Thursday, June 23, 2016

Contraceptive misconceptions

The last post reminded me of other misconceptions I frequently see thrown around in Catholic circles.  I'm sure Bat would like me to remind you that not all Catholics believe or spread these errors.  Today I want to talk about a few things I've learned about birth control in the past few years that I found very surprising -- considering the things I have been told in my Catholic education.

Myth #1: 50% of abortions are in women using birth control, which proves birth control contributes to abortion.

I see this one often, and the first half is right: half of women who have abortions were using some kind of birth control in the month they got pregnant.  Most of these were using it inconsistently or incorrectly, true, but they were using it.  So did it give them a false sense of security?  Let's take a look at the numbers.

If 50% of women who were sexually active but did not want to get pregnant were on birth control, while 50% were not, that 50/50 split would mean that birth control had no effect on a woman's odds of getting an abortion.  However, we all know most sexually-active women of reproductive age are on birth control.  This very informative link  suggests that "at-risk" women -- women who could get pregnant and don't want to -- use birth control at a rate of 90%.  So already we're seeing that birth control is having an effect, because if 90% of women use it and get abortions at the same rate, they would be having 90% of the abortions, not 50%.

I am not sure what the correlation is between believing in birth control and believing in abortion.  Presumably there is some correlation, because the very religious don't believe in either.  We can then assume the subgroup that is on birth control is also a subgroup that also is more strongly in favor of abortion.  They're also, I would assume, more likely to have access to it -- they have money and nearby Planned Parenthood clinics.  But I can't say what the numbers might be here.

But I have the unplanned pregnancy numbers: 54% are among women who don't use birth control, 41% among women who use it, but inconsistently, and 5% among women who use it consistently.

I understand the assumption is that if women weren't using birth control, they would be less likely to have sex, but it doesn't appear so.  Over half of the women who are getting pregnant aren't using birth control at all.  I'm not sure what they expect to happen.  Maybe, as has been the case throughout human history, they don't have a whole lot of self-control.  Fornication wasn't invented in the Sixties.

But, you might say, birth control fueled the sexual revolution, and if only we didn't have that, we wouldn't have so much abortion.  Well, that might be true, sure.  But the numbers show that you can't put that genie back in the bottle simply by taking everyone's birth control away.  People who don't have access to it -- because it's expensive, because insurance won't cover it, whatever -- are still having sex.  And the odds of getting pregnant when you are fertile, sexually active, and not using any form of birth control are 85% over the course of one year.

And keep in mind that promiscuity isn't the only cause of abortion.  Women who are married still get abortions.  So even if no one had sex outside of marriage, abortion would still happen, because of the married women who feel unable to have another child right now.  Married women are much more likely to consistently use birth control, which is surely part of the reason why they are less likely to have abortions than single women.  What if women were more willing to have babies?  Well, most women who have abortions already have at least one child.  It looks like they like children fine; it's that they don't feel that they can care for more.  Attempting to convince women that having a baby every year for their entire marriage is okay, especially in an economy which makes having children very expensive, would be a much tougher change to make.

The abortion rate has dropped significantly in the past few years, and it's pretty clear from the statistics that the reason is more people using birth control.  It's not more people choosing to carry unwanted pregnancies to term, because it tracks along with a decreased unintended pregnancy rate.  And it's not more people wanting babies either, because the intended pregnancy rate has gone up only slightly.  Why are more women using birth control?  Because their insurance is now required to cover it.

So it really puzzles me that Catholics are putting so much of their energy toward getting rid of that law.  I understand, they feel it's cooperation with evil (and, in my opinion, they're wrong about that -- cooperating involuntarily, because you are legally required to, is not sinful) but still, do they realize they would be indirectly causing many abortions if they got their way?

Myth #2: But surely, on a cultural level, accepting contraception means encouraging abortion.

Then there's the question of whether, on a national or cultural level, widespread contraception use increases fornication and promotes a culture of death, thus driving the abortion rate up.  I want to just drop this link on you and tell you to read it, because it seems to put that theory to rest pretty definitively.  But instead I'll pull out a few facts for you:

*In Russia, at the time abortion was legalized (since illegal abortions were already rampant) an average married woman had ten abortions in her life.  In the eighties, contraception started to become available and abortions started to drop.  Between 1988 and 2001, contraceptive use rose 74% and the abortion rate declined 61%.

*In a region of Bangladesh which was provided with family-planning services, abortion rates dropped to one-third of the rates in the rest of Bangladesh.

*Studies like this one show that providing birth control did not increase sexual activity.  (In fairness, this one showed a very slight difference -- though much smaller than the reduction birth control causes in the unplanned pregnancy and abortion rates.)

So, no, it does not appear that the availability of birth control increases the abortion rate by encouraging people to have more sex.  It seems that the amount of sex people have and the number of children they want are both pretty independent of whether they have birth control available.  The difference is in what methods they have to achieve what they want.  When birth control isn't available, many people are going to turn to abortion.

Myth #3: The Pill causes abortion

That leads me to the third myth, which surely is a lot of people's reason for opposing birth control availability.  The theory is that the Pill causes zygotes to fail to implant after fertilization, thus causing an "invisible" abortion.  And I can't blame anyone for believing this, it's on the insert for the Pill: first, it claims, it suppresses ovulation; second, it thickens cervical fluid so that sperm can't reach the egg; and third, it makes the uterine lining thin and inhospitable to an embryo.  That third method would amount to a very early abortion, though legally it isn't considered one.  (In America "pregnancy" is defined as beginning with implantation, probably to avoid debates like this.)

The thing is, there isn't actually any evidence that this third method ever happens.  We do know that the pill makes the uterine lining thin.  However, that's when it actually works and prevents ovulation.  When a breakthrough ovulation does take place, a woman's hormonal profile is quite different.  Isn't it possible that in this case the uterine lining also manages to mature?

That's the argument made by these pro-life doctors.  I share this article often because I think it's important for people to know that not only is there no evidence that the Pill causes abortions, the evidence leans toward showing that it does not.  To sum up (because I admit the article is long and difficult; it took me a long time to read), the rate of breakthrough ovulation is (corrected for the normal early miscarriage rate) the same as the Pill's failure rate -- the rate of unintended pregnancy while on the Pill.  (The evidence is even stronger, surprisingly enough, for the morning-after pill.  The morning-after pill has a very high failure rate precisely because it can't prevent implantation.)

Now I mentioned "the normal early miscarriage rate" because a very large proportion of fertilized eggs never implant as it is.  This is probably because of DNA errors and it appears there is no helping it.  That means that if you are a sexually active woman who is not on birth control or pregnant, you have almost certainly lost many zygotes.  This post points out that out of 100 women who aren't on birth control for a year, 85 zygotes will be lost.  (And a further 85 will implant, which is why 85% of women will get pregnant in one year.)  But if they are all on the Pill, they will only lose (using the worst possible estimate in case the Pill does cause zygotes to be lost) only two.  Of course this is a utilitarian argument; I understand if your feeling is that it's better for 85 zygotes to die through no human cause than for two to die because of something a person did.  But you aren't actually saving any lives by trying to prevent people from using oral contraceptives.

What is my point, with this post?  Am I suggesting you should get on birth control?  No.  You should do what you want.  Your own behavior is entirely in your control: you can choose to abstain, choose to accept many children, whatever you like.  But influencing other people's behavior is another ball of wax.  In public health, they don't talk about what it would be nice if people did.  They talk about what interventions we can do, and what the actual results of those interventions will be.  And it seems clear that intervening to keep people from getting birth control doesn't change their hearts, it doesn't stop them from having sex, and it doesn't make them want more children.  It makes them get pregnant when they don't want to, and many of them will go on to have abortions.

So if you want to reduce abortions, trying to stop people from getting birth control when they want it is the most counterproductive thing you could possibly do.  That's all I'm saying.  I think it's important to shoot down these three misconceptions so that people know exactly what the results of their actions will be.  I don't think, as many pro-choice activists do, that the pro-life movement is dishonest, or that it's just trying to control women rather than to save lives.  I think people just don't know this information, and pro-life activity will be much more effective if it uses the most accurate information.


Belfry Bat said...

That is fascinating, about your Myth #3, in a way...

I did ask where statistics on nonimplantation come from, but ... well, interesting.

(Thanks for the caution at the front, b.t.w, although I'd have phrased the thematic header "though many (but not all) Catholics sometimes say things like these, they aren't Church Doctrine"; my point was before and now is: there is a thing, Catholicism, which has an objective character and content preceding any Catholics now on Earth or their opinions... but I digress!)


