Catholic hospital forbids contraception for a medical purpose to avoid grave consequences

A Catholic hospital in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia, is prohibiting physicians from dispensing contraception or even advising patients to use contraception, regardless of the purpose or circumstances.

CANCER doctors are on a collision course with a Catholic health organisation over new religion-based rules which prohibit them recommending contraception to patients taking a drug derived from thalidomide, which can cause severe birth defects. Under a clampdown at Newcastle’s Calvary Mater Hospital, doctors recruiting patients into clinical trials may no longer distribute information about contraception. (Sydney Morning Herald, Catholic hospital bars contraception advice)

The position of the hospital is in accord with Catholic teaching that the use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

According to Pope John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor, there are the three fonts of morality which are the sole basis for determining whether any act is moral or immoral: 1. intention, 2. moral object, 3. circumstances. All intrinsically evil acts are immoral because they have an evil moral object. Neither a good intention (the purpose for which the act was chosen), nor dire circumstances, can make an intrinsically evil act moral.

In the case of contraception, the moral object is the deprivation of the procreative meaning from sexual acts. If a woman is sexually-active, she may not use contraception even for a medical purpose, even to avoid grave bad consequences. In the case discussed in the above quoted article, the Catholic hospital recognizes that contraception remains intrinsically evil, even with a medical purpose, and even in the grave circumstances where a woman is taking a cancer medication, and she wishes to avoid severe birth defects in her child. In such a case, the woman is morally obligated to refrain from all sexual acts, so as to avoid the grave bad consequences of severe birth defects in her child. She is also morally obligated to avoid all intrinsically evil acts, including contracepted sexual acts and unnatural sexual acts.

Interestingly, the article notes that this medication can cause birth defects even if the patient is a man. So the same moral analysis is true for a sexually-active male patient. He is morally obligated to refrain from all sexual acts, so as to avoid the grave bad consequences of severe birth defects in his child. He is also morally obligated to avoid all intrinsically evil acts, including contracepted sexual acts and unnatural sexual acts.

The Catholic hospital in question, Newcastle Calvary Mater, prohibits physicians from even advising their patients to take contraception because to do so would be the grave sin of formal cooperation with the intrinsically evil and gravely immoral sin of contraception. The hospital does not allow for an exception for a medical purpose, because intrinsically evil acts remain immoral regardless of purpose (intended end). The hospital does not allow for an exception for grave circumstances, because intrinsically evil acts remain immoral regardless of circumstances. The moral object of an act is not determined, in whole or in part, by intention or circumstances.

Notice, too, that there is no exception for non-Catholic unmarried patients who are sexually active. The use of contraception by sexually-active persons, that is to say, the intentional choice of an act that deprives a sexual act of its procreative meaning, is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of marital state.

Many Catholics have been led astray on the topic of intrinsically evil acts, and specifically on the topic of contraception, by false teachers, who lead them away from the teaching of the Magisterium, all the while claiming to be teaching them from the Magisterium.

The principle of double effect does not, as some false teachers claim, justify the use of contraception for a medical purpose, even in dire circumstances, because that principle requires a good moral object in order to justify an act. An act with only good moral objects, and only good intentions, is justified by the principle of double effect if the bad effects (consequences) do not outweigh the good effects. An intrinsically evil act, such as the use of contraception, is not justified by the principle of double effect.

The use of contraception is not, as some false teachers claim, a morally-neutral act, which only becomes intrinsically evil with a contraceptive intention, or in certain circumstances, or within marriage.

False teachers on the topics of contraception and intrinsic evil abound, for example:

Jeff Mirus (his post; my refutation)

Jimmy Akin (on intrinsic evil; on contraception; my refutation)

Martin Rhonheimer (his article; my refutation)

Redentor A. de la Rosa (his post; my articles on contraception and heresy)

One of the most disconcerting and destructive sources of false teaching on Catholics ethics is found in various Catholic discussion groups. So often it happens that, on various questions pertaining to faith, morals, and salvation, various anonymous posters will teach false doctrine while claiming that what they teach is nothing else but the teaching of the Church. Many Catholics sincerely seeking answers to questions on important matters are being led astray by fellow Catholics who use the anonymity of the internet in order to teach false doctrine.

There are some sound teachers, on the topics of contraception and intrinsic evil, even on the internet, for example:

Fr. Roy Cimagala at Wellsprings of Life blog:

“Contraception is an intrinsic evil. There’s no ifs and buts about that. And that’s simply because, even without bringing yet the context in which it is used, whether in marriage or outside it, contraception is already a clear abuse of our sexual and procreative faculty.”

Matthew J. Bellisario at Catholic Champion blog:

”How many more documents would the Church need on this subject in order for this teaching to be considered infallible? I believe that if there was any doubt on the subject before the 1930’s it has since that time been put to rest with many encyclicals, and documents penned by the Catholic Magisterium. I have not even touched on the vast history of the Church Fathers or other Popes who also attest to this infallible teaching, instead I have taken the Church’s official documents at face value. Those bishops and theologians who even today lash out against these teachings as not being infallible are clearly at odds with the infallible Magisterium on the matter and therefore are in serious error. It is quite clear then that the Church’s teaching that the use of contraception as being gravely immoral, is indeed an infallible teaching, and not just a certain teaching.”

Fr. Abe, CRS at The Splendor of the Church blog:

“Against the heretical dissent of Fr. Emeterio Barcelon, S.J., on contraception we have Pope John Paul II who stated in 1988: ‘In qualifying the contraceptive act as intrinsically illicit, Paul VI intended to teach that this moral norm is such that it admits of no exceptions: no circumstances whether personal or social have ever been able, are able, or will ever be able to make such an act an intrinsically ordered act. The existence of particular norms in the area of man’s activity in this world which have such an obligatory force as to exclude always and every possibility of exceptions, is a constant teaching of the Tradition and of the Magisterium of the Church that cannot be questioned by a Catholic theologian.’ (JOHN PAUL II, Address to Participants of the Second International Congress of Moral Theology, Sala Clementina, Vatican City, 12 November 1988, no. 5).”

I’ll close by quoting an interesting commentary on the news story that initiated this post. The commentary is by Peter Wales, a former Anglican clergyman.

“The hospital provides everyone considering participating in the trial with a statement of the risks involved, including a section on reproductive risks. It would be sensible to avoid conceiving a child while taking the drug…. When Kathy [his wife] had uterine cancer, she underwent surgery then a course of radiotherapy. We were not able to make love for six months. It was frustrating at times. It also gave us a chance to grow together in other ways, and to appreciate the gift of sex even more.” (Peter Wales,, Catholic Hospital Berated For Being Catholic)

Edited to add (June 8, 2011) this quote from Jennifer Fulwiler:

“Many people I knew were appalled when they heard that the Church’s doctrines had no exceptions on contraception use for situations like mine. For a while, I was troubled by this. At first it did strike me as unsympathetic and unfair. Like the women who wrote in about HIV-positive children and avoiding pregnancy after severe PPD, I wondered: Why doesn’t the Church make exceptions for those cases where pregnancy or STD prevention is critically important? Then a wise Catholic friend offered me an explanation that was startling in its simplicity: No contraceptive method is 100% effective. If it’s really super-duper extra triple important that you not conceive a child (or contract an STD), then why would you even want to sign yourself up for a situation where there was a risk of it happening?” (No Exceptions With Contraception – Thank God!)

Suppose there is a dire circumstance that requires you to avoid conceiving a child, such as severe birth defects. Not only does contraception remain intrinsically evil, but the circumstances alone would make contracepted sexual acts immoral, because you would be risking severe harm to the innocent merely to obtain the lesser good of sexual relations. Is sex so important to you that you would in effect maim someone for life in exchange? It should not be.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

My book of moral theology: The Catechism of Catholic Ethics
My work with Sacred Scripture:

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