New York City’s unusually high abortion rates reveal the contemporary need for the Church’s Gospel of Life.
In his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI clarified again the intrinsically evil nature of abortion, this time in the context of his discussion of the illicit means of spacing children within families. In defending the “principle of totalilty” that should govern every instance of the marital embrace of husband and wife, the Pope lists abortion as one means of birth control absolutely contrary to both the natural law and the Christian Gospel.
In conformity with these landmarks in the human and Christian vision of marriage, we must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth.
This is certainly one of the least controversial points Pope Paul makes in Humanae Vitae. One might wonder why he even mentions it. The reason is this: the logic behind his conclusion regarding abortion is the same that undergirds his more disputed conclusions regarding the use of the pill, prophylactics, and all other artificial and invasive forms of birth control. Once identified, his reasoning in explaining the Church’s teaching is easy to understand. In every instance of sexual expression, the Pope explains, the integrity of the sexual act must be respected by husband and wife. To act otherwise is to dismantle a fundamental structure that supports married life. More to the point, to willfully render sterile something which by nature is generative and oriented toward fruitfulness is both to act contrary to the law written into human nature and to sin against Christian charity.
When the Pope speaks about the “principle of totality” he means that in its very design, spiritually and physically, the sexual act is for married life and for children. Sex is for these two ends all of the time. There is never an instance when this is not the case. The structure of the sexual act itself forbids any other meaning. Hence, every embrace of husband and wife must respect the sexual act’s total structure, or what one might call its integrity. Any willful action that removes one of these two ends from any sexual act destroys the integrity of the act itself, reducing it to an unchaste enjoyment of sexual pleasure for one or both partners. The Pope further warns that when willfully rendered infertile the sexual act becomes inimical to married life, for it creates within the relationship of husband and wife an inherent opposition to life and children, which over time will begin to erode married love. The connection between contraception and divorce is often overlooked.
After grasping the spiritual and physical structure of sexual intercourse it becomes clear why Pope Paul is careful to mention abortion as an illicit means of birth control. First of all, it happens that abortion is often used as birth control, as we will see in a moment. And the careful reader of Humanae Vitae will not be surprised to learn that abortion rates increase when a contraceptive mentality pervades a given culture. When sex is removed from the family and is used to serve other less noble ends, children are the first to suffer the consequences, both in terms of the breakdown of the family and, most obviously, when abortion becomes the preferred method of birth control. In other words, it is not surprising that after man justifies turning his hand against the integrity of sexual intercourse, he will be quick to justify the turning of his hand against the natural fruit of that union, which is the child.
The history of the “sexual revolution” bears witness to this truth. Abortion did not become legal in America until over a decade after the introduction and wholesale acceptance of the contraceptive pill. The consequent popular separation created between sex and family life and children throughout the 1960′s paved the way for the cultural, political, and legal maneuvers leading up to the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision. Abortion became necessary, and not only logically, to maintain the emerging culture built on the destruction of the integrity of the sexual act.
In 2008, forty years after Humanae Vitae‘s promulgation, statistics continue to highlight the Church’s wisdom. A recent article in Crain’s New York details the concern public health officials are now showing over New York City’s unusually high abortion rates. Nationally, 24 children die from abortion for every 100 born alive. In itself, this statistic is tragic. In New York City, however, 72 abortions occur for every 100 live births. This statistic leaves one heartbroken and speechless. Health officials express concern not over the toll this takes on women and their families, not to mention the legally sanctioned disappearance of an entire generation of New Yorkers, but rather over the public cost accruing to the increasing use of abortion as a form of birth control. They scratch their heads wondering why abortion is chosen when cheaper forms of birth control are so readily available. Pope Paul VI did not scratch his head in wonder. He wrote Humanae Vitae and prophesied what we now experience. The availability and cost of contraception is not the problem. The desire for sex without the responsibility of fidelity and parenthood is.
Contemporary experience justifies Pope Paul VI’s linking of abortion to contraception. When, in the interest of pleasure, adults separate sex from having children, children suffer–literally.
And they are suffering here in New York City. Please continue to pray for and support those local organizations who work to spread the Gospel of Life in our city, especially the Sisters of Life and Pregnancy Help.