Pope Paul VI’s canonization on Oct. 14 must have caused a bit of a stir, since Froma Harrop’s worried column, “Even Birth Control Under Attack,” appeared the next day.
It is true enough that Republicans and Democrats used to agree that access to birth control was a public good. For most Americans decided that they knew better than the Pope, and went for the Pill anyway. But now, at the space of 50 years, many of us have begun to realize, for varied reasons, how right he was.
It might be worthwhile to recall why Pope Paul, now St. Paul VI, stood by the Church’s 2000-year-old teaching that artificial birth control is wrong. One of the main reasons is that it tends to turn love into lust. There is a difference between love and pleasure. Does this person really love me, for who I am, or is he or she just using me? When I am used by someone, I feel I have been lied to, have been violated.
By interrupting a woman’s natural cycle of fertility and infertility, birth control forcibly separates sex from its natural purpose, which is reproduction, and from its distinctively human purpose, the expression of love. Birth control instead tends to establish pleasure as the main point of a relationship. As long as I please my partner, he or she continues to love me. But what happens when I get sick, or old, and am no longer so pleasing?
Some may say, “But we’re married, so that is not an issue.” But even here, birth control becomes an invisible wedge between husband and wife. They are not quite completely united, for they are always holding something back. In the words of the same Pope, they may find themselves instead in a “juxtaposition of two solitudes.”
In an encyclical few people have bothered to read, St. Paul VI predicted four things that would happen if the Catholic Church’s teaching were disregarded:
1. Marital infidelity.
2. A general lowering of moral standards.
3. Loss of respect for women, and less responsibility on the part of men.
4. Government subsidizing, and eventually compelling, the use of contraceptives.
Comparing today to 1960, when the Pill was first introduced, who can deny that all these predictions have come true? And are divorce, family breakups, lack of fathers present, purely personal matters?