Abortion and the Contraceptive Mentality

This year marks an auspicious anniversary—forty years of nation-wide abortion on demand since Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton. These cases declared a right to abortion that was more permissive than the law of any state. A woman could take the life of her unborn child for virtually any reason at any time. The disastrous effect on society, marriage, families, women, and of course, the unborn, cannot be minimized.

But Roe v Wade and Doe v Bolton did not appear out of the blue. Rather, they were preceded by cultural shifts that would clear the road for abortion on demand. It is necessary to come to terms with the enabling cultural trend that gained strength in the 1960s and continues to this day—the contraceptive mentality.

Prior to 1930 contraception was universally condemned by all Christian denominations, and Christians, by and large, followed their Church’s teaching. But during the twentieth century one denomination after another changed its teaching. American Christians rapidly embraced oral contraception upon its approval by the FDA and a new cultural mentality became ingrained in the American psyche.

Through the 60s and 70s contraception became accepted by many as an essential element of married life. By the time Humanae vitae was promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1968, the horse was well out of the barn and the outright dissent directed at the Church’s consistent teaching would all but burn the barn down. Catholics were immersed in the secular cultural trend and sexual intercourse had become inwardly focused on pleasure—children had little, if anything, to do with it. Sex was about freedom and fun! As a result, when a woman found herself pregnant in spite of her best efforts to prevent conception, children were viewed as an “accident”, the failure of contraception. Something went wrong. This mentality would “prime the pump” and even necessitate access to abortion on demand.

Blessed John Paul II observed in Evangelium vitae, “[t]he life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.” A solution had to be found; abortion access was necessary to “clean up the mess.” Ironically, it is often claimed that contraception reduces the need for abortion, but the sordid history and abortion numbers that climb with contraception access tell a very different story. The expansion or legalization of abortion in a country is almost always preceded by introduction or acceptance of contraception. Contraception is the proverbial Trojan Horse.

The contraceptive mentality—a de facto tendency against life—has led to a wider acceptance of and reliance upon abortion. Blessed John Paul II recognized this: “the negative values inherent in the ‘contraceptive mentality’…are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected.” Contraception is no solution to abortion, but is instead, intimately connected, “fruits of the same tree.”

Skeptical? Consider the telling words from 1992s Planned Parenthood v Casey: “Abortion is customarily chosen as an unplanned response to the consequence of…the failure of conventional birth control….For two decades of economic and social development, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.”

In short, the court maintains that abortion was a necessary fixture of American society because the intimate relationships of Americans are wholly dependent upon contraception, which often fails them. Hopefully John Paul II was right when he wrote in 1995 that “[t]he close connection which exists, in mentality, between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious.” Greater awareness of the obvious is necessary if we are to successfully reverse the contraceptive mentality and the continuing scourge of abortion.

Editor’s note: The image above of the empty playground is taken from Shutterstock.

Arland K. Nichols


Arland K. Nichols is the founding President of the John Paul II Foundation for Life and Family.

  • ah_creative

    Abortion indeed has left a devastating trail: “The disastrous effect on society, marriage, families, women, and of course, the unborn, cannot be minimized.” The packaging, selling and distribution of “greater awareness” that contradicts the messages we are inundated with by ubiquitous media is the hurdle.

  • Alecto

    Strange that Mr. Nichols chose to omit from the article the disastrous effects on men as well. Aren’t they an integral part of this story? Or, perhaps the “contraceptive” mentality is exactly what appealed to men? Whatever the effects on women, men are able to live the Peter Pan existence so many of them desire to live these days. And that life without consequences is dominant among the average American male. They all have one thing in common: they aren’t family men! They’re perpetual bachelors living it up at the expense of society, women and themselves. We’re never shown the lost opportunities to realize their potential and gifts as men, husbands or fathers and they receive little criticism or condemnation from anyone, anywhere.

    I realize it’s easy to point the fingers at women, because the consequences of this particular sin is obvious in women and not in men, but let’s try to put things in perspective. It takes two to tango! For men AND women, there can be no true and lasting peace or personal happiness when families are aborted or fractured through divorce, which in my humble opinion, set the table for contraception, then abortion. Humanae Vitae was too late because another encyclical should have addressed divorce first.

