Contraception and the Family-Enemy Economy: the Common Evil

By Fr. Basil Cole, O.P.

In the 1870s, roughly three million Englishmen left farms and went to the cities to earn wages due to bad commodity prices and potential prosperity resulting from working in industrial jobs. However, wages were very low and rent very high and often families lived in tenements that lacked many amenities, such as water in the house. They became “wage slaves.” Thinkers distinguished between real wealth (owning what you produce) and token wealth (cash). However, this wealth was not able to feed, clothe and house a family very well because profit for employers trumped wages. For those married, the temptation to contracept was exceedingly strong to save one’s present family from the starvation that might have occurred if another child was conceived.

Leo XIII recognized in this encyclical Rerum novarum that the practical problems of family life at that time were based upon grave injustices to the working class caused by those who had the capital. Unbridled capitalism meant stockholders and owners of commercial factories earned exorbitant profits to the detriment of a family wage.

shoesFast forward to 2014, we can find a married couple living a frugal life. Poverty levels for one person was $12,701 and with a family of four was $24,200. One can expect that there would be variations depending on whether or not one was living in San Francisco (highly unlikely) or a small town in Texas. For a middle class family of four, depending on the city or town, income could vary anywhere from $50,000 to $100, 000+. Statistics do not give us all the details. However, housing, food, child care, transportation, healthcare, taxes and other necessities then (and now) make up the majority of the expenses necessary to run a household.

Given the disvalues of affluence and consumerism, young couples’ dreams are further fueled for a well furnished home, two cars, internet access, television, entertainment center, video games, eating out, splendid vacations—all these costs added to essentials or necessities of a home. In addition, there is often a lot of college debt to pay off, a mortgage, a need for health insurance, IRAs and investments for the future. With such a standard of living desired, how can this couple afford to have a “large family” or even two children? Thus, the contraceptive pill seems to solve this problem efficiently and easily in the short term by forgoing the expense of another child, even though medically (but not morally) the pill often produces harmful and expensive medical consequences later on for women. Green NFP also solves this problem, but it requires more personal discipline and a religious spiritual life. Pope Francis reminds us in Evangelium Gaudii: “The individualism of our postmodern and globalized era favors a lifestyle which weakens the development and stability of personal relationships and distorts family bonds (67).” Affluence, together with a consumerist mindset and lack of discipline, makes practicing NFP (instead of taking the Pill) seem more difficult than it is. So, marriage becomes a search for private goods and is humanly altered accordingly rather than seen as God created it to be as a lifestyle, seeking God based on sacrifice and communication, with openness to life.

Unbridled capitalism requires large populations, cheap labor, and disposable income. As birthrates fall, consumption also goes or will go down, though not always immediately, lessening the profits of companies. Also many companies may not be able to find many workers. Health care costs also rise because fewer young people will be able to fill the coffers of a government health insurance through taxation. We are closer to a worldwide financial crisis due in part to the decline in population in the West and other areas of the world. Unbridled capitalism depletes large families and as developed and underdeveloped nations continue to contracept and abort away future generations, labor and consumers which give corporations and families their profits will lessen if not disappear.

In some ways, the debt laden middle class couples of some countries have something in common with the poor in working factories and mines in the early 20th century workers in England, but have more toys to play with at present. Urging people to have larger families seems cruel with the present unhealthy human ecology of capitalism that requires both husband and wife in Western countries to work outside the home due to a non-existent living family wage.

Condemning contraception as an intrinsic evil and calling it mortal sin because it is an evil means of preventing conception is one piece for potentially remedying the social structure of sin ruining Western or Third world lifestyle and the culture is not sufficient for evangelizing the family. Social justice demands that public policy in any country must also reverse the ethos of an unjust economy by politically insisting that it serve the family first and then the stockholder and management. Furthermore, the nanny state, making it not only difficult to be creative in the job markets but also giving a civil a right to women to kill their offspring in the womb, only adds to the depopulation of countries and the increase in poverty or destitution.

