Within the next 12 months, the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, the encyclical put forth by Pope Paul VI on the regulation of births, and the 35th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision will be noted. Many people only know what they have heard from others regarding these two important events. Both events had implications that are still felt today in our families, nation and world. The prophetic nature of the text of Humane Vitae is being lived out today; the devastation caused by Roe v. Wade had and continues to have horrible consequences for our children, families and nation.
Within the document Humanae Vitae, it is acknowledged that there are times when it may be necessary for a married couple to space or limit the birth of children. However, Catholics also are instructed that married lovemaking must “retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life” and the “direct interruption of the generative process already begun” is unlawful. Many, many Catholics only heard an interpretation of the document from media sources. Consequently, many couples are reluctant to rely on the natural, safe and effective practices of natural family planning that were developed as science progressed in its understanding of human sexuality and fertility. The wisdom contained in Humanae Vitae accurately projecting consequences for a society that embraced artificial, chemical and surgical methods of birth control has been disregarded. This wisdom was essentially disregarded but its truth is being lived out today in our nation.
The document points out that among the implications of the acceptance of artificial methods of birth control is the danger that men may reduce women “to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of (their) own desires.” The exploitation of women’s sexuality in our culture is certainly apparent in fashion, entertainment and media. It usually points to ways in which women’s bodies can be used for pleasure without regard for the totality of the individual woman’s best interests. A general lowering of moral standards also is cited as a consequence of the embrace of the deliberate and artificial separation of the procreative from the unitive aspects of marital lovemaking. We see that in an almost direct relation to one another, as artificial birth control permeates our culture, the tremendous unitive power of lovemaking is damaged. Divorce rates continue to rise, sex is used by “friends with benefits” and the ultimate form of birth control, abortion, is performed at a nearly steady rate over a period of years. Humanae Vitae also warned that the embrace of artificial contraception may tempt governments to promote certain practices of sexuality above others. In New York state, this just happened. The governor recently signed an executive order ending the funding of abstinence-only programs for teenagers, even for programs such as those conducted by Catholic Charities of the Finger Lakes.
Likewise, the ramifications of the Roe v. Wade decision are frequently misunderstood by the public. While many people think that the decision applies only to newly conceived human life, or that legal abortion is most often chosen under the heartwrenching conditions following rape or the diagnosis of life-threatening health problems, it is not so. Here are some of the facts:
* Roe v. Wade and its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, established the legality of abortion throughout all nine months of pregnancy. This includes after fetal viability when a woman perceives that there may be negative physical, emotional or psychological implications for herself or her family or just because of her age.
* According to the pro-choice Alan Guttmacher Institute, less than 6 percent of all voluntary terminations of the unborn are done for reasons other than rape or incest, the mother’s physical or mental health problems or the health problems of the fetus.
* Nearly half of all abortions are performed on women who have already had at least one. Forty-eight percent of women having an abortion in the United States have had at least one previous abortion.
* Abortions hurt women. In our own diocese, and throughout the country, post-abortion healing programs such as Project Rachel attract thousands of women who are left emotionally and physically scarred by abortion. The Silent No More Campaign is allowing the voices of courageous women who are willing to share their pain from abortion with the public to be heard.
A quick search on the Internet makes the texts of the church and the opinions of the Supreme Court available to us all. As Catholics, informing ourselves with the best possible information is imperative to the formation of conscience. We are fortunate to live in a diocese with tremendous resources on all these issues. Should you or a loved one like more information on the post-abortion healing programs of Project Rachel and Rachel’s Vineyard, need assistance during an unintended pregnancy, or desire information on how to learn more about natural family planning, please do not hesitate to contact me.
I thank you for all that each of you do to respect the dignity of every human being and pray that you experience the presence of our loving God in your daily life.
Armantrout is diocesan life-issues coordinator. She may be reached at 585-328-3228, ext. 1304, or firstname.lastname@example.org.