placed in a surrogate mother and upon birth be adopted by another couple. Suddenly Johnny has SIX adults involved in his birth in some parental form or another.
The artificial conception industry has given rise to sperm banks. These also carry their own ethical challenges. In 2001, the New York Times featured a story about one sperm donor who is said to have fathered 150 children. The Huffington Post began an April 2012 story with the follow line, “Ed Houben was a virgin until the age of 34. Now he's the biological father of 82 children.” Most children are never told their father was a donor and most donations are restricted to a small geographical area. Now just imagine Johnny (with his 6 parents) meets Suzy twenty years from now, they fall in love and get married without know that they are actually half-siblings.
To return to Paul VI, there is a reason there are “limits which no man, whether a private individual or one invested with authority, may licitly pass.”
Two More Paul VI Didn’t See Coming
I’d like to finish this post by pointing out to other consequences that Paul VI did not predict: cafeteria Catholicism and gay marriage.
As I mentioned previously, Humanae Vitae was the Lexington moment for open rebellion against the Church from within. In their effort to undermine Paul VI’s authority progressive theologians opened the Pandora ’s Box of unformed conscience. The basic message sent forth was that each individual could freely decide for his or herself which teachings to accept and follow and which to reject or ignore. While this attitude had been simmering at the academic level for some time, it was only in the wake of Humanae Vitae that the average lay person was swept up in this current. So now we have untold numbers of the baptized who have been told and believe that they can be “good” Catholics while agreeing to disagree with the Church on issues like contraception, premarital sex, abortion, and homosexual behavior. This dissent did not end with only morality, but now many Catholics also feel free to ignore the Church on doctrinal issues such as the Real Presence or purgatory and discipline such as mass attendance or fasting.
As for contraception’s connection to gay marriage, allow me to quote from Mary Eberstadt:
“By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell its other members—married or unmarried, heterosexual or homosexual—not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals starting claiming the rights to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals started claiming the rights of heterosexuals…Thus in a bizarre but real sense did Lambeth's attempt to show compassion to married heterosexuals inadvertently give rise to the modern gay rights movement."
When sex becomes solely focused on recreation to the exclusion of procreation it becomes removed from the context of marriage and therefore marriage loses its intrinsic nature as a life-long committed relationship oriented towards raising children.