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QUESTION: Dear father what is the churches current view on the subject of contraception and abortion.

ANSWER: I am surprised someone would be ignorant of Church teaching regarding the subject of Contraception and Abortion.  The media has been very critical of the Church on these teachings over the years.  The media treats with disdain anyone who tries to defend traditional Church teaching.

Church teaching on the subject of Abortion:

A Direct Abortion is always immoral. A Direct Abortion constitutes an intrinsic moral evil.  This is to say that there is never a circumstance (even if the women was raped, or her life is in danger) when a Direct Abortion would be morally justified.

The subject of Abortion is treated in the CCC # 2270-2275

The reason a Direct Abortion is never morally justified is that all innocent people have an absolute right to life.  Life begins at the moment of Conception.  From the moment of Conception onward you have a human being and a human person.  Given that you have a human person and human being they have a right to exist just like anyone else does.  The fact that they have not yet been born is not relevant to their fundamental right to life.  Birth does not create human life, or personhood it presupposes it. It is people who are born.  The fact that they have not yet fully developed is also irrelevant to the question of personhood and life. Development does not bestow life and personhood, it presupposes it. It is people who develop and grow and are eventually born.  Human cells grow develop, but they are not "born" people are born.     

When doctors claim that "Pregnancy is not even defined to have begun until implantation" is irrelevant. The question is not "When do doctors define a pregnancy as officially beginning" the question is "When does life begin?" The fact that doctors have arbitrarily chosen to define pregnancy as beginning at implantation has no relevance on when conception happens.  Life begins at conception, not implantation. Pregnancy might not begin until implantation, but life begins at Conception, and that is what matters.    

The Abortion industry has been so successful at getting people to support Abortion because of a few tactics they use:

1) They have redefined Abortion as "Choice"
2) They have redefined Abortion as "Women's health"
3) They have redefined Abortion as a case of "Women's rights"
4) They resort to appeal to emotion whenever the subject of Abortion is brought up.

In any debate, those who control the terminology control the debate.

An example of an appeal to emotion: "Well, what do you want a poor women to do whose boyfriend beats her and ordered her to have an abortion?" or "Well what should a women who was raped do?  Have you ever been raped?  Who are you to tell a women who has been raped she must have the child?"

Whenever someone appeals to emotion in a discussion, emotion will always win out over reason and logic.

I want to note in the case above by the way--the sleight of hand.  Why should the women kill her child when the boyfriend is the problem? Why should a child die because a women's boyfriend is abusive.  In short--the boyfriend is the problem, not the child--yet the person supporting Abortion would have the women kill her child to solve the problem of the abusive boyfriend.  Why should the fact that a women might be poor justify murder?  Poverty is the problem, not her child. I hope you can see how that makes absolutely no sense.  Why not deal with the coward boyfriend? Why not deal with the poverty?  How is Abortion going to cure abusive boyfriends or poverty?

The same reasoning applies when a women is raped.  Again, the supporter of Abortion would have us believe that a women should kill the child because of the rapist.  The rapist is the one who is at issue.  The child did nothing wrong.  Why, then, does rape justify murder--of an innocent child?

This is not to suggest that it is easy for a women who was raped to have the child, it is not to suggest that I don't sympathize with a women who was raped, or that I would condemn a women who was raped for having an abortion.  It is, however, to say that just because the right thing is difficult does not entail one should not choose it.  Just because I will never be in that difficult position does not justify Abortion.  Whether I will ever be in that situation is not relevant to the issue at hand. (But that is reason and logic speaking and emotion will always trump it.)

What about when a women's life is in danger? Again, I sympathize with a women in such a scenario, and I would not judge her if she had an abortion. However--again, just because the right choice is difficult does not justify murder. Just because I as a man would never face the issue is simply not relevant to the morality of the Abortion.  It has no bearing on the rightness or wrongness of Abortion. (Again logical and reason speaking, but it will always be trumped by emotion.)

In a case where the women's life is in danger:

1) If the child is viable the doctor could surgically remove the child from the womb
2) Medical personnel should do everything they can to save BOTH lives.  

