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October 23, 1999
Column #947

POPE PAUL VI: RIGHT ON CONTRACEPTION

     Confession time. I was brought up Catholic and attended weekly Mass through my college years, but I became a Protestant at age 22 in 1963 in part because I did not believe in the Catholic Church's position on birth control.

     As a TIME correspondent in South America, I saw massive poverty of families living in shacks, in part because they had too many children. The population of the world was already 3 billion, and the population bomb seemed explosive. It seemed reasonable for families to plan the size and spacing of their children. I could see no practical difference between artificial contraception and natural family planning, except that NFP was less effective.

     When Pope Paul VI issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae, (Of Human Life) in 1968, many had hoped that he would legalize the already widespread practice of using ''The Pill.'' When he  reaffirmed traditional Catholic opposition, millions of Catholics flouted his position. By 1977, a Gallup Poll found that 73 percent of Catholics said one could be a good Catholic and ignore the Pope. I thought it more honest to be a Protestant.
 
     The population of the world is now 6 billion, but I have changed my mind about birth control. In retrospect, Paul's Humanae Vitae was prophetic in saying that widespread use of contraception would lead to ''conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality.''

     Certainly, that's happened. Since the Pill began to be sold in 1960, divorces have tripled, out-of-wedlock births jumped from 224,000 to 1.2 million, abortions doubled, and cohabitation soared 10-fold from 430,000 to 4.2 million.

     The Pope predicted man would lose respect for woman, considering her ''as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion.'' Surely the ''Playboy Philosophy'' became widely accepted. Ironically, feminists have attacked the Catholic Church for its ''alleged disregard to women, but the Church in Humanae Vitae identified and rejected sexual exploitation of women years before that message entered the cultural mainstream,'' writes Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput.

     One sad result: 40 percent of U.S. children do not live in homes with their father. Never has there been such an abandonment by fathers of the women they impregnated and their kids.

     Pope Paul also prophesied that contraception would mislead human beings into thinking they had unlimited control over their own bodies. Indeed, the Supreme Court's decision to allow contraceptives to be sold was cited as justification in a later decision legalizing abortion. Now scientists are at work to clone human beings, which Congress has refused to outlaw.
 
     Contraception is constantly trotted out as the answer to abortion and illegitimacy, with $715 million spent by the Federal Government on it despite a rise of out-of-wedlock births from 4 to 32 percent of American babies born.

     Isn't a generation of failure enough to question these outlays?

     Why has contraception induced lower rates of morality?

     Throughout history, some have committed adultery. ''However, a tremendous deterrent from doing so, if not the main deterrent in most cases, was the fear of pregnancy. Hmm, now what might happen if this natural deterrent were to be taken away through widespread availability and cultural acceptance of contraception?'' asks Christopher West, Denver Archdiocese's Marriage & Family Life Director. Of course, infidelity increases.

     Similarly, the fear of pregnancy limited premarital sex. Take that fear away, millions more will have sex out of wedlock. And when pregnancy occurs, more resort to abortion or have babies out-of-wedlock. Those children grow up in fatherless homes, and are more likely to become sexually promiscuous as they grow older, or criminal compared to those nurtured in intact homes. The sins of each generation are compounded in the next.

     Even evangelicals are reconsidering their once solid support of contraception. The Family Research Council just published an article, ''The Empty Promise of Contraception,'' which notes that Japan is about to legalize the sale of the Pill. The impact ''may be more ominous for this traditional and family-oriented country than public officials realize,'' predicts Teresa Wagner.

     One surprising reason: ''The Pill today prevents even fewer pregnancies than it prevented 30 years ago.'' The Pill used to suppress ovulation through a heavy dose of a synthetic estrogen. But that often caused nausea and weight gain. So drug companies reduced estrogen and added progesterone, which is less effective.

     Result? Half of all pregnancies are still unintended in the U.S. as ''18 percent of couples who use condoms and 12 percent who take the Pill become pregnant within two years,'' reports Family Planning Perspectives. Half of those seeking abortions were using birth control!

     Pope Paul VI prophesied much of this back in 1968. Even Catholics should pay attention.

Copyright 1999 Michael J. McManus.

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