    The entire attitude described in the article is accurate but incomplete. Let’s also look at Christianity’s historic attitude towards women who became pregnant out of wedlock. Labeled “whores”, “sluts”, etc…, it wasn’t that long ago every church took a very dim view towards unwed mothers and many still do. What about the men? Historically, I can’t find the same derision or criticism leveled at men who are unwed fathers. What derogatory terms are there for unchaste men? None! Not one! I am neither castigating men (OK, I am a little) nor defending the actions of women, but this double standard certainly did help promote the contraceptive/abortive mentality along. Numerous Christian women have chosen the path of death instead of facing shame, and family or societal ostracism. That attitude is exactly the spirit behind the “unplanned response to the consequence of…the failure of conventional birth control…”. Yes, things have changed but this issue won’t go away until the focus is on promoting the unity of men and women, bonded for life and the comfort each derives from the other in marriage and family.

    • Ford Oxaal

      You would think that a pregnant woman and her child would have an unfettered right to ID the father genetically, and compel child support. Not ideal, but compatible with the state’s interest in justice.

    • Phillip

      You’re a feminist lady. The fact that men today live the life of a bachelor is because they no longer control anything. It’s the era of the woman and the man has little say anymore about the direction of anything. His wife can divorce him just because she wants to, and if they have children, she can also take half of all his possessions and most of his earning potential for the foreseeable future. Why men who have no religion bother to get married anymore is a mystery to me; if it were me I wouldn’t, especially when it seems most American women are whores these days.

      Until men rise-up, put the women back in their place, and
      take control of things once more, nothing in the world will get any better. We
      only need look as far as the Garden, and the Fall; this should be plain to see
      for all believing Christians.

      • Ford Oxaal

        You are correct that the present state sanctioned marriage contract is a bad deal for the guy, and bad for families, and thus, bad for women too, and all of society. Society is foolish to abrogate its reason for existence which is the augmentation of the well-being of the family.

      • Anon

        Can’t tell if really stupid or just sarcastic.

        • Wilson

          Intelligent, for telling it like it is.

          • Phillip

            I failed to mention, though it’s obvious to this group, that
            the modern wife can also legally murder the man’s child if she so chooses.

            There’s a pro-abortion article in the NY Times today (Leeches, Lye and Spanish Fly), written by a woman, where she gives her explanation of the history of abortion. According to her–and it does make sense–it has always been women who, overwhelmingly, were proponents of abortion: midwives, according to her, where the usual administers of an abortion.
            Then men came along, with modern medical practices, displaced midwives in the gynecological process, and through this, made abortion either illegal or extremely difficult to obtain. Men, seeing the truth and setting things straight, that is, until the women’s rights movement reared-up and we find ourselves where we are today.

      • ForsythiaTheMariner

        Most American women are ‘whores these days’? I’m not sure how you could possibly say that, as if men aren’t equally to blame for this? What’s the word for a man who sleeps around? Oh, right. There really isn’t one. Which I think is the point of the comment you responded to.

        • Phillip

          The whole order is corrupted of course. But it was a patriarchal
          system that required a woman to say no to men until proper terms where reached, a patriarchal system in the context of St. Paul’s extrapolation of the family which provided order for all; Anthony Esolen’s essay from yesterday speaks to this context. Christian women have to face this fact. And they have to face the fact that, yes to some extent there is a double standard and always has been, but I know my social history, and, under the old system, whereas there may not have been quite as strong of terms hurled at the man who slept around, he who did was still a social outcast. It is another feminist construct—all part of the big lie—that there was this extensive gulf within Christianity, between the treatment of women and of men who “slept around”. The big difference of course is that the woman gets left holding “the bag”, and now that that “bag” is easy to dispose of, many women are nothing more than whores, and of course, just as in the Garden, the man will follow along.

          • ForsythiaTheMariner

            I think you’re forgetting that a woman doesn’t magically become pregnant. Assuming most out-of-wedlock pregnancies in the US aren’t the result of rape, why do you absolve men of all responsibility? You say “many women are nothing more than whores” and “the man will follow along.” Do you not see him there already?

            • Phillip

              Ah, the typical modern female argument, or demand, where the
              man is bludgeoned, publicly if possible, into admitting his equality with woman. I’m trying to see where I ever even hinted at a women becoming pregnant via magic. If you paid any attention to what I’ve said, it seems to me that it would be clear that I’m arguing in favor of a Catholic morality, which, last time I looked, teaches chastity for men as well as women.

          • Karen

            Have you ever heard the phrase “Maitresse en Titre?” French kings, the “Most Catholic Monarchs,” routinely installed women other than their wives as royal officials with MORE power than the queens. Catholic culture in general actually encouraged rich men to keep mistresses and their wives simply had to endure their husbands’ infidelity. Your church NEVER condemned men for cheating and expects women to suffer it without any complaints.

            On your more general point, if patriarchy was so bloody wonderful, why did we abandon it so quickly? Whenever women have been allowed to complete with men in intellectual pursuits, we’ve beaten you flat. Patriarchy is nothing more than an excuse for stupid men to inflict themselves on competent and intelligent women.

            • Phillip

              Nothing quite like riling-up the henhouse is there? Gave it up so quickly, patriarchy that is? After what, five thousand, ten thousand, fifty thousand, years? You use the French as an example? Get out, and besides, the Spanish have the title Most Catholic. Anyhow, I’m German, so I really don’t care too much about the French, or the Brits for that matter. Both, in my mind, have never been anything but hotbeds of heresy. And you don’t sound like a Catholic so what is it you do, patrol the internet looking for errant men who aren’t towing the feminist line?
              In the end you know, once the modernists have destroyed it all–quite soon it seems after all–the natural order will again reestablish itself and men will once again be in charge; your granddaughters, great granddaughters, et al, will again be married and having ten kids, cooking food for their families, cleaning house, and all that. It’ll be good, they’ll be fulfilled and happy (and in some cases, their husbands might “fool around” on them).

            • Michael Paterson-Seymour

              “Catholic Majesty” was the title of the King of Spain. The King of France was “most Christian King,” roi très chrétien

      • Berta

        Wow! What a mysogenist! Put the women back in their place???You mean bare-foot and pregnant. Without any child support, men sowing their seed wherever they want. One cannot take anything you say seriously.

    • ForsythiaTheMariner

      I agree, contraception has had a most disastrous effect on men, too. And I think it’s true that there is simply not the same kind of derision directed towards men who are unwed fathers as there is to women who are unwed mothers.

  • Bonnie

    I believe contraception is a large part of the abortion issue. When engaged to be married in 1963 my physician advised me to “get on the pill” so that the BURDEN of children would be avoided until we were ready for them. Burden and children were linked in my mind. My husband to be, at the time said fine, but never came to the conclusion that we were ready for the responsibility. We always had to wait a little longer. I was longing for a family.

    Along with contraception came choices to make and agree on…..and we didn’t. If on the other hand we knew from “day one” that the responsibility of family and children would result from our actions then perhaps we would not have gotten married until we had worked that out. Communication, knowledge, forethought, consequences for actions taken, are all involved. Take away contraception and go back to marriage is about family and children. If you want to get married, then you are ready for the responsibility of family…..my thoughts, not sure if I expressed them well, but…..

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    Judges and politicians tend to follow public opinion, rather than lead it and cultural changes had, indeed, paved the way.

    Anyone who remembers France in the 1960s & 1970s, before the Veil Law of 1975 (Law No. 75-17 of 18 January 1975), will know that pretty well every village seemed to have its « faiseuse d’anges » or “angel-maker.” Everybody knew about it, nobody talked about it and the police regarded it as “women’s business” and turned a blind eye. Occasionally a woman died and, then, the Parquet, like Captain Renault in “Casablanca” would be shocked, shocked to discover that such things went on and there would be a brief flurry of prosecutions of unqualified women, quickly rounded up and, so, obviously known to police. Medical practitioners, doctors and midwives, were never, ever, prosecuted.

    Many people will recall « le manifeste des 343 salopes » on 5 April 1971, when 343, mostly prominent, women admitted to having had an abortion and challenging the authorities to prosecute them. This, needless to say, did not happen. Perhaps even more significant was the publication of a similar manifesto in February 1973 [03/02/1973], by 331 doctors, including professors in the leading teaching hospitals, again challenging the authorities to prosecute them. The procurator of the Republic excused himself on the grounds of “lack of evidence.”

  • John O’Neill

    If something dire does happen to the New American World State, then God owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology.

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