Recently in Laudato Si’, Pope Francis has warned the world: “To stop investing in people, in order to gain greater short-term financial gain, is bad business for society” (128). It is also worse for the spiritual common good of a nation. As the economy and culture erodes in many countries, it becomes evident that only God can solve extraordinary problems facing the world disorder. The rest of us must do what we little we can by belonging to small associations, voting, and praying.

Father Basil Cole, O.P. is currently a Professor of Moral and Spiritual Theology, Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Father is also author of Music and Morals, The Hidden Enemies of the Priesthood and coauthor of Christian Totality; Theology of Consecrated Life. A native San Franciscan, Father has been a prior in the Western province of the Dominicans, a parish missionary and retreat master, and invited professor of moral and spiritual theology at the Angelicum in Rome.
Articles by Fr. Cole:

  • Ann Smith

    My son returned from a vacation in Japan and related that there are very few children observed when out in public. After several days of touring in and around Tokyo he and his friends spotted a child on the subway. They suddenly realized that they hadn’t seen a child in days. When I asked his thoughts on why the Japanese are not big on parenthood, he said that the work ethic is stronger than the family ethic there. Young women value their careers over anything else and do not want to lose their place on the corporate ladder by taking time off for parenthood. Remember that the Japanese have a strong cultural sense of competition. What children there are have been pressed to compete and succeed in school. Success is everything. Nurturing one’s human replacements, not so much.

    • samton909

      And that is why Japan went into a recession that they really have not yet come out of. No children, no economy. It’s all very simple.

      • Ann Smith

        Japan actually has a negative population growth according to the latest statistics. Astonishing.

  • Thomas Sharpe

    Father Basil,
    What about the effect of contraception and Catholic school?
    Since the collapse of teaching vocations which kept the cost down, the costs being passed on a per child basis and the embrace of private school with amenities by parents with one or two children. It has become increasing impossible for middle income parents with more than one or two children to afford private school.

  • samton909

    It is also important to note that women are more unhappy than ever before. This is proven by the largest, longest study of women’s happiness. It shows continual decline after they were forced to stop having children. Ever since the culture insisted they be men, they have become more and more unhappy.

    The inevitable logic of Laudato Si is that we should reduce population. The Pope can say he does not mean that, and include a contrary sentence or two, but that is the logical conclusion. So much of what he says is poorly thought out, logically inconsistent, or just a stream of slogans.

    • guest

      I wonder where all those unhappy women are? I don’t know any women so pressured into not having children that they are miserable. However, I have known a few miserable women who kept having rhythm babies. And they are a sorrowful lot!!! One of them in her sixties who had eight told me she had come to believe birth control was OK. I could describe others in their regret and sorrow for having babies they did not want to have, but what I’ve written here suffices to make my point. I have noticed” the women are increasingly unhappy” theory cropping up more often these days. Could this be wishful thinking to make a point? I favor the “urban legend” theory myself.

      • Thomas Sharpe

        Natural Family planning is effective; teaching fertility awareness and appreciation.
        Contraception literally means “against the beginning”, and has brought with it among other things: abortion and treating women like objects.

        Both can be considered birth control, but one is about no self control and not babies, the other is about babies and self control.
        “Choose this day…”

        • guest

          What women have to do to make NFP work is not one bit natural. Moreover, there is a phoniness in NFP. Few people are really open to having more babies after the age of @ 35, especially if they already have 2-5 children, the common range. There must be self control for the sake of the marriage relationship, no matter what kind of birth control is used. NFP is effective for some, only. Moreover, NFP is unjust for women on two counts: they must make the right call every month because it is their bodies under painstaking study, husbands help not withstanding; also, women must refrain from intimacy when they are most desirous for all their child bearing years except when a child is being planned. It is very self serving for any man to oppose contraception, something that has given women an opportunity for a fuller life. The worth of women goes far beyond childbearing.

          • Thomas Sharpe

            NFP is all about awareness and appreciation.
            A little bit of fasting puts spice in a relationship. Every month for honey moon.