I'm not, for myself (as it happens) interested in whether use of contraception causes preference to abort. Trying to rig the social climate so that people get fewer and fewer and fewer ... untill the Market won't support abortionists anymore, that ... that sounds not much better than trying to rig the social climate in any other whimsical way.

Whether contraceptives cause recklessness (which sounds plausible to me, but then I'm not tempted to jump out of airplanes, and parachutes don't increase the interest) or not, it's plain that abortion and contraception have themselves a common cause: the conjunction of conjugality and prefering sterility. Both legal contraception and legal abortion are institutionalized declarations: "that's OK". The Church doesn't want a statistical extinction of abortion, the Church wants people to not want them, especially when they seem tempting. Just like the Church wants people to want not to murder their neighbors, especially when the neighbors are being impossible.

Yes, it's frustrating when excitable individuals succumb to the temptations of statistics where reasons are of interest.

Andrea said...

I myself don't quite care how the pro-life movement operates. They tend to get away from the fundamental reasons why abortion should be illegal (murder of a human being) or why contraception is wrong (contrary to natural law).

Belfry Bat said...

Thinking more on the causation question:

So, in America the land of the free/home of the brave, What fraction of surprise pregnancies without contraception are aborted? What fraction of pregnancies despite contraception? If those fractions are the same, then we can conclude that pregnancy, not contraception, "causes" abortion. If surprise contracepteds are less likely to abort, then you can say that contraception prevents abortion. Otherwise...

as I say before, my interest is in the nature of the thing, not the statistics; but I don't see how the quoted statistics even address the question.

Sheila said...

Well, I can answer that last question easily, Bat: since 54% of unwanted pregnancies are in the non-contracepting, and only 50% of abortions, it appears not using birth control correlates with not getting an abortion, but only VERY SLIGHTLY. More importantly, I don't think it's direct causality. You don't get someone who wants birth control, keep them from getting it, and leave them less likely to get an abortion. Instead, there is a small percentage (4% of unwanted pregnancies -- including, I suppose, mine) of people who don't like birth control OR abortion, and possibly for some of the same reasons. So that leaves the "changing minds and hearts" reasoning open, but not the "try to make birth control less available" option.

Does the law allowing birth control make people more willing to get abortions, because the state gives permission to the idea of sex without children? Well, that's not what the statistics say, in the countries I looked at. In both South Korea and Russia, abortion was legalized *because it was already rampant,* and the rise in birth control only took place *after.* So what we're seeing is a chain of 1) people decide they want fewer children, perhaps for economic or social reasons; 2) illegal abortion becomes common; 3) the state legalizes it in order to regulate it; 4) the state legalizes birth control too; 5) the abortion rate finally drops. That's not how it happened in the US, of course, but the fact that it did in these other countries seems to argue against your thesis.

Sheila said...

Andrea, are you saying it's not important how many babies die provided that things against natural law are banned?

Sheila said...

Oh and I meant to respond to this line of yours, Bat: "There is a thing, Catholicism, which has an objective character and content preceding any Catholics now on Earth or their opinions." Well, in theory, sure, in the same way that "fact" is a thing or "science" is a thing. But these are things we don't have access to, so when you say "the fact is X" or "science says Y," you have to include what your sources are -- it's not fact or science itself. It's these statistics or those studies.

In the same way, there is a great deal of disagreement about what "Church teaching" actually is, on certain topics. You find that out if you ever talk to traditionalists and then turn around and talk to more standard conservative Catholics (e.g. EWTN, NCRegister, etc.). And then, of course, progressive Catholics have an entirely different outlook on what the boundaries of "Church teaching" are. So when talking about Catholicism, to say "the Catholic teaching on X is Y" is itself a value statement -- you're allying yourself with one or the other opinion on how much of what the hierarchy says is official or inspired. So the reasonable thing for someone who does not believe any of it is inspired is simply to point out what some Catholics today, or Catholics throughout history, think and have thought about it.

I myself have gone way down the rabbit hole trying to figure out if this or that teaching is really official or inspired or infallible or binding, and the fact is that you are usually stuck believing someone alive today who sets himself up as an authority on the topic. It could be your pastor. It could be Francis. It could be Benedict. It could be the authors of the Catechism or the editors of Catholic Answers or Fisheaters. But the answers wind up being slightly different, which causes one (naturally) to wonder how you *would* know for sure.

Belfry Bat said...

Let's see what you've counted for me, because I don't know how to read it, the way you've listed things...

"A" for ab, "E" for enceinte, and "C" for contra.

you've said 54% = P( ~ C | E), and 50% = P( ~ C | A ). Neither of these is a number I asked for... but maybe we can use them anyway.

Let's see... .50 = P( C | A ) = P( C A )/P(A) , .46 = P( C E ) / P ( E ), but the numbers I'm wanting are P(C A)/P(C E) and P(A~C)/P(E~C) ...
P(C A)/P(C E) = [P(A)P(C|A)]/[P(E)P(C|E)] = [P(A)/P(E)] .5/.46 ~ 1.1 P(A|E)
P(A~C)/P(E~C) = [P(A)P(~C|A)]/[P(E)P(~C|E)] = [P(A)/P(E)] .5/.54 ~ .9 P(A|E)

So... the primary cause of abortion is (as suspected) its being possible, and, as you say, there is a slight further cause in having contracepted (or a slight preventive in not contracepting...). In the United States, anyways.


I'm really not sure what to make of the Russian or Korean numbers.


I *have* heard, many times, that a major cause of unexpected pregnancy is not having much else to do; which makes it sound as if sex is used as an entertainment or a drug. And that sounds to me more problematic than there being extra equipment around mutual use.

Sheila said...

I don't understand your mathy stuff, but I do know that correlation is not causation. So we shouldn't say "contracepting causes you to abort," but "the same people do both at slightly higher rates."

I seriously doubt that pregnancy is caused by boredom. I only hear that when at the grocery store ("don't you guys have a TV?") but in reality, people with fascinating, stimulating lives also have sex. In fact, most adults globally (so far as I could figure, looking at the stats available) are sexually active; the difference is whether they're married and whether they want children. When average age of marriage goes up, the rates of premarital sex go up too. In countries where previously a large family was preferred (e.g. an agricultural region) and now people want fewer kids (e.g. the cost of education becoming a major factor as literacy becomes important) people don't seem to have less sex. (And honestly any amount beyond "none" would be too much, if you actually wanted not to get pregnant. A couple that has sex once a month is still pretty likely to get pregnant within a few months; but being married and also living in continence is extremely difficult, as I know, having tried it.) Instead, contraception and abortion rates rise -- sometimes contraception first, if it's available, and sometimes abortion first.

From the point of view of yourself, you can treat sexual activity as a variable -- you can choose not to engage in it. But from the point of view of *other people*, there's no real way to enforce celibacy. I mean, I suppose you could give people televisions? But like I said, I doubt it would help.

Andrea said...

That's kind of a weird conclusion for you to draw from my statement.

Abortion and contraception are both results of a culture that wants to pervert the ends of sex. They use contraception and abortion because they want the pleasure but not the baby and responsibilities that could result from it. The only way to tackle the problem would be to reeducate on what natural law is and what follows from that understanding (like if procreation and sex are inseparable, this would logically imply that it would best take place in a stable marriage).

I don't know what the course of action would be in this time and culture on a political level in order to make a change. People don't tend to use logic to arrive at conclusions these days, they use emotion (just look at all the Trump supporters... Boggles my mind). And people see children as more of possessions than individual humans who have their own rights, so saying that you are killing a human doesn't matter to many anymore. They know he/she is a human. They just think they have more important personal rights over that human.

And in regards to contraception, personal pleasure trumps what is good. Interestingly, people still recognize that vomiting up food in order to avoid calorie intake is a disorder (as the end of eating is essentially nutrition). But they have a hard time applying that to sex as it carries a lot of emotion, is highly pleasurable, and is a much more personal subject.

So, honestly, at this point, we really just need to help those who are on the fence about abortion or who are going through the post abortive trauma. And we need to help those who have been emotionally or physically damaged by casual sex outside of marriage or even those affected by sexual perversions within marriage (porn, infidelity, etc). We are in an era of damage control. Prevention is pretty difficult, if not near impossible, these days.

The best prevention we can do is raise our own children with an understanding of these things and an ability to reason.

