Mother Teresa said: “Once living love is destroyed by contraception, abortion follows very easily.” Will this be the case in Malta? What is the evidence that contraception encourages abortion? The figures are strongly suggestive.
In the US, oral contraceptive use started in the early 1960s and reached a plateau of about 10 million users by the early 1970s. Abortion started to increase about 10 years after the introduction of ‘the pill’ in 1970, and reached a peak of 25 per cent of births about 10 years later. The steep increase of abortion mirrors the rapid uptake of oral contraceptives 10 years earlier.
While this does not prove a causal connection, the link is very plausible for several reasons: the contraceptive culture encourages sex outside of marriage; contracepted sex is presumed to be protected from pregnancy; unanticipated pregnancy often causes a person to resort to abortion; and abortion has become a method of contraception, with 37 per cent of abortions in the UK in 2012 being repeats, 4,500 women having at least four and 33 women terminating nine or more pregnancies.
Abortion is not just a women’s issue. It is a major, lucrative industry, as well as a huge social and political issue, and both women and men are involved. What is difficult to understand, however, is how entrenched those who are pro-abortion are in denying the rights, life, individuality and personhood of the unborn child.
This is despite clear, overwhelming scientific demonstration that a zygote has a full adult DNA complement at conception.
With the pill, we were able for the first time to regularly and reliably separate the unitive and procreative aspects of sex. On one hand this means being able to control when life is conceived. On the other, it potentially turns the marital act of starting or increasing a family into a new, risk-of-pregnancy-free, genital, recreative pastime.
These two changes together must have a huge effect on the human pysche. This likely includes effects on self-perception of our power over life, effects on how free people feel they are to choose what they desire (autonomy) and on the very meaning of sex and procreation.
John Paul II stated that the danger with contraception is that it puts personal fulfilment at the centre of life’s meaning and fosters a self-centredness divorced from truth. Neurobiological research into the effects of the pill is in its infancy, but several worrying effects have been found, including, somewhat predictably, changes in reward processing by the brain. (Reward is the motivational property of a stimulus that induces pleasure.)
St Augustine believed lust has a strong subconscious power to undermine the direction of our wills. He used the image of a rider on a horse to explain how conscience steers our free will. At the base of the will is an innate drive to love and justice. A second level of the will then selects specific desires, as goals to pursue. A rational third level of the will identifies different courses of action to achieve its goal.
Finally conscience judges whether the chosen act should proceed (the free-will component) and an action is carried out. If a significant section of society accepts even subconsciously that recreational sex without procreation is a new, desirable goal, this will very likely tip the balance of the will. The ‘horse’ thinks it is riding straight but in fact it will be turning off course.
Conscience is also multilayered. At the base of conscience are moral values common to all humans. Any specific moral code that has been taught (as in a religion) is superimposed at a second level. Then at a third level are the norms of at any particular time or society (which are changeable).
Conscience is therefore going to be affected in a major way if what used to be morally wrong is now accepted. This will particularly affect those who have never been taught a clear moral code or have been brought up in the contraceptive age.
So with habitual contraception, the rider is not controlling the horse properly, and anyway, the horse is veering off without the person knowing. Although this is a simplistic analogy, it explains how a goal of the will might subconsciously be switched to sexual enjoyment rather than to welcoming the life of the child that comes with sex.
It would not be a large step to see an unborn child as unimportant and as a barrier to our desires or will. Contraceptives are therefore likely very powerful manipulators of how we act as a society and how free we feel to choose – and not simply a method of preventing a pregnancy. They may be turning our wills against the vulnerable unborn without us knowing it.
Women’s groups in the US are beginning to realise how insidious their effects are and are voluntarily discontinuing them (quite independent of any religious teaching on the issue).
In Malta we have the advantage of fifty years’ research and knowledge on the pill, and we should not ignore its insidious, potentially devastating side effects.
Patrick Pullicino is a neurologist studying for the priesthood.