I grant there are no guarantees that both lives would be saved--again, however--that does not justify murder. There are never any guarantees in life, especially when it comes to health care.

I want to note that Direct Abortion actually goes against our natures.  The natural inclination of any mother is always to place her life as secondary to that of her children--even if it means her death.  Mothers always protect their children even to the point of death.  That is what it means to be a parent.  Hence, when a women has an abortion she is actually going against this natural inclination of a mother.  This is part and parcel of what makes Abortion so evil. Mother's are "programmed" to protect their children at all costs.  When a women has an abortion they are going against this natural inclination of motherhood.  

To any women who has had an abortion the Church invites them to receive the Sacrament of Confession and receive forgiveness and healing from God.  The Church is uncompromising when it comes to Abortion but that does not mean women should be afraid to seek Confession if they have had an Abortion.  A women who has had an abortion and wants to confess it will always find mercy and healing in the Church, never condemnation and judgement.  

On the subject of Contraception:

Once again, the Church teaches that the use of artificial birth control can never be justified.  It is an intrinsic moral evil.  Human sexuality exists for the purpose of propagating our species.  This is much the same as the purpose of eating is to sustain life.  While people may eat for other reasons--social, party, etc, that does not change the fact that the purpose of eating is to sustain life.  Sexual intimacy is for the purpose of propagating the species. People may engage in sex for pleasure, love, romance, relationship, expression of love, etc. That is fine--but none of that changes the fact that the whole reason sexuality exists is to propagate the species.

Taking artificial birth control inverts God's intended purpose for sexuality and changes it by divorcing the procreative dimension of sexuality from the sexual act.  

The subject of human sexuality is treated in the CCC: 2331-2400

Think about it: as far as I know the only time humans take a pill or other medication is to correct some problem or for sickness.  Artificial birth control is as far as I know the only time someone takes medication when their bodies are working correctly!  The person in this case takes medication to force their body to stop working correctly!  When do people take medication to stop their bodies from working?

The implicit assumption behind artificial birth control is that pregnancy and motherhood is a bad thing from which women need to be liberated.  Pregnancy and motherhood hold women back from reaching their full potential, the church is evil because they celebrate motherhood.  

Ruth Bader Ginsburg (reliably liberal justice on the Supreme Court) had this to say about reproductive freedom: “Reproductive freedom is in a sorry situation in the United States,” she said. “Poor women don’t have choice.”  

What does the justice mean by "choice?"  She means the right to an Abortion and the right to artificial contraception.  If a women is given these "rights" the government can empower women to reach their full potential.  In other words--things like motherhood and children are what hold women back.  If only women can be liberated from their reproductive organs women can break the "glass ceiling" and take their rightful place along side men--who are fortunate enough not to have the reproductive organs women have.

Again, implicit in the wide use of and acceptance of artificial birth control is the idea that motherhood, children and re productivity are evil.  They are things that are not inherent to what it means to be a women, they are things incidental to womanhood.   Implicit also is the notion that one's career path defines who they are and one's success in life depends on their material possessions.  After all, if women can be liberated from their reproductive organs they will be more free to follow their chosen career path and acquire wealth and possessions.

I remember watching a commercial for YAZ.  The whole point of the commercial was that if women take YAZ they will be free.  I even think "freedom" was a word directly used in the commercial!  Free from what?  Free from motherhood and reproductivity  In short--have sex with however you want. YAZ sets you free from any consequences related to sexual activity at least when it comes to children.  

Now, none of this is to suggest that Church teaching is that couples must have as many children as they can, or that the Church teaches that couples are not to use their sexuality responsibly.  Unfortunately in the past Church teaching was misrepresented to mean Catholics must have large families and lots and lots of children.  While the purpose of marriage is raising a family, as I said couples who have serious reasons may seek to not have children.  It is the duty of couples to plan their families in accord with their financial ability, etc.  

At the same time----couples should not take lightly the fact that marriage is for the overall purpose of family life and children.  

Couples can for a serious reason decide not to have a child.  Serious reasons can be-- financial constraint, sickness, etc.  The issue for the Catholic Church is not whether a couple should not have a child, the issue is in how a couple goes about not having a child.

If a couple for serious reasons decides they cannot at a certain time have children they must use moral means to achieve that end--such as natural family planning. Natural family planning respects God's design of the human body and does not invert or change the meaning of human sexuality.  It works with God's design of the human body.  

You will hear doctors or nurses claim that natural family planning does not work.  Well, they are doctors and nurses, so they must know.  Correct?

Yes and no.  Whether NFP works or does not work is going to depend on a lot of factors: 1) what method is the couple using?  Some methods are more accurate than others. 2) Are they using it correctly?  (Many couples that have an unwanted pregnancy are not using the method correctly.)  

Think about the benefits of NFP:

1) It is free. Artificial birth control is expensive.
2) There are no side effects. Artificial birth control has unwanted side effects.
3) It brings a husband and wife closer together. Artificial birth control does not.  If anything it can tear them apart.
4) It is as effective as artificial birth control when used correctly depending on the method.
5) It can also be used to more effectively have children if desired.  Artificial birth control cannot.

Natural family planning however is not 100% effective----but neither is artificial birth control. People have not only had unwanted pregnancies when using artificial birth control, they have had them when they have had surgery such as tying the Fallopian tubes.  

Consider: nature makes it difficult for us to prevent child birth.  Even when using drugs or surgery women still get pregnant.  I think that shows that we are created and designed to propagate our species.

In any case, Church teaching forbids the use of artificial birth control as a means to prevent pregnancy as well as surgery.    While it is true I guess that most Catholics and even some clergy reject this teaching, that does not change anything.  

I also want to note that sometimes a couple will go to a priest and ask about artificial birth control.  The priest may say "It is up to your Conscience."  No, it isn't. The use of artificial birth control as a means to prevent pregnancy is sinful.  That is Church teaching.  While couples may ignore Church teaching--and that is between them and God, priests should not be telling people it is "up to their Conscience."  Whenever people tell me "But Father so and so told us X" I always come back with "I am sure he did.  You can always find a priest who will tell you what you want to hear.  That does not make it right."

I want to make it clear that the Church is not trying to impose her views on anyone in the public sphere.  The position of the Church is that if women want to  use Contraception, even if they are Catholic, fine.  The Church just wants to be left out of it.  The Church cannot provide the means for someone to get Contraception.  If a women wants Contraception then she must use it and access it with her own resources, or other means besides the Catholic Church.  That is why we do not cover contraceptives on insurance plans and why we would defy any government law ordering us to do so--even if it meant heavy fines, jail, etc, and even financial ruin. People have the right to make decisions for themselves and live their lives as they see fit.  No one, however has the right to force the Church to enable people to make decisions the Church believes are sinful.  

In short--women are free to use contraception--just leave the Church out of it.  Don't ask the Church to enable the practice by covering its use on insurance plans.

I want to say however that any women who has used contraception and wants to confess it, as in the case of a women who has had an abortion and wants to confess it: they will find only mercy and healing in Confession, not judgement and condemnation.  No women should be afraid to go to Confession.   

I hope this helps.  My answer is long because I not only wanted to tell you what the Church teaches but also explain and defend it--and anticipate objections.  Though I did not cover every possible objection I think I covered the most popular.  



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: I know the churches stance on abortion and contraception. I'm only asking you.

I mostly agree on abortion being wrong unless the woman's life is in danger. Why? Because there are times a pregnancy can kill a mother such as the case in Ireland where they refused abortion and both died. I doubt two wrongs (both dying) make a right.

As for contraception I believe condoms are fine. But I don't see the need to use surgery.

You may not agree with me and that's fine as well, but im know people who can barely feed their children. They have two children and yet have such a poor income, they live in a house eith 10 people cause they can't afford better. Why would having more children be better?

These are not emotional appeals these are facts. In other words, having more kids harms the child and mother.

And no I don't criticize the church for it's stance as I'm a catholic.