            That is a common complaint that and NFP identifying the fertile time -it is also the time when women find sexual relations most desirable. Two points: 1. Men are always in this period of time. 2. It’s good for a man and wife to discuss how they’re doing -are we ready for a child now or are we not; woman’s fertile time does put that discussion on the table.

          • guest

            Your understanding of NFP and its application is painfully limited. If it were superior to all other methods it would have been popular years ago. Our parents and grandparents didn’t have much good to say about it, monthly honeymoon and all!

          • Thomas Sharpe

            You’re confusing Rhythm with NFP.

            Rhythm was based on a woman’s cycle not changing, counting days, guessing..

            NFP is about measurement and observation, and through that science “knowledge” of when fertility begins on a day by day basis and knowing when it ends.,
            Since Abstinance is 100% effective the accuracy of the method is the accuracy of measurement.

          • TheActualTruth

            I grew up around people using NFP (not rhythm) and went to one of those small orthodox Catholic colleges whose graduates almost always use solely NFP or no birth control at all rather than using contraceptives. The women I know largely consider the whole “honeymoon effect” bogus. This is not to say there aren’t any couples who experience it, but it certainly isn’t the norm among the many couples I know practicing NFP.

            Most of these faithful Catholic couples continue NFP for one simple reason: they are obedient to the Church’s teachings, not because it does all sorts of wonderful things for their marriages or because they have found it particularly effective to use in real life (solely due to human factors–clearly, the method is highly reliable: don’t have sex when you are fertile, and you are guaranteed not to get pregnant. In real life, however, missing or misinterpreting signs is not uncommon, no matter how highly the couple is motivated, especially if the woman has health problems that affect her cycle and fertility signs).

          • Thomas Sharpe

            NFP can be a Cross; but it does work, it does bring a couple closer together and there are benefits that are Out of This World.

            That’s TheActualTruth.
            Christ’s Teaching, not yours.

          • TheActualTruth

            The guaranteed benefit is following Church teaching and not going to hell. Pretty big benefit, I’d say,and that’s why most of the faithful couples I know continue to practice it. Not because they have found all those other benefits (honeymoon effect, feeling closer to each other, or reliability) so often touted by NFP promoters to be particularly true for themselves. That makes them no less faithful.

          • guest

            Wow! Who are you sending to hell? What is good for one person is not necessarily good for another, God knows. Following a rule to follow a rule or out of fear is not assign of spiritual maturity. If NFP makes one judgmental and condemning, it is not good for that one.

          • Thomas Sharpe

            There are two paths, one Life, one Death.
            Choose life.

            We do not know, cannot know a persons final destiny, but know the good road from the bad which is the road to hell.

          • guest

            Birth control, including contraception, is not the bad road to hell. It can be, and is, used badly by some. It is not bad of itself. It is a very positive good in marriage. Millions know this by personal experience.

          • guest

            You have made some good points here. I always appreciate a realist. Thank You!

          • Courtney

            My husband and I also use NFP – and it has not been a great thing for our marriage. It is definitely the thing we fight about the most. But we sacrifice together because it’s the right thing to do. As a result, I am SO grateful to hear you say that your experience of NFP hasn’t been all bliss. I just want to break down and cry every time I hear couples talk about how great it is for them to frequently abstain. Those couples always seem so smug and terrible – although I know that it’s my own cross that makes me see them this way. Anyway – thank you. I’m grateful to know I’m not the only one who really struggles with NFP each month.

          • guest

            I am not confusing anything. I have read all about the so called new and improved methods. What women have to do to make them work is not one bit natural. Moreover, I know lives have been ruined using them, sad stories I will not detail here. For many NFP is both stressful and unsavory. For those who find it useful, more power to them. But for others to each their own on this issue. BTW, NFPers have no monopoly on self control; it is necessary no matter what kind of birth control is used. A wise person once said if a teaching finds no echo in the hearts of the faithful, we can be fairly sure it is not an authentic teaching.

          • https://twitter.com/RooForLife RooforLife

            So true and now with NaproTechnology it can help treat womens problems like PMS, PCOD aka PCOD, endometrosis,post partum depression. How many know that if a woman has PCOD/PCOS
            ” In women who have PCOD, the incidence of gestational
            diabetes & pregnancy-induced hypertension is increased significantly.106-107 In fact, even the pre-existing
            diagnosis of infertility will increase the risk of pregnancy- induced hypertension in a subsequent pregnancy…p12
            For more info on NaproTechnogy if u have twitter #NaproTechnology
            The Creighton Model Fertility Care System is being used to save lives
            Is the Pill Medically Necessary? — An Introduction to Na-Pro
            Natural Procreative
            (NaPro) Technology uses fertility cycle charting, timed bloodwork, and cooperative hormonal therapy to address a number of women’s health issues including infertility, ovarian cysts, premenstrual syndrome(PMS), and irregular
            cycles http://youtu.be/DGLW9pKb1YA?t=3m7s

            The Creighton Model Fertility Care System is 99.5 effective at avoiding pregnancy 3:36 Pope Paul VI Institute: The NaProTechnology Revolution
            ~ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QwvQzfM6WJw

            Excerpt from Dr Hilgers book
            “The NaProTECHNOLOGY Revolution: Unleashing the Power in a Woman’s Cycle”~
            “Chapter 13~ Progesterone Support During Pregnancy
            Patients who have a previous history of spontaneous abortions, stillbirth, preterm delivery, premature rupture of the membranes, pregnancy-related induced hypertension or toxemia, or abruption of the placenta are considered candidates for the use of progesterone in pregnancy through the Pope Paul VI Institute protocol for progesterone support.”
            NOTE: spontaneous abortion is aka miscarriage

            2007 Spirit Catholic Radio “Your Fertility Care

            Consult” with Dr. Thomas Hilgers, founder of the Pope
            Paul VI Institute for The Study of Human Reproduction

            23 Shows covering Naprotechnology, Disturbing Trends in the
            Health Care 4 Women, Children & Families, Contraception, abortion, Women
            Healed (WH) of Infertility, (WH) Recurrent Spontaneous Abortion (miscarriages),
            (WH) Endometriosis,

            Show 17 (WH) Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD), (WH)
            Premenstrual Syndrome, Postpartum Depression, Prematurity

            Doctors & Physicians http://bit.ly/wevEZW

          • Thomas Sharpe

            Ever notice that the arguments against NFP are most often unscientific?
            “there’s just no way to observe and measure when fertility begins and ends in a woman’s cycle, there’s just – no way”

          • https://twitter.com/RooForLife RooforLife

            You’re welcome. Yes I do notice that

  • Elijah fan

    The prohibition on artificial birth control must be put in the extraordinary magisterium where it would have crystal clear, no doubt clarity. St. John Paul II did exactly that to abortion because he knew that the “universal ordinary magisterium” works only for non contentious issues. If you go to section 62 of Evangelium Vitae, you’ll see an infallible declaration against abortion with wording similar to the encyclicals on the IC and the Assumption but shortened. The Pope polled Bishops worldwide by modern means of communication and was thus able to get virtual unanimity on abortion, euthanasia and killing the innocent….all of which are now infallibly condemned per the second modality of the extraordinary magisterium within Evangelium Vitae. Did he do the same on birth control during that same poll? I’m sure he tried but did not get consensus of all Bishops if he did. That leaves the extra cathedra process to be done by some Pope for birth control. Ex Cathedra does not require the Bishops unanimous agreement. St. John Paul II had over twenty years to do that and he didn’t do it. Why…I have no idea. Until some Pope puts in the time into doing an ex cathedra encyclical on this, I suspect the 94% dissent will continue. It hasn’t helped that three Popes now in a row have circumvented Romans 13:4 and hundreds of Popes on the death penalty matter. They have dissented themselves on a perrenial issue with not one of them mentioning Rom.13:4 in the process. Is that a good example to the birth control dissenters? Hardly.

  • http://www.abortionclinicpretoria.co.za John Phiri

    women have always been abused sexually so teaching them about fertility awareness and and how to defend themselves in harsh situations is something i support on a daily basis.