Jimmy Akin and Michelle Arnold: Absurd Excuses for Abortifacient Contraception

A prenatal is any human being from conception to birth. Abortion (specifically direct abortion) is any knowingly chosen act that directly kills a prenatal. Direct abortion is intrinsically evil because the act is inherently ordered toward destroying human life in the womb. Pope Saint John Paul II infallibly condemned direct abortion: “direct abortion, that is, abortion willed as an end or as a means, always constitutes a grave moral disorder, since it is the deliberate killing of an innocent human being.” [Evangelium Vitae 62].

Abortion is willed (deliberately chosen) as an end when the intention is to end the pregnancy. Abortion is willed as a means when the intention is to obtain some other end, such as improving the health of the mother, but an act of abortion is nevertheless deliberately chosen. No matter what the purpose, intention, or circumstances, abortion is always gravely immoral: “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.” [Evangelium Vitae 62].

Contraception is also intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, whether it is an end or a means. Contraception is an end when the purpose or intention is to prevent conception. Contraception is a means when the purpose or intention is some other end, such as protecting or improving health, but an act of contraception is nevertheless deliberately chosen. Does a legitimate intention, such as a medical purpose, justify the use of contraception? The Catechism of the Catholic Church says it does not: “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).” [CCC 2399].

Compendium of the Catechism: “What are immