Is Contraception a Form of Health Care?

According to Roman Catholic teaching, the use of contraception is intrinsically evil (CCC 2370). Every intrinsically evil act is always immoral because it is inherently contrary to “the true good of the person in view of his ultimate end” — God. So it is the love of God above all else, and the love of neighbor as self, that prohibits every intrinsically evil act, including contraception, direct sterilization, and abortion. Intrinsically evil acts are never justified. No matter how good the intention, no matter how dire the circumstances, the deliberate choice of an intrinsically evil act is always objectively sinful.

Therefore, even if contraception were a form of healthcare, it would not thereby be justified. A medical purpose never justifies the choice of an intrinsically evil act. Inherently immoral acts, such as contraception, direct sterilization, abortion, and euthanasia, do not become moral by being chosen for a medical purpose, nor for any good intention or reason whatsoever.

However, from a Catholic theological point of view, contraception is not a type of healthcare because all true health care must be ordered toward only good for the human person. True healthcare has as its aim the health of the whole person, body and soul. True healthcare uses only moral means to only moral ends. Gravely immoral acts such as contraception and abortion cannot be considered true health care, since their contraceptive and abortive ends are intrinsically contrary to an ordered love of neighbor and an ordered love of self — ordered under the all-encompassing and all-surpassing love of God.

Pope John Paul II: “When couples, by means of recourse to contraception, separate these two meanings that God the Creator has inscribed in the being of man and woman and in the dynamism of their sexual communion, they act as ‘arbiters’ of the divine plan and they ‘manipulate’ and degrade human sexuality-and with it themselves and their married partner-by altering its value of ‘total’ self-giving. Thus the innate language that expresses the total reciprocal self-giving of husband and wife is overlaid, through contraception, by an objectively contradictory language, namely, that of not giving oneself totally to the other. This leads not only to a positive refusal to be open to life but also to a falsification of the inner truth of conjugal love, which is called upon to give itself in personal totality.” (Familiaris Consortio, n. 32)

Since human sexuality is ordered toward procreation as its highest good, every form of contraception is inherently contrary to that good. Any deliberate choice to use human sexuality and to deprive it of its highest good, procreation, is an inherently immoral act. Contraception is contrary to the natural law because it contradicts the natural purpose of sexual acts: the procreation of new life.

The unitive and procreative meanings of sexuality are “inscribed in the being of man and woman”. Therefore, the deliberate choice to deprive sexual acts of either the unitive or the procreative meanings is inherently contrary to the nature of the human person. Nothing which intrinsically contradicts our very nature can truly be considered as a legitimate form of healthcare. For the aim of contraception is not the wholeness of the human person, but rather a deprivation from human nature. Contraception and direct sterilization are each intrinsically evil because each is ordered toward depriving human sexuality of its proper good end, procreation.

The claim that contraception is good or justifiable because it is a type of healthcare is like the claim that pornography is justifiable when it is art. Both claims are false. Even if a use of contraception were categorized as healthcare, it would not thereby become moral. Similarly, even if an example of pornography were categorized as art (a dubious claim, at best), it would not thereby become moral. We can certainly justify defining true art as only those works that are inherently moral. And similarly we can justify defining healthcare as including only those acts that are not intrinsically evil. But even if a different definition of healthcare prevails in sinful secular society, an intrinsically evil act never becomes justified by being given a shiny new name.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic moral theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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