Catholic Culture Liturgical Living
Catholic Culture Liturgical Living

The Contraception Misconception

by Natalie Hudson


This article explains the link between abortion and contraception and shows that "contraception" — an abortifacient — is NOT a solution to abortion, but rather part of the problem. The author states that, "Contraception alters our understanding of human sexuality by changing its purpose. The effects are far reaching and affect the way that we understand relationships, gender roles and the human person."

Larger Work

Right to Life News Canada

Publisher & Date

Right to Life Association, Summer 2004

Clearing up misconceptions is one of the primary roles of any educational pro-life organization. One of the most significant elements in the battle for a culture of life is to draw to people’s attention the fact that "contraception" is NOT a solution to abortion, but rather part of the problem.

The Link between Abortion & Contraception

When someone is newly educated about the abortion issue they may very well conclude that though abortion is a serious moral wrong, society should make use of contraception and "people should protect themselves". The idea is that contraception, and this includes the "morning-after pill" (MAP) or emergency contraception, would prevent recourse to surgical abortion. However, facts will show that contraception, as a means to reduce abortion, is having dire consequences on our population, particularly our youth.

The history of contraception is long and, for the most part, surrounded by controversy. Suffice it to say that the laws in most countries of the world recognized that legalizing contraception would not be in their best interest – that is, until the "Sexual Revolution". In Canada, the "birth control pill", was legalized in 1969, the same year that abortion was made legal. The following year, Canada Statistics reported 11, 152 abortions. Today that number is sadly 106,418. A ten-fold increase in abortions since 1970 has occurred during a period of unprecedented contraceptive use. The World Health Organization reports that "among Canadian women age 15–44, 86% report using contraception [the pill]".

The Contraceptive Mentality

The United States Supreme Court in the Planned Parenthood vs. Casey decision connected contraception and abortion.

". . . in some critical respects abortion is of the same character as the decision to use contraception. … For two decades of economic and social development, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail." 1

There is no culture or subculture in the world that has permitted contraception and then has not gone on to permit abortion.2 As acceptance of contraception increases so does acceptance of abortion. Why is this the case? Because at the root of contraception is the notion that a couple can engage in sexual activity and avoid its natural consequences. Couples who unintentionally conceive a child while using contraception are far more likely to resort to abortion than others.

Contraception alters our understanding of human sexuality by changing its purpose. The effects are far reaching and affect the way that we understand relationships, gender roles and the human person.

Contraception has historically been promoted as a means of women’s emancipation, yet ironically it has led to a much greater objectification of women. Women’s bodies have become a testing ground for pharmaceutical companies to reap profits from the myth that the natural consequences of sex can be avoided; women are put out of touch with their bodies as their fertility cycles become chemically controlled; and contraception can also be used to hide the evidence of abuse that is sometimes perpetrated among young or marginalized women.

The solution is to not run afoul of nature. The solution is to become sound moral agents in our decision-making. People rarely speak of the virtues in our times, but Aristotle wisely noted that happiness is found in a life of virtue. Freedom and happiness may be found in self-control and the exercise of the virtues like moderation, humility and generosity. With regard to human sexuality, that means having the generosity to say "yes" to human life. (This does not mean that every time a couple has relations they must conceive a child. Saying "yes" to life means being open to the possibility of new life even during the long infertile periods within the female cycle.) As Dr. Bernard Nathanson said, "it is not that contraception causes abortion; rather, both are caused by the perversion of autonomy — taking freedom and using it to stop rather than to welcome life".

Contraception: an Abortifacient

Contraception, in the form of the birth-control pill, is never able to prevent recourse to abortion because it is a form of abortion itself. The pill (including the morning-after-pill, the patch etc.) has two main actions. First, the pill acts to inhibit ovulation (a contraceptive action). It does this by suppressing ovulation through "tricking" the body into a simulated pregnancy. Once the body "thinks" that it is pregnant it will cease ovulation some of the time. As many as three or four times a year, breakthrough ovulation will occur and if the woman is sexually active, fertilization of the egg can occur. The second action of the pill is to alter the lining of the uterus for the purpose of preventing the newly conceived embryo from implanting (an abortifacient action). In the morning-after pill (emergency contraception) this abortifacient action "is probably the main mechanism of action of the morning-after pill". 3

The Fallout

Taking the possibility of human life out of the sexual act has lead to a false sense of "sexual freedom" and with it a neglect of the responsibility that ought to accompany sex. Our youth have borne the brunt of this change in attitude. The US Center for Disease Control states

"for a variety of behavioral, social, and biological reasons, STDs disproportionately affect adolescents and young adults.4 In 1997, females aged 15 to 19 years had the highest reported rates of both chlamydia and gonorrhea among women; males aged 20 to 24 years had the highest reported rates of both chlamydia and gonorrhea among men. 5 The herpes infection rate of white youth aged 12 to 19 years increased nearly fivefold from the period 1976–80 to the period 1988–94. 6 Indeed, because not all teenagers are sexually active, the actual rate of STDs in teens is probably higher than the observed rates suggest. 7

The World Health Organization (WHO) states that "the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) other than AIDS, in particular chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, is highest among youth and young adults in the 15–29-year age group." With regard to teen pregnancy, the WHO notes "between 1987 and 1994, the rate of teenage pregnancy rose by more than 20%." "The out-of-wedlock birth rate to sexually-experienced teens did not decline from 1988 to 1995, but actually increased 29%, despite a 33% increase in the use of condoms." 8

Failure rates of contraceptives (all methods) are significantly higher among unmarried teens and young adults.

"Failures are highest among cohabiting and other unmarried women, among low income, African-American and Hispanic women, among adolescents and women in their 20s. For example, adolescent women who are not married but cohabiting experience a failure rate of about 47% in the first year of contraceptive use. 9

Sexual relationships among teenagers can be the source of life-long pain and suffering. Not only do they live with anxiety about the possibility of an unwanted pregnancy or contracting a devastating STD, but their relationships are often fleeting and unstable, and the course of broken intimate relationships can have serious long-term developmental effects. A series of broken intimate relationships can seriously damage an individual's capacity to enter into a committed, loving marital relationship. In general, individuals who engage in premarital sexual activity are 50 percent more likely to divorce later in life than those who do not. 10

With more than 80% of women aborting being unmarried 11, it is not hard to see that extra-marital sexual relations are the leading cause of our shamefully high abortion rates. But the crack that broke the dam was contraception; making pre-marital sex feasible by apparently taking the possibility of consequences out of sex and taking responsibility with it.

The Solution

Imagine a culture where virginity was revered instead of ridiculed. Consider the effect of the media on our youth if it were to promote abstinence till marriage, and fidelity in marriage. Think what effect, say MuchMusic would have on our abortion rates if they stopped glorifying pre-marital sex and promoted a "Choose Life" ethic. It has been done, but not on our continent.

Uganda has been promoting chastity and fidelity under Yoweri Museveni’s leadership for the last decade to its citizens through mass media. Bill boards and radio stations have been using the "graze where you’re tethered" image to the largely agrarian population with astounding effects.

In 2002, Dr. Vinand Nantulya, an infectious disease specialist who helped to advise Museveni, co-directed a Harvard School of Public Health study of the Ugandan experience. "Ugandans really never took to condoms," says Dr. Vinand Nantulya. What they have responded to is a high moral standard of sexual responsibility.

By 2002 the number of pregnant Ugandan women testing positive for HIV antibodies had fallen from 21.2 percent at the height of the epidemic in 1991 to 6.2 percent. By contrast, in neighboring Kenya the rate is roughly 15 percent; in Zimbabwe it stands at 32 percent; and in Botswana fully 38 percent of mothers-to-be are HIV-positive--with rates continuing to rise in each country. Unfortunately, all of these countries continue to promote condom use as the main means of stopping AIDS.

The New Republic (May 2002) article that featured the Harvard study states,

"By far the most striking epidemiological feature of Uganda's success is the drastic reduction in multiple partnering by Ugandan adults. Among women aged 15 and above, the number reporting multiple sexual partners fell from 18.4 percent in 1989 to 8.1 percent in 1995 to 2.5 percent in 2000, according to Nantulya's colleague in the Harvard study, anthropologist Edward C. Green. Smaller but similar declines in male promiscuity were reported as well. At the same time, while the average Ugandan girl becomes sexually active at the age of 17, the rate of marriage among girls aged 15 to 19 is 76 percent, compared with 37 percent in neighboring Kenya." 12

Here in North America, the success of abstinence education is becoming evident. A landmark report published in September 1997 in the Journal of the American Medical Association called the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health followed more than 12,000 teenagers from the 7th to the 12th grade. The study found that one of the greatest factors in decreasing teen sexual involvement and other high risk behaviors was, clearly expressed disapproval by parents of their teen being sexually active, and strong disapproval of their teens using contraceptives. This study, the largest of its kind, found that promoting birth control had the unintended consequence of encouraging teen sex.

Abstinence Education Works

Abstinence till marriage can be promoted and practiced. Numerous abstinence-based programs that do not include education about contraceptives have proven to be the most successful in reducing teen sexual behaviour. More than a dozen programs in place throughout Canada and the United States show a statistically significant reduction in teen sexual activity. For example, a 2001 evaluation of the effectiveness of the "virginity pledge movement" using data from the US National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health found that virginity pledge programs are highly effective in helping adolescents delay sexual activity. According to the authors of the study which was based on a sample of more than 5,000 students, taking a virginity pledge reduces by one-third the probability that an adolescent will begin sexual activity compared with other adolescents of the same gender, age and race. When taking a virginity pledge is combined with strong parental disapproval of sexual activity, the probability of initiation of sexual activity is reduced by 75 percent or more.13

The proportion of teens choosing abstinence has been growing and the majority of that growth has been among teenage males. In 1997, 51.1% of male teens had never had sex. This figure compares to 39.2% in 1990. 14

Promoting abstinence and natural fertility methods is especially empowering to women in the third world. They learn how to read the biological markers in their fertility cycle and gain a greater knowledge of sexual health matters. They can also avoid experimental contraceptives that are often used first by pharmaceutical companies in developing nations before bringing them to the developed world. Chemical contraceptives put women in poorer nations at risk, as they often do not have access to medical health care when complications from these artificial methods result.

Combating the all too prevalent view that contraception helps in reducing our epidemic levels of teen pregnancy and abortion is one of the first big steps to healing our culture. It is clear that educating about contraceptives under the "but they are going to do it anyway" argument substantially undermines the resolve of teens to not have sex, and compromises teachers, parents and other guardians who ought to be unwavering in their admonition against pre-marital sex.

Conceiving new human life was put together with sexual intercourse for a specific purpose. Respect for human life means respecting the process by which human life enters into the world. Our "yes" to life cannot be conditional. It must be absolute, at all times and in every circumstance where life is possible.


1 Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey (91-744), 505 U.S. 833 (1992)

2 Fr. Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and Fr. Paul Marx of Human Life International

3 Fabienne Grou, MD; Isabel Rodrigues, MD, M PH, "The morning after pill – How long after?";American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynechology; Dec. 1994, pp. 1529-1534

4 Alan Guttmacher Institute. Sex and America’s Teenagers. New York, NY: the Institute, 1994.

5 CDC, Division of STD Prevention. Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, 1997. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Public Health Service (PHS). Atlanta, GA: CDC, September 1998.

6 Fleming, D.T.; McQuillan, G.M.; Johnson, R.E.; et al. Herpes Simplex Virus Type 2 in the United States, 1976 to 1994. New England Journal of Medicine 337:1105-1111, 1997. PubMed; PMID 9329932

7 Cates, W. Epidemiology and control of sexually transmitted diseases in adolescents. In: Schydlower, M., and Shafer, M., eds. AIDS and Other Sexually Transmitted Diseases. Philadelphia, PA: Hanly & Belfus, Inc.,1990, 409-427.

8 The Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy, Abortion and Birth Rates in the 1990s: What Factors are Responsible?

The Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils, USA, 2001.

9 1995 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG) and 1994-1995 Abortion Patient Survey (APS)

10 Joan R. Kahn and Kathryn A. London, "Premarital Sex and the Risk of Divorce," Journal of Marriage and the Family, November 1991, pp. 845-855.

11 The Allen Guttmacher Institute: 1973–1996: Henshaw SK et al., Readings on Induced Abortion, Volume 2: A World Review 2000, New York: AGI, 2001, Table 7. 1997–1999: Distributions published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adjusted for year-to-year changes in the reporting states.

12The New Republic; UGANDA V. CONDOMS, Sex Change; by Arthur Allen. Post date: 05.16.02

13 Peter S. Bearman and Hanna Bruckner, "Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 106, No. 4 (January 2001), pp. 861, 862. The effects of a virginity pledge were shown to be statistically significant at the 95 percent confidence level.

14 "The Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy, Abortion and Birth Rates in the 1990s: What Factors are Responsible?" The Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils, USA, 2001.

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