Answer
I can understand why you would support Abortion when the women's life is in danger.  I too sympathize with a women who is placed in such an impossible situation: her life vs. the life of her child. Truth is--if I were a women and my life were in danger and an Abortion might save my life, I don't know or not if I would have an Abortion myself--but I would certainly be heavily tempted at the very least.

That however is not relevant. If I had an Abortion in such a case--I would be sinning.  My culpability might be less than another women who simply had an Abortion because she didn't want a child to get in the way of her career path, but it would still be wrong.  

When allowing for an abortion in such a case however, one is saying that the life of the mother is more important than the life of her child.  I am wondering on what basis one makes a choice or decision like that.  Why should one suppose that the life of the mother is more important than the life of her child? Why should one not suppose for example that the life of the child is more important? Why should one suppose that either life is important? When one starts making decisions on whose life is more important, rather than doing everything possible to save both lives one goes down a very dangerous road.  

We are dealing with two human lives of equal value.  It is never as far as a Catholic is concerned morally permissible to murder one life to save someone else's life.  One can willingly sacrifice themselves if they wish, but one cannot forcibly take another's life to save a person.  

Let me ask you this: how would you feel if the life of your mother and father were in danger and someone just decided to kill you in order to save them?  I grant you would probably sacrifice yourself---but suppose you didn't get to make that choice and someone just made it for you.  Would that be morally justifiable from your view?  If not, why from your view is Abortion morally justifiable to save the life of the mother?  What makes the situation different in your mind?

As for poverty: Couples in financial constraint do indeed have a responsibility and duty to use their sexuality responsibly.  More children is certainly not good for someone in the case you presented.  All the Church is saying is that if a couple needs to refrain from having children, they cannot use artificial contraception in good conscience in order to do so.  They must use a means that is morality justifiable, something that works with, not against God's purpose and design for human sexuality.  Natural family planning fits that bill.

I agree that having more children would be harmful for a mother in a situation like the example you gave.  She should certainly not have more children--but she should certainly not use artificial contraception in order to achieve that goal.  That is all the Church is saying.  Find another way--and there is another way: natural family planning.  The other problem is that when artificial birth control us used and widely accepted as moral---it isn't long before people start seeing Abortion as another form of birth control. That is what makes artificial birth control so dangerous.  Pope Paul the VI predicted just that.  

As for Abortion and poverty: true, another child certainly isn't helpful to someone living in poverty, murder is even more unhelpful.  As bad as living in poverty might be----murder is far worse.  Since when do two wrongs make a right?

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Father Dave Bechtel

Expertise

I am a Catholic priest in good standing and in active ministry in the Diocese of Scranton PA. I can answer most any question about the Catholic Faith, however my area of specialization is Systematic Theology. Systematic Theology is a branch of theology that focuses on the fundamental tenants of the Faith and the Dogmas of the Faith. I have specialization on the Reformation and Catholic vs. Protestant theology/issues and answering Protestant challenges to the Faith.

Experience

I was ordained in June of 2008. Since that time the thrust of my ministry has been specialized. In my first assignment I was an assistant pastor. A year later I was sent to work in education. I spent six (6) years in education and have now assumed my first pastorate. While education was the thrust of my ministry, nevertheless I continued to have a hand in parish ministry, hospital chaplaincy and prison chaplaincy. Now that I am out of education I will obviously be focusing more on parish work than specialized ministry. I have two years of formal Clinical Pastoral Education and prior to ordination I successfully pursued Board Certification for health care ministry through the NACC. My certification needs to be renewed and I plan to seek dual certification in health care ministry (NACC and APC) when I renew my certification. I have a breadth of experience working with Protestant ministers and collaborating with them to achieve the goals of hospital pastoral care and chaplaincy. These ministers run the spectrum from the liberal to the conservative.

Education/Credentials
Bachelors of Science-- University of Scranton PA Masters of Arts Theology--- Saint Mary's Seminary and University Baltimore MD Masters of Divinity--- Saint Charles Borremeo Seminary Philadelphia PA Board Certified Chaplain (up for renewal)

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