Andrea said...

And allowing contraception because otherwise people will just abort anyways always has felt to me like we are just treating people like irrational animals. It's like saying, "You people can't use your will and reason to control yourselves, so let's sterilize you!" Now mind you, I don't know how we could get to a point where we could get the general population to understand why contraceptives is wrong. But allowing contraceptives is not the solution.

Belfry Bat said...

Oh, you needn't worry about the maths... it doesn't typset nearly as well as one would like, and... again... it's not the most interesting thing anyway. The thing I'm trying to work through is deciding whether the statistics exclude one or another "causal model" (that's the thing to ask your favourite search engine about). It's true that a correlation of two things does not indicate causation...

I'm sorry that people in the grocery store are rude to you (and goodness can people be rude!) but 1) I wasn't thinking of you at all, and 2) plenty of people lead interesting and busy lives and are themselves interesting and have problems with cocaine or such-like. For myself, waiting to fall asleep can be terribly frustrating and then I have to be extra careful not let my mind wander the wrong way. (my mind never wanders to cocaine. just don't ask). It's not about a constant lack of something to do, it's about lacking a habit that provides something else when one wants-to-but-shouldn't Whatever.

Andrea said...

Oh, and I remembered you were grappling with what appeared to be a contradiction in God's mercy and justice in the past. Here's a really interesting article I just came across regarding psalms that seem to have a vindictive nature:

I thought it was well done! :)

Andrea said...

Oh, and thinking about your comment further, if people understand natural law, they should come to the conclusion that both abortion and contraceptives are wrong, as both can be concluded upon without religion involved at all. So, I guess if someone were to ban those things against natural law (as civil law should always be in harmony with natural law anyways), those two issues would be taken care of.

And of course there will be those who try to obtain abortions or contraceptives through illegal means, but the civil law has a lot to do with what people will deem acceptable or what people will try. Same sex marriage now being "legal" has given people the impression that it is a positive good worth supporting. And abortion being "legal" makes the common person minimize the horror of it.

Anyways, sorry to ramble. I tend to get thoughts is spurts as I find the time to mull them in between caring for toddlers! Ha!

flooob said...

Citing Guttmacher on the benefits of contraception is like citing Big Pharma on the latest trending prescription drug.

See for example this lovely piece on the "myth" that abortion is psychologically harmful to women.

Although Guttmacher is certainly a top authority in terms of sheer data, that doesn't mean they don't cherry-pick like hell.

Sheila said...

I tried to use a variety of links for just that reason, saeculustra. Though I do think the stats in the articles I did share checked out.

Andrea, I think everything you've said leads to a conclusion of "let's change people's hearts, if we can," not "let's impose a ban and hope it changes people's minds." I don't really believe that laws change people's minds all that much. Rather, when people's minds change, they change the laws to suit. Birth control was legalized after it was already popular. Abortion was legalized at a time when lots of people were getting them. And gay marriage was supported by more than half of Americans when it finally became legal. I don't know one person who has actually changed their mind about gay marriage since then.

Even from an entirely Catholic perspective, it isn't necessary that civil law reflect the natural law. Civil law is about what laws will help people live well, which means you have to take into account what you can enforce and what the actual effects of the laws will be. Imposing a "no masturbation" law on modern America would either breed total disrespect for the law (because it's unenforceable) or require cameras in every room of every house. You just can't do law like that. You can, however, have a moral law like that. There's a huge difference between what is wrong and what would be wise to ban.

I agree with you that we're doing damage control here. You have to live in the world we have, wherein a lot of people DO want sex without babies, and are determined to get it regardless of what you say. It's not treating people like animals to allow them to make their own choices. It's an acceptance of their free will. Generally, by law, we allow people to use their free will in ways that don't harm others. You'd say abortion absolutely does harm others, but contraception sounds like more of the sort of thing that's between a person and God, right?

Andrea said...

Important things like abortion definitely require an outright ban if possible, even if the majority doesn't agree. Immediate lives are in danger with that one. But the likelihood of getting a good person in office to do so seems very slim. In regards to contraception, there is a bit more layers so that's a more difficult one to say what should be done. Eventually, it should be banned too. Not everything in the natural law must be reflected in the civil law, but nothing in civil law should contradict natural law. Basically things that have a more direct effect upon society should be in civil law.

Contraception actually does harm society because it harms families. It allows for people to take greater risks outside a marriage and perpetuates the idea that sex is divorced from forming a family. And within marriage, it allows for a greater chance that couples will end up just using each other for the pleasures of sex as opposed to uniting for the greater good of raising children. Pleasure in married sex is a positive good, but the main end of sex still remains procreation. The line of thinking in contraception easily allows for homosexuality as if sex isn't for procreation and is really just about genital pleasure, then why can't two people of the same sex partake in it? Anyways, breakdown of the family does lead to a breakdown of society. So contraception does end up being a very relevant topic to civil law. Not as life and death as abortion, but still important in the long run in order for a society to function well.

Andrea said...

But you are right in that my personal role is changing hearts, praying for change, and making sacrifices for those atrocities that have happened. I have no power to ban anything. But I do know that if we want a functional society back, those changes would have to happen somehow. Nothing good happens in a country that actively promotes what is wrong. The devil has done a number on this country in so many ways.

Andrea said...

Oh, and (sorry, mulling between diaper changes, hahaha) think of contraception as a possible evil technology. There are legitimate and good uses for the drug itself, but the use as a contraceptive is wrong and should not be promoted by any government. The government could allow the drug for it's legitimate uses, and then of people still try to use them for illegitimate use, that falls on the individual. But at least the government would be attempting to prevent the breakdown of the family and the separation between sex and family.

Enbrethiliel said...


This is mostly a reaction to your last paragraph, in particular the line ". . . it's just trying to control women . . ."

Abortion is still illegal where I live (though, of course, if you have money, you can discreetly buy any service you like), so we don't have a pro-life movement like you do; but I confess that my impression has been that a lot of people who would describe themselves as active in that movement do want some control over others. Not because they're unfeeling tyrants but because it's one way for them to deal with the incredible anxiety that the social order makes them feel. You know those people who enter your home and ABSOLUTELY HAVE to straighten the crooked pictures on your wall? Many are likely HSPs who need much more control over their environment in order to feel secure; they really don't want to be rude, but sometimes they JUST CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE. They remind me so much of America's pro-life movement. The problem is that if you don't know that you're an HSP (even in the political sense), you may think your anxiety is others' fault.

I've been discussing this with another American friend who likes to say that she has had an abortion. Now, what she actually had was a very painful miscarriage, of a baby she very much wanted, on Thanksgiving Day, followed by the news that she might never become a mother at all. (Her due date would have been around this time.) But the medical term for miscarriage is "spontaneous abortion," so she says she had an abortion. And she started doing this because after her baby died, she saw pro-life rhetoric as about to expand to target women who have had miscarriages, too. Because of the idea that you could have prevented it, if you had just tried harder or if you had really wanted to. (Sounds familiar?) If a dead unborn baby is a sign that a woman is bad . . . well, a miscarried baby is a dead unborn baby, too, so women who have had miscarriages must be bad, too.

She'd also be very interested in the zygote figures you present. The sense that eighty-five zygotes dying naturally is better than two zygotes dying through human intervention is exactly what she'd love to call the pro-life movement out for. If abortion is so bad, why does nature get to do it all the time without a peep from the pro-lifers? And not all miscarriages are preventable; many are the body's way of rejecting something that it knows could end badly. They are literally abortions to save the life of the mother. I know my friend would gladly have carried her baby to term, even if it meant a painful pregnancy and her own death, but that choice wasn't hers to make. (Sometimes she says, "I had an abortion," and at other times she says, "An abortion had me.")

But I may just be projecting. After all, I could be described as "pro-life" because I think women should not deliberately end the lives of their unborn babies (though inasmuch as it is a term for people who engage in certain activist behaviours, I don't fit the label), and now it seems related that when I heard you were having trouble with your faith and with social anxiety, wasn't my initial (albeit very well-intentioned) response to try to control you?

Anyway, do you have anything on oral contraceptives polluting the environment by getting into the water?

Anonymous said...

Andrea's comments don't reflect the reality of most women's lives. Outside Christendom College, many couples live together before marriage (and often don't marry at all). They put off children until they can afford them and limit the size of their families to what they can manage. America's not a Catholic theocracy. Many faiths allow and even encourage family planning; many are supportive of abortion rights.
As a social worker, I stand firmly behind this conclusion: Birth control is not harmful or evil. Separating sex from marriage is not harmful or evil. Having children you can't afford to feed is harmful and evil.

Belfry Bat said...

Dear Anonymous,

... Catholicism isn't anti-planning, either; it's just we have convictions about how to execute the plans.

Asking for, trying to make children that you can't afford to feed... yes, that is harmful and evil. Pretending at the same time that you're not asking for children, that is compounding evil with deceit. Pretending that you can do the work of trying to have children because somehow it's fun, without meaning it, without even acknowledging the possibility and committing to it, is compounding evil neglect and deceit with more evil neglect.

the anonymous Bat.

Andrea said...

Dear Anon, what is good and right doesn't really have to do with what the majority supports or desires. It's an objective outside of people's whims. Just because people are already having sex and living together before marriage doesn't make it the right thing for society.

So you've made a conclusion as a social worker that birth control is fine and sex is not for creating stable families, but it seems like an emotional judgement as opposed to a logical one. Maybe you don't see our society as broken, and if you do, I imagine you have very different ideas than I do as to how it should be fixed.

Maybe you see poor families with lots of kids who are broken and dysfunctional. Well, I've seen poor families with lots of kids who can pretty much just cover the basics (food, shelter, clothing) and the kids are intelligent, talented, and beautiful people.There is nothing in Church teachings that say you have to have more children if your family is starving. But it's pretty amazing to see how God has helped to get these poorer families through tough times. Poverty is sad and unfortunate, but it is not a sin to be poor. And no matter how many kids there are, all poor families deserve help and compassion, not judgment. Birth control really isn't some sort of prevention against poverty. We will likely always have poor people because we live in a broken world. We just have to be there to help them, in body and soul, and give them good information.

My comments weren't meant to reflect the current reality of women's lives. I know how messed up society is and I'm not about to encourage it's current path. They are about ideally where our lives could be.

Sheila said...

E, for sure a lot of people in and out of the prolife movement have control issues. Humans want to control, it's kind of how we are. As I wrote recently, though, both trying to control *too much* and not trying to control *enough* can both be problems!

Certainly people in this thread have been quite willing to admit that they don't just want to stop abortion, they also want to stop people from having sex. I feel a lot better about trying to influence the former behavior than the latter, because abortion is assumed to involve another person, and the other does not. And one can try to reduce abortion in ways that don't overrule another person's free will, whereas I don't think you can do that much with sex.

That is very sad about your friend with the miscarriage. I know that some women are pro-choice simply out of concern that women who have miscarriages could be legally blamed for them -- which has happened in some countries. (Even, oddly, the US. Why that should be so is beyond me.) But biologically there is very little difference ... the real difference is whether the woman is in any way in control. Again, the lack of control is terrifying and can make it more traumatic, but at the same time it exonerates one from blame. A lot to think about.

Re: environmental pollution, I don't have the source just now, but my friend Meredith shared a study with me recently showing that contraceptives are a very minor contributer to the problem of hormones in waterways. A much bigger factor is plastics manufacture, since some kinds of plastic have chemicals similar to estrogen which have been deforming fish. And antibiotic residue -- more from livestock than from humans -- is an even worse problem, since it breeds resistent bacteria. Anyway, I think it can be a bit of a red herring, because the same people who say we should ban OC's don't also want to ban hormone replacement therapy for menopausal women, or for women with PCOS or other ailments. It's just sort of a question of whether you think the medication is worth the tradeoff.

Bat, do you agree that there are reasons why a married couple might be intimate besides wanting a child? Should a couple that wants five children only have intercourse five times in the course of their marriage (a few more, I suppose, for couples who are less super-fertile than my husband and I)? A couple that is already expecting, for instance, is not "asking for a child," but they might still have a reason to want to get close to each other.

Andrea, you say the Church doesn't require couples to have children when they are in dire poverty, but of course it's pretty hard not to, you know? I get the impression that you and your husband have been happy to let children come as they will (congrats, by the way) but if you'd ever tried to avoid pregnancy, you'd know it isn't all that easy. Like I've said here, I was trying to avoid, I followed the rules, and it still happened. Luckily we're not starving; if we were we'd be short of luck. And sadly I know many Catholic families thrown into crisis by repeated pregnancies they could not avoid. The Church frustrates me the way that it insists that sex in marriage is good and necessary, that situations exist when pregnancy would be imprudent, but never admits that these two goals conflict in any way or that NFP is not always effective. It's like saying, "You don't have to stay in the building. It might be on fire, in which case you certainly should leave! But, FYI, all the doors are locked."

Andrea said...

Yeah, often difficult situations can arise when trying to follow God's will. People will likely still get pregnant because, like you said, abstaining or practicing NFP is not easy. And that is where we have to help each other and create communities that help to support these families. And we have to trust that God will bring us through the hardships or at least that the hardships will have been worth it in the end.

God never promised us an easy life on Earth, and honestly, looking at the saints, my husband and I joke that we don't think we're ready to become saints quite yet ;) They often faced increased pain and suffering in doing God's will.

I'm sorry this pregnancy is likely scary for you and it's probably even more difficult as you have a difficult time trusting God right now. Heck, I believe everything the Church teaches and I still have a difficult time trusting God!

There are probably plenty of times my mother in law would have been justified in postponing pregnancy. They were pretty poor. But they struggled through and coming out of those hard times one can see the immense fruit that came of their sacrifices. Often we can't see the benefits or the positives in the moment. We can only see them in retrospect.

And living this life of taking children as they come, I can see more clearly why people without a perspective of the eternal would want to go without it and why they would run to contraceptives or resort to abortion. It's hard! It's tiring! If there doesn't seem like a benefit to the individual, why would they bother? If what is an objective good doesn't inspire them, they aren't going to care. I at least have the comfort of the beatific vision and a sense of purpose in my work, and that is what drives me. I'm honestly not the type that gets too sentimental about the cuteness of kids, although they can be very cute, they are also a ton of work! My main goal is raising children right now, even if another side of me sacrifices more intellectual and artistic pursuits. And those sacrifices can be hard to stomach sometimes, even when I do know the work is worthwhile.

Euthanasia is a good comparison. Why should someone have to suffer a painful death when they could just kill themselves? Because we are stuck functioning in a fallen world and we have no right to take a life purposefully. In the same way, why should a family have to experience more suffering because of an additional child? Again, we live in a fallen world and we have no right to impede the function of the sex act within a marriage. One could abstain of course, but abstaining comes with it's own sufferings. So we are left to reconcile suffering with a good God. And this is really tough for most.

Oh, and in regards to your question about intimacy, I think it is important that the main reason couples have sex is because they want to be bonded and united in that special way. If it's just because they want a child, I feel like that makes the sex act purely utilitarian. I don't think the unitive effects can be separated from the procreative. The procreative part is merely the technical side. This talk by Feser explains well why even though sex is essentially procreative, it doesn't mean you have to be thinking about procreation for it to be valid. That is why sex between infertile couples or during non fertile periods is still perfectly good.

Belfry Bat said...

... "to control others", or "to stop people from having sex" are very strong phrasings for wanting others to exert self-control, both in anticipation of possibly having children and in the face of the actual fact. I'm certainly not going to take up arms against and ... then you make me sound like a certain Monty Python sketch.

In the context of the conversation (facts about observed means to have it lots without having more kids), what I'm getting at is: having sex actually asks the body to get ready to conceive. Yes, I do understand (and believe and affirm) that there is more (lots more) to the root of the family than simply getting and raising up the bairns. Yes, I know that when things are working well the act can be immediately rewarding, and is very very propitious unto contented and peaceful feelings within the household. On the other hand, a fair number of us (perhaps a minority, but a respectable one) basically grew up without personal use of it, and yet enjoyed great friendships and got on very well with our families anyway.

Sometimes less of a thing (like salt, or sugar) makes it more enjoyable.

Andrea said...

To Belfry Bat,

The marriage act is a positive good in marriage. One does not need to moderate their affections for their spouse in this way, unless it is interfering with other duties and responsibilities. I think single people have a hard time grasping this because they have to deal with the burden of the passions as temptations. In a well ordered marriage, there really isn't as much burden, except maybe trying to keep it a priority while taking care of children! The marriage act isn't only immediately rewarding but a bonding tool between the couple that when well tended provides much fruit.

My two cents anyways. I'm super passionate about this topic, so that's why I chimed in.

Enbrethiliel said...


Bat, are you trying to control the phrasings? =)

But let me throw you a bone . . . It is possible to want others to exert self-control and not want to control them . . . and also possible not to care about whether or not others practice the particular virtue of self-control but still want to control them . . . and also possible to want to control others' practice of self-control. And the pro-life movement is a big tent, oder?

It belatedly occurred to me that my saying I could be "pro-life" because "I think women should not deliberately end the lives of their unborn babies" is a perfect illustration of how the pro-life movement has muddied the waters. All that says is that I'm anti-abortion. And as my friend has pointed out, anti-abortion is not automatically pro-life (and may be pushed to mean anti-miscarriage). It's the way Catholics who have only ever known the Ordinary Form will say that "the priest faces away from the people" in the Extraordinary Form, when the position of "the people" has absolutely nothing to do with the direction the priest faces in the EF. The idea and symbolism of facing the East is something they do not automatically pick up from the culture--just as being truly pro-life, as opposed to merely anti-abortion, is something people in the pro-life movement do not automatically pick up from their culture.

Sheila said...

Andrea, I have heard the explanations why the church doesn't allow birth control a million times. It sounds like a great ideal in general, but it doesn't seem to me that the perfect unity of union and procreation should overrule all the practical needs of the family. What about when there is a really, truly important reason to avoid? Poverty is one, and it's all very well to talk about how Catholics *should* pitch in and help -- they don't. Probably because there are just too many families in need and no one has the money to spare to help because they have so many kids themselves. But what about serious health problems? All the "building a culture of life" you want is not going to save the life of someone with a serious medical problem. I know a couple people in this situation and they live with constant fear and struggling marriages due to long abstinence.

But what gets me here is that you freely admit that foregoing birth control is extremely difficult even for Catholics, who have a spiritual motivation and comfort in doing it, and well-nigh impossible for other people --- and yet you think it would be appropriate to ban birth control for other people too! Don't you realize that trying to force people into having babies they don't want to have isn't going to result in the sort of blessings it produces for Catholic families who willingly consent to it? It seems a lot more likely -- even if abortion were illegal -- that people would hop online and order mifepristone to have the abortions they want. (This is, by the bye, extremely easy to do and someone offered to get some for me.)

About sex, I agree with Andrea more than Bat. When I was single, chastity was really not a very big deal. I simply went without, no problem. But trying to keep up a marriage without it is a different proposition. Marriage is extremely difficult as it is; spouses are by nature very different and they are in a position of high stress all the time, trying to take care of their families. When you are single and there is someone you are very tempted to sleep with, you limit your exposure to them. When you're married, you can't -- or you shouldn't. But yeah, picking fights with your spouse so you won't be tempted to have sex with them is an abstinence trick a lot of people (on purpose or otherwise) practice. Or sleeping in separate rooms, avoiding deep conversations, and so forth. The NFP books act like these things aren't temptations, but they are.

Bat, if you are saying "I personally think people should exert self-control," fine. If you're saying, "I want to ban birth control in the hopes that people have no choice than to exert self-control," then I think you are kinda trying to control people. Which, of course, since you're dealing with free-will-possessing individuals, is doomed to failure. People won't control themselves more because you take their condoms away. No matter how badly you want them to and how much sense it makes to you, it doesn't work that way.

E, I agree with your distinction between "pro-life" and "anti-abortion" entirely. And for many, "pro-life" is simply taken to mean "I want abortion to be illegal" and not "I don't want abortions to happen." That is, you might point out that various social conditions (the ability of employers to fire pregnant women at will, for instance) are encouraging abortion so that even if it were illegal, it would still be happening -- and they say, "Well, that's not my problem, at least the lives of the unborn would be on the books as protected by law." That's hardly a pro-life attitude, in my book.

Andrea said...

But allowing something that is wrong to justify a good can't ever work. So, we have to find other solutions that don't use a wrong to justify a right. And honestly, most people that make use of contraception are not in poverty. And if a family is currently in dire poverty, complete abstinence would be prudent until they figure out their situation. No one forces them to have a child. And our culture is so saturated with contraception and we still have abortion and poverty, so contraception isn't the answer to these issues. We need more people willing to get their hands dirty to help others.

There will be hard times that come with living out what is good. But like I said, no amount of suffering justifies doing something that is clearly wrong. I am getting the feeling you really just don't see contraception as wrong, and if that's the case, we are at an impasse in this conversation. My thoughts are going to be based on the fact that the use of a drug or device for contraception is intrinsically wrong and nothing can be used to justify it for that intention. It's pretty black and white to me. As black and white as abortion is murder. You seem to have a more grey idea of it's morality.

At one, point though, you did seem to have a firmer grasp of the issue. "I'd no sooner use birth control than I would take up bulimia, because it feels equally wrong to me. So, no, I'm not looking to get out of anything."

If you wouldn't wish bulimia on anyone, why would you want them to use birth control if they feel equally wrong? I guess you can say you no longer feel that way. Or maybe I misunderstood you. Or that you personally wouldn't use it but feel like other people should be able too. I have heard many say they are personally against abortion, but they won't stop other people from having one. And I imagine there were plenty of people that personally felt blacks were being treated poorly and as subhuman, but who were they to tell other people what to do?

There is a lot more to building a society than banning things that are wrong. Education and catechesis are huge. Giving people the proper support to live out this lifestyle is another. Morality has to be applied to civil law too. And when it's not, well, we get the current state of our country. But, honestly, contraception being banned is so far from reality at this point, there really is no point in talking about it.

We are fallen creatures in a fallen world. Sometimes we suffer when we do the right and good things. Christ suffered immensely to do a good for us. Sometimes we don't have enough for ourselves, but we still try to give what we can to others. Sometimes a mother gives up a loved career to raise her family. Sometimes someone dies trying to save the life of another or dies defending what is good. Sometimes a man chooses to starve to death instead of stealing food from his fellow man in a concentration camp. Sometimes a mother who has pancreatic cancer continues to care for her family and forgoes contraception even though she will likely die in the next five years. Sometimes we are called to be heroes within our everyday lives. We have to believe people can be heroic and help them along the journey.

Sheila said...

Birth control still personally squicks me out, I admit that. But I don't think it's "morally wrong" in the sense of, it ought to squick out everyone else the same amount. For some people it will wind up being harmful; for others, it allows them to get by and deal with what they need to deal with. So it's not quite like bulimia in that respect; though I still wouldn't physically force someone to quit being bulimic if they insisted it was really what they wanted. I'd talk to them about why it's harmful, for sure.

I think your black-and-white moral precepts are wrong. Even the Catholic Church doesn't say you should die rather than steal a loaf of bread! (It is not theft in this case because food rightfully belongs to the hungry.) I see human life as an absolute good; other good things are to serve that one absolute good. Many of the Church's rules serve human life and that's why they are good. Others serve human life and well-being in some circumstances and not in others -- and that's when I think a hierarchy of values would be of some help. Not dying is more important than not using a condom. That is what I believe. NFP is preferable to me and that's why I've used it for the past year and a half, but that was a learning experience for sure about just how difficult and ineffective it is. I don't think I would recommend NFP to anyone else.

I understand that Catholics believe their no-exception morality makes them more morally pure and praiseworthy than those who follow other moral codes. But to those outside, it looks a little horrifying that someone would sacrifice innocent life for something so much less important than life. That's why I sometimes think no-exceptions morality is more about never having to feel guilty or make difficult choices than it is about being good. Goodness becomes defined as "following a complex set of revealed rules" rather than caring about what happens to other people. Since I actually love my children, for instance, I don't think "how shall I raise them in such a way as not to break any moral rules," I think about their benefit. I don't think it's to their benefit to have an endless succession of siblings spaced as closely as ours have been (I know you disagree about that) and I'll do what I have to to achieve their benefit -- whether it's never having sex again or taking pills that make me feel like crap. Because they matter a lot more to me than my preferences.

Belfry Bat said...

How did I get involved in an argument about morals, again? Oh, yes, Anonymous made some sweeping claims about evil.

Now, are either Sheila or Andrea trying to make an argument that, within marriage, having sex without thinking about it is a good and holy thing? I don't think you are; but if that really is the intended upshot, ... well, I'd have to suggest one consider again.

That is all.

Andrea said...

Sheila, we have different foundations we are working off to make our conclusions, so we will likely remain at an impasse. :) And you seem to have some misconceptions about how the Church works. It serves human life sure, but in body and soul. I'm sorry you seem to have been jaded by your experience within the Church.

And to Belfry Bat, I'm not sure what you mean by not thinking about it... Like Sheila said, the usual problem in marriage is making sure your making love enough. One would rarely have a problem with an excess of love making while raising a family. The intended upshot is that sex in a well ordered marriage is equivalent to a bonding sort of affection. And you don't need to worry about showing that affection too often to your beloved.

Sheila said...

Andrea, I'm not sure if you know how superior and condescending you often sound. I know that the Church thinks it can save you from hell by following its rules. I'm not *confused* about that point. I just disagree because I don't see any evidence for the main premises. And while my experiences within the Church have sometimes been bad, that's not why I stopped believing, or I would have walked out of the Church for good by age 20. I know you feel bad that I don't believe, and that you also don't want to believe I'm a bad person, and of course you think my conclusions are wrong, so you've landed on an explanation of "doesn't really understand the Church's teachings and is nursing grievances." And that's not it at all.

Bat, do you have an argument why a married couple shouldn't have sex often, without a specific reason to? Or what amount of "thinking about it" is appropriate -- what are we supposed to be thinking about? It's kind of awkward talking about it, but I just don't really understand what you are talking about at all.

Enbrethiliel said...


We agree with each other on something entirely again?!?!?!?!?!

***cue cartwheels***

I really think now that the "pro-life" label is so political that it can't really be applied outside the sphere of laws and activism. It really just means "anti-abortion" now and is not necessarily fed by what Catholics would call a "culture of life." As you point out, just because something is officially in the books, that doesn't guarantee anything about the hearts and minds of the people who live under the law.

Take the opposite scenario: Japan, where there are mourning rituals for miscarried and unborn babies that Japanese mothers have also performed for children they have aborted. There are special temples and ceremonies just for these babies--and to my culture shock, special rituals of purification for doctors who perform abortions. Yet despite abortion being perfectly legal and seemingly without stigma (an impression I got from my Japanese friends from uni), there is a greater sense of the terrible loss these babies have been to their families and to the whole country than I have seen in pro-life materials produced in the US.

If Japan focusses on the irreparable loss, the US seems to focus on whatever is most horrifying and brutal--whether it is an image of a dismembered baby or stats that show the racist side of abortion. It's paradoxically fixated on death. And frankly, I don't agree with the marketing of adoption as the best possible answer. As I've told you, I don't like the idea that parents (and children!) are interchangeable. Nor is it very pro-life either, if it tries to pretend that loss doesn't matter as long as there is a happy ending. Happy for whom???

Several years ago, I wondered aloud whether the man who was supposed to be my husband had been aborted before he was born, and a lot of well-meaning people rushed to assure me that that would never have happened. Oh, yeah? How do they know? Is this a fallen world or isn't it? (That question is directed at them; they were all believing Catholics.) I can't get over the woman who said, "Well, if he had been aborted, then he wasn't meant to be your husband." She would definitely describe herself as "pro-life," but that was a deeply anti-life thing to say: it devalued the lives of all aborted babies. As if they weren't meant to be important people, anyway. Not like we survivors. Also years ago, a woman I know who had had an abortion (which she deeply regrets to this day) shared a poem in which a middle-aged woman is given a ring by her children, with one stone representing each child, and realises that it could have had at least one more stone. People who tell me to stop mourning a death I'm not 100% sure of have a point . . . but they are also in the same position as those who tell adoptees to stop mourning the loss of their original families and cultures, because didn't they end up with loving parents and communities anyway?

I seem to have strayed too far from what we were originally talking about. Thanks for letting me ramble on, but I promise I won't be a distraction any longer!

Andrea said...

I think our temperaments must rub each other the wrong way. You come across as quite condescending to me in your wording as well ;) ) I'm not saying anything the Church doesn't already say but I guess I could flower it up more so it doesn't come across as so sterile in text? Well, not much more to say. The premises have plenty of evidence from my point of view. I'm not going by some blind faith in believing.

Belfry Bat said...

I don't know where you get the idea that I might be such a utilitarian about... anything, really.

Again, the start of this conversation is things people say about how-not-to-have-children, whether those sayings are true or false (in what senses).

On that particular question, how-not-to-have-children, I have been taught (by great authority, and therefore I take it quite seriously; and Anonymous wrote loudly against it, et.c.) that: If having a child is sufficiently-bad an idea, Then doing what it takes to have a child is also a rather-bad idea. (exercise: what is the contrapositive of that implication? what ISN'T in the contrapositive?) It would seem to follow, therefore, as with plenty of other things, that whatever the body wants, one's active will should still be moderated by reason. And that's the only thing I'm getting at.

One of the recurring responses I've been given to this basic and roomy principle is that, in marriage, this is difficult. And I believe you! Particularly, there are two free rational animals involved, who have to be in harmony on however they judge the prudential question. I don't think that really addresses the point, though, that when prudence is called for, it is (in fact) called for. When prudence isn't an issue, it isn't. Whether it is ("how much thinking", if you will) you know better than me.

So, are we or are we not talking about talking about not having children? Are we talking about something else?

Sheila said...

Well, you see, Bat, it IS difficult. I feel that permanently not-having-sex is extremely harmful to a marriage; that if you do it for more than a year and don't get divorced you're a hero. I read a comment thread full of people's experiences and only two couples had successfully abstained that long. One got divorced at the end and the other became atheists. Everybody else either got pregnant in terrible situations or gave in and used birth control. And I feel like you can't really identify this because you've never had to keep a marriage together.

Andrea, I've never criticized your choices or beliefs. If I got onto your blog and said, "I'm sorry you're so benighted by wishful thinking and your fear of death that you cling to irrational beliefs," that would be condescending. (I don't think that, by the way.) *Apologizing* to someone for beliefs they have, while making up reasons why they have those beliefs, is condescending because it assumes you know more than they do about why they think what they think and that you see them as to be pitied. I know you think I'm to be pitied; it's rational given your beliefs, but it's not nice to say so.

E, I appreciate your rambles. :D I disagree with you only because I don't think there's one destined spouse for everybody; I think you really do choose. If I hadn't married John, I might have found some other guy, and I might or might not have been happier with him. I see that as immaterial because I *did* choose John. Sometimes people don't get married because they prefer being single to marrying the kinds of guys who wanted to marry them; sometimes no one asks, but that's on the guys who didn't ask.

I just don't think much in terms of meant-to-be-ness. Though I must say, sometimes it works for me. I was very much at peace thinking of our family as a three-kid family. I had a whole future in my mind of our three-kid family and how it was going to work. But now that it's apparently going to be a four-kid family, I had to readjust. First I thought "my three-kid family is ruined." But then I thought, maybe we were *always* going to be a four-kid family so there is a whole future out there with a four-kid family in it and I just didn't know before! Of course I don't really believe that the four-kid family was *actually* meant to be; I think if I'd made some slightly more cautious choices we'd have a three-kid family and it would have been great. But the timeline has changed, there is now a four-kid family in my future (unless, of course, this one dies or has already died -- the first trimester is always touch-and-go) and so I can find comfort in thinking of that four-kid family as "meant to be."

But that doesn't mean I'm allured by the idea that we were REALLY meant to have five kids and so I should have them. That's still not a fixed point in time so I feel quite all right about attempting to avoid it. It's not like kid #5 is out there in the ether wishing to be conceived; I don't feel that I owe anything to him or her.

Andrea said...

So, your first comment to me after I agreed with you it's silly to distort stats and how they get away from the real reasons was "Andrea, are you saying it's not important how many babies die provided that things against natural law are banned?"

That seems like quite the logical gymnastics based on what I had said and is very accusatory. It's a very weird way to start any type of discussion and a good way to put someone on the defense at the get go.

I guess you interpret me defending my beliefs upon your instigation to be offensive? And the emotional argument about life being hard sometimes just isn't a convincing one for me to override the logical basis for contraception being wrong. So I can't in good conscience validate your claims that contraception could be good. Hard times may decrease the personal responsibility for using it, but it doesn't convert contraception into something acceptable.

But, yeah, it's your blog, so you may do what you like. I found the conversation interesting and it got me thinking, so I continued commenting. I like some intellectual challenges between mushy mom brain.

Sheila said...

The only thing that offended me in this conversation was the "I'm sorry" line. I don't mind vigorous debate by any means, but I don't like the pitying stance or assumptions about why I think what I do.

My question to you was an honest one, for clarification. I said that not banning birth control is a good idea because it reduces abortions. And you said that you still thought it should be banned because it's against natural law. So I wanted to know, is the natural-law reasoning *more important* to you than reducing abortions? And I'm not really clear on your answer, still. It seems that since you believe not breaking moral rules is more important than saving life, your answer would be yes; but on the other hand, you aren't really serious about banning birth control in the here-and-now, and perhaps that is because you know if it were done it would lead to an increase in abortions.

Andrea said...

Even with birth control quite available, we still have plenty of abortions. And even one baby dying being murdered is too many. I think if abortion and birth control were banned, we would likely still have people getting both illegally, but there would be less abortions overall than we have now. But part of what I'm trying to get at is even if people ended up trying to kill more babies, it still wouldn't justify throwing contraception at them. Stats don't make a thing right or wrong. A more wholistic alternative solution would be to educate them and help them to do what they need to to carry the child are care for him/her.

Both contraception and murder are against the natural law. Banning things against natural law would include banning things like abortion. People can still know it is wrong to murder without religious explanation. And in the same vein, people could still know contraception is wrong without any religious explanation. When I say moral or immoral in these cases, it just applies to a right or a wrong based on natural law, not based on theology. Natural law speaks of what is right or wrong (moral/immoral) based on the good of the whole organism and its purpose.

I can talk hypothetically about banning things about the natural law, but as I said before, I don't know practically how that would be carried out. One doesn't want a dictator banning things left and right without a process. And I don't know what it would take to get a society to that point, especially a society like ours. The morality is black and white in this issue, but the practical application in society is not.

Andrea said...


I've had interesting discussions with those with homosexual tendencies about natural law. One man I read about came to the conclusion that he should not indulge in his homosexual inclinations based on natural law alone. And then he converted to Catholicism after that as the philosophy meshed with what the Church has always taught. Others who are in the lifestyle have asked me, well what bad comes of living a homosexual lifestyle? And the hard thing is that the benefits of following the natural law aren't linked to a sort of feeling of happiness or feel more satisfied. It just boils down to being what one is supposed to be and using one's faculties in a way that makes sense.

To clarify with this guy's quote who studied the natural law on his own to find out about homosexuality:

"Taking the homosexual, having an orientation toward one's own sex would clearly have a detrimental effect on the human male's ability to reproduce (and probably do other things). As such, it would clearly count as a defect, and it would likewise be "bad"---or someone with that characteristic would represent a bad example of a human.

What the modern world has done, I think, is replaced this metaphysical, objective sense of flourishing with some vague sense of "happiness." A homosexual is "happier" when he has sex with other men, so this counts as his sort of flourishing, so he should have sex with other men. They wouldn't take this to its logical extreme, of course. They wouldn't say a pedophile is happiest having sex with children, so he should have sex with children. They would then bring in an arbitrary standard that you shouldn't "hurt anyone else," but then some other argument is doing the real work. And they probably wouldn't even agree with it in principle if pressed. An alcoholic (which is probably a genetic disposition) may be happier when he's drop-dead drunk all the time (he's miserable when he's not drinking), but it would clearly be perverse to say that it's "healthy" and "good" for him to feed his habit. His flourishing is outside of himself. It is simply an objective question. Just like children may not be happy eating their vegetables (and I imagine there is a genetic predisposition for children to dislike vegetables and like sweets), it is still objectively good for them to do so."

Andrea said...


And I guess what I mean to say with that little aside is that natural law is a hard sell in a day and age of "What am I going to get out of it?" Good for the sake of what is good is no longer reason enough. People have redefined what constitutes good and bad. Now a days, it is "good" for the homosexual to be "happy" and that happiness is a self defined one. And if one denies them their self defined happiness, one must hate them...

So, you believe not banning birth control is okay because you don't see it as something black and white "immoral" or that it serves a greater good in preventing more abortions (and I don't really understand this reasoning anyways because people are still having abortions and so what logic does one then use to convince people abortion is wrong?) And, so, I would gather you disagree with how natural law operates. (Correct me if I'm wrong). And, if that's the case, our discussion really should be whether or not natural law has any basis in reality. If natural law is something real, then contraception would be immoral. If natural law is false, then what logic are we operating on to decide if contraception is okay or not? I'm just trying to figure out what system you are operating on to come to your conclusions. Hard thing in blog post comments is we don't tend to work in any systematic way for explaining ourselves and I think I should have started with saying that I am convinced by natural law and thus such and such always applies... And then if you are not convinced by natural law, then our conversation either necessarily ends or we debate natural law.

I'm still learning how to systematically and efficiently get my points across, as you can see by my wall of text. Anyways, I doubt you want to get into a time consuming natural law debate, but if you do, I'm game! :)

Andrea said...

Oh, and I just realized I could be misinterpreted when I said "one must hate them". I wasn't saying that one should hate them, of course, I was saying that one is often accused of hating them if they deny them their particular "happiness" :) I have to be careful with my wording! Oof!

Sheila said...

Short answer: no, I don't believe in natural law. I've never been convinced by the arguments in favor of it; it seems a post-hoc way of trying to justify rationally what people never would have figured out in the first place without revelation. And you never find someone who believes in natural law who isn't either Catholic, or halfway to becoming Catholic.

You see, without a creator, why should there BE laws? Natural law is based on teleology, and only created things have a telos. A car has a purpose because we created it for one, to drive. But a tree just IS. We can use it for different things without "misusing" it. If people were not created by an intelligent designer, we can decide for ourselves what we want our purpose to be.

As I pointed out in my naturalistic fallacy post, if evolution is the creator, we shouldn't feel at all bound to do what it wants. It wants us to survive and have a million babies and does not care if we are happy or make beautiful art. Those are extra things humans care about on our own. (Morality itself is a separate case -- there are reasons why evoluton would develop morality in people, but that's not IMO the *reason* why we should be moral. We should be moral because it's good for us.) So in a world where God did not make us with a rule book, there is no real way to know how we ought to act except what is *good* for us, as a society and a species.

With all of this, I feel like Catholics' argument that natural law is universal because it can theoretically be known with the light of human reason is just false. The Church also says that you can know the existence of God with the unaided light of human reason, but it's an observable fact that people don't reach that conclusion, even when it's explained to them by Catholics who supposedly know the right arguments. What is the point of something being "knowable without faith" if nobody without faith actually knows it? I think the scholastic monks who made those arguments just weren't very good at getting outside their own worldview and thinking about what people who didn't share their beliefs might think.

But let's ask some questions to see if we can pry into the heart of what you think the natural law is:

*Is it okay to drink Diet Pepsi or chew zero-calorie gum? You're satisfying your cravings for food, but without nourishing your body.
*Is it okay for a very overweight person to have their stomach stapled so they can lose weight?
*My friend in high school had a thyroid condition which made her grow abnormally tall. She had her thyroid irradiated so she would not grow so tall. Is that wrong?
*Mouths are for talking and eating. Is it still okay to use them for kissing and singing, even though neither helps our survival?
*The reproductive organs exist to keep the species alive and pass on our genes. Is it okay not to use yours at all, because of a vow of celibacy?
*Through studying the feet, it is possible to learn that human feet weren't meant to wear shoes -- it's better for them to be barefoot. But you love heels. Is it okay to wear them?
*Mankind evolved not eating wheat or dairy. Is it wrong to eat those things?
*Breastfeeding is natural. Is it a sin to give a baby a bottle?
*Is it okay for married spouses to have sex that's more pleasurable than required for reproduction?
*If you have a gluten sensitivity, is it okay to eat "fake" food that's supposed to taste like wheat bread and noodles?

If you can explain the distinctions here, as you see them, it might shed some light on exactly what you think can be proven with natural law. Can you draw a line that forbids what is forbidden and allows what is allowed without referring to Catholic doctrine?

Enbrethiliel said...


I can see why my wording made it seem like I believe that the future is set, but if someone were destined to do something, then how could he have also been aborted?

What I have is more of a sense that the world is missing a lot of people, and not necessarily just because of abortion. In the case of adoptees who will never know their biological families, the loss of relationships and sense of connection can be just as bad. What I see as anti-life is the idea that someone who was lost in the past ceases to matter to the present and the future. The loss of someone before he is even born can have as wide an impact as an active life that lasts a century. We can't just erase each other.

Sheila said...

It does sort of raise the question of, if God knew he was going to be aborted, why he would destine him for you, you know?

I remember, when I was first married, thinking that human decisions should have no part in deciding if there are to be new humans or not. It just seemed too important to me, and what if I made the wrong decision and a person who was supposed to exist never did? But I had to get rid of that idea because, of course, human agency *always* has a role in whether there are new people. Someone close to me was born out of wedlock, and while I'd never say "I wish you weren't there," at the same time, I wasn't about to go conceiving kids out of wedlock on purpose!

But you are right that even a very short life matters. Relationships that are broken off still affect you. I don't really want to have a fourth child, but though it was suggested that I give it up to another family that DID want a child .... well, I wouldn't be able to help being attached to it and wanting to keep it. Kids aren't sprockets that can easily get swapped out.

Belfry Bat said...

I really don't know how to put this any more differently in the hopes of finding clarity somehow... but you seem to keep deriving conclusions about what I think that are far beyond anything I've written. I never suggested absolutely abstaining for a year, for instance. A particular sort of physician might in particular circumstances suggest just such a thing, but I can't imagine particular such particulars... I merely note the tendency (on which several industries are built today) of certain things to get the brain stem to short-circuit the wordier parts of the brain, and also that it's possible, and often enough a good thing, to resist that tendency. Sometimes the result of the thinking, quite legitimately, is "go for it!"

I'm also left wondering what happens to a family when the father is a soldier and finds himself deployed somewhere impossible for an absurdly long time. Because that happens a lot. That happened a lot in WWII, and ... we really haven't recovered, have we?

But I also don't want to get stuck in a repeating cycle of trying to correct impressions about what I mean and what I insinuate (or don't). So. If there's something you think I'm getting at in this note but haven't straight-out said, you needn't answer that.

Andrea said...

Hey Sheila,

I'll probably end up taking a few days to answer you because I want to make sure I am thorough yet concise in my answer (and I'll be stealing moments here and there between daily stuff). There are really good sources I have that answer your objections quite well, as the things you raise tend to be the objections most have who haven't looked at teleology or natural law in depth. So, I'm going to try to pull the relevant stuff out of the sources I have, because, unless you have a burning interest in these topics, you're likely not going to want to read a book on them. I know how little time we moms get for intellectual reading and digestion. I'll do my best to get to the point with each objection.

Thanks for letting me know where some of your qualms lie. It helps to know where you are coming from.

Sheila said...

Andrea, I went to Christendom so you don't need to start at 101 here. I *have* looked at teleology in depth *and I disagree.* I just want to hear your opinion, without a lot of philosophical terms of art.

Bat, you can be very hard to understand sometimes. For instance, it *sounds* like you are saying the following:

"If you're using total abstinence and it's not working out for you, you should just have a baby because any cases where that would be a sufficiently bad idea are rare. Anyway when soldiers are deployed the spouses have to abstain, though of course that's bad for the family then too." But I'm not *entirely* sure that's what you're saying, because there's something about your phrasing that always seems a little ambiguous!

In the cases I'm speaking of, these were cases of a combination of "NFP is not possible due to a physical issue" and "wife will die if she gets pregnant." These cases happen. The fact that they're rare is not a whole lot of comfort to those who experience them.

And for my own mental health, I just cannot bear to do this again, or even to contemplate the possibility that it could ever happen again. I can't make you understand why this is. It's a complicated interplay between the depression I've had in pregnancy and postpartum, the sapping of energy that makes it impossible to accomplish any of my goals or do anything fun with my children, the feeling of powerlessness over my own body, the sensory overstimulation that makes my nerves jangle All. The. Time with the kids incessantly around and making noise, the way my husband feels he never gets a chance to even talk to me because the kids demand so many things, the frustration he feels when he has to spend all his time working to support the kids so that he never gets to be WITH them, the way he wept when we found out we were expecting this one. None of these individually is a "grave reason" but when you combine them together, it adds up to a strong feeling of certainty that I can't do this again. Not for years, at least, but probably not ever. And I have just gotten evidence that NFP does not work for me. I can't trust it anymore.

So abstinence is what I'm looking at right now. For the next 15 years or so. It's not a very happy prospect but it sounds a lot better than having another child.

Enbrethiliel said...


At the risk of reading something into what you're saying that you probably didn't say (the fun game we're all playing in this thread!), that's the same anti-life sentiment the pro-life woman tried to comfort me with. It's saying that if God knows someone will be aborted, He should give him a calling no higher than cannon fodder. It's almost Calvinist.

I find it ironic that you've named your own choice as the deciding factor in whether or not someone has value to you. Of course our choices play a huge role in how things turn out, but what I'm suggesting is that if John had been aborted and you never could have chosen him, two things could be true at the same time: a) you'd be just as happy with another man and other children; and b) there would be a John-sized hole in your life and in the world. Which is not to say I think you and he are "destined." But this is really the sense of loss abortion leaves me with.

Sheila said...

See, it's weird actually, because John is an Irish twin. I don't believe in spacing one's kids that closely, so if my MIL had followed the sort of advice I usually give, she would have skipped over having him altogether. But, of course, I can't travel back in time and give her that advice, so it's sort of a moot point. John exists and I'm glad he does. But the child that could have been wedged in between Marko and Michael if I hadn't breastfed? That child will never be. I don't think there's a spouse out there waiting for that child, because that child was never *going* to be.

I think, coming from your perspective, what I would say is that God can give a good plan to a short life. Even if it's just taking on some suffering for his parents, or interceding for them in heaven. But it would be silly for God to give a plan to someone that he knows that person can't fulfill. I mean, that's like saying "if ONLY I hadn't been abused by Regnum Christi, maybe I'd have been more open to the religious life -- I missed my vocation!" But that's acting as though God didn't know at the outset the evil that would be done to me and wasn't able to work it into his plans. Perhaps his plan instead was that I would use my experiences to counsel others in similar situations (as I do). Assuming that God's plan doesn't factor in the evil that people are going to do would assume that he has no plan for most of us because the world has gotten so off the rails since the Fall that it probably bears very little resemblance.

Here's a question for you though: if God sees that there would be a specific-person-sized hole in the world if a certain baby is not born, why doesn't he give that baby to parents who won't abort them?

[Off topic: I think your comment triggered something in my brain because I had an absolutely heartbreaking adoption dream last night. I dreamed I adopted a baby but then her parents wanted her back. I gave her back but the rest of my life grieved that baby who had felt like part of our family. Then I woke up sad.]

Enbrethiliel said...


I'm sorry about the bad dream. =( Now I'm half tempted to share one of my own with you, because it's related to marriage and pregnancy, but if it seeps into your subconscious as well, I'll beat myself up!

Before I answer your question, I think it's worth pointing out that you and I see the world so differently that I already know my answer isn't going to fit frame through which you see things. (That shouldn't sound condescending. I have a frame, too!) My thoughts here go beyond abortion: I think holes are left by *every* death, inasmuch as death is only with us because of sin. So someone who dies of cancer despite doing everything humanly possible leaves a hole, too--just not as haunting a hole as what he would have left had he been aborted. And I wouldn't hesitate to say he would have had a greater "destiny" as well, had he lived longer.

I think there was a "Plan A" that came before the Fall and that isn't erased by the "Plan B" we've had to go with instead. (For instance, we know that Mary's place in Heaven was originally Eve's.) But as wonderful as Plan A would have been, the new earth of Plan B will ultimately be more beautiful. As sad as it is that some people are lost to us in this world, at least they are not lost in eternity.

So why did God give a specific baby to someone who would abort him? Because Plan A was that she wouldn't, and Plan B is that even if she does, good can still come out of it for her, for the baby, and for all of us. Like that alternative short plan you sketched out. And then, still under Plan B, someone else can grow up to cure all kinds of cancer.

And I guess this is my segue to saying what I should have earlier: that even if "Husband A" died, that doesn't mean there can't be a "Husband B." And yes, someone has already asked, with extreme exasperation, why I can't just believe B is A and stop mourning a death I can't even be sure happened, of someone I haven't even met. =P The answer to that is simply that I can't shake it. I've been making reparation for my never-to-be mother-in-law for years. Perhaps that is the only Plan B for her and me.

Finally, I want to add that I'm really just thinking about souls that *are*. If a baby didn't really get conceived, of course there was no plan for him!

Sheila said...

Fair enough, E.

Andrea, if you ever come back, I wrote a newer post just about natural law, so please direct your replies there. :D

Andrea said...

Ok! I answered your comment to me here over in that post.

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