On the Contraception/Abortion Mentality

Writing as an individual Catholic citizen who represents no other person or thing, Quentin L. Quade has argued three points about the political strategies employed by some Catholics who are against elective abortion (Catholicism in Crisis, Sept. 1983, pp. 14-16). Writing as an individual Catholic citizen who represents no other person or thing, I wish to respond to his first point.

His first point was that Catholic opponents of abortion should stop linking contraception and abortion in stating their objections to abortion. He reasons that since opposing contraception is apparently a losing cause, the opposition to abortion is weakened by making the link between these two practices. However, he acknowledges that “The popular acceptance of contraception in no way establishes its moral authenticity” (p. 15).

It is important to note that the popularization of contraception preceded the legalization of abortion. Perhaps they are both predicated on the same mentality since the widespread acceptance of the one practice appears to have contributed to the acceptance of the other. What is the mentality common to both practices? I would say that it is the mentality that says that children are not welcome.

There is a proper Christian mentality, it seems to me, on these matters: “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me” (Mk. 9:37).

It strikes me that to use contraceptives is precisely to make children unwelcome — that is the primary intent. Of course to murder an unborn child is obviously to make him unwelcome. Since contraception and abortion are essentially means of making children unwelcome, they are linked in this respect.

I personally doubt that the abortion mentality in this country will be reversed until the contraception mentality is reversed. Consequently I find Quade’s political strategies empty. We need to talk about how to reverse the contraception mentality if we hope to reverse the abortion mentality.

Let me offer here a few reflections on the contraception mentality. Some people argue for contraception by citing population figures. But is the world’s population a salient consideration? It is worth pointing out that it could be used to attempt to justify abortion (see the link again?) and other forms of killing. Moreover, the argument for its salience is predicated on a sense of the limits of the world’s resources to support human life, and this point needs to be questioned. Is this perhaps a vote of no confidence in God’s providence? I believe that it is the grace of God that inspires human beings with new ideas, and I trust in God’s providence to help us carry out our stewardship of this world. Consequently, I am not deeply moved by population statistics. I certainly am not moved by them to see contraception or abortion as desirable means to curb the world’s population.

But if the world’s population is to a degree a salient consideration, then why not take this as an argument for marital celibacy after a period of generativity? Is it possible that our Lord calls some men and women to celibate life rather than to married life precisely to set an example for married couples who have completed the generativity stage of their marriages to emulate — by entering a celibate stage for the sake of the Kingdom?

Now, I suppose that someone will say that celibacy makes children unwelcome. Well, I take it that Jesus Christ specifies that celibacy is to be undertaken for the sake of the Kingdom precisely to let us know what the primary intent should be. The primary intent is not to make children unwelcome, although religious celibacy has the side effect of not bringing children into the world.

I recognize that it would require a deep and profound commitment for married couples to undertake such a spiritual ascesis. But if married Catholics were to see marriage as proceeding through a generativity stage to a celibate stage of growth, then this spiritual witness of their faith to the world might just help reverse the contraception/abortion mentality in this country. Frankly, I doubt that anything less spiritual will reverse this mentality, and so I see no hope in following any of Quade’s strategies.


  • Thomas J. Farrell

    Thomas J. Farrell is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Writing Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

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