Humanae Vitae” (On the Regulation of Birth). The encyclical reiterated the constant Catholic teaching that artificial contraception distorts the nature and purpose of sex.
Ethical Consequences – The Pill as Abortifacient. If you’re pro-life, as I am, you believe that deliberately killing a child in the womb is a grave wrong. But one of the ways that the birth control pill works is just that. The use of combined oral contraceptives atrophies the uterine lining, preventing the proliferation of vascular tissue needed for a newly-conceived embryo to implant. The inability to implant and access nutrition from the mother results in the death of the week-old human embryo.
Health Consequences – Link to Breast Cancer. As the Pill increasingly became the method of choice for women choosing to delay or avoid pregnancy, researchers began to identify a problem: women who used hormonal contraceptives began to show higher than average rates of breast cancer, and possibly increases in other cancers, as well. Whereas feminists had originally hailed the Pill as an “equalizer” that gave them the same sexual freedom enjoyed by men, this new development caused many of them to denounce oral contraceptives as a male invention designed to facilitate male sexual freedom at the cost of health risks to women.
Environmental Consequences – Where Are the Macho Fish? In our environmentally-conscious society, it is perhaps this last complex of problems that will have the greatest impact on consumer attitudes toward the Pill. The estrogen consumed by women in the form of contraceptive pills, patches and rings doesn’t just disappear. Estrogen is excreted in urine and enters rivers and groundwater wherever sewage ends up. It is non-biodegradable so water treatment plants are powerless to remove it from water (including our drinking water). Fish and wildlife ingest estrogen in the water. The phenomenon of ambiguously-sexed fish is widespread and well-reported. Like the canary in the mine, these genetically impaired fish in waters contaminated with estrogen sound an alarm to environmentalists.
Social Consequences – Do You Love Me? In the days before the oral contraceptive, a couple understood fertility to be an integral part of their identity. Reaching that depth of love in which the man and woman choose to devote their lives to one another, they decide to marry. With confidence in the spouse’s life-long love and commitment, the woman freely enters into a one-flesh union with her beloved; and should God choose, this physical symbol of love and unity may result in the ultimate gift of self: the embodiment of love in the creation of another person.
But without this depth of commitment, many women now engage in sex just to “hold onto” the man, or simply for physical pleasure. But we are created for authentic love, and there will always be that nagging question after nonmarital sex: Does he really love me?
Kathy Schifferis a freelance writer and speaker, and her blog Seasons of Grace can be found on the Catholic Portal at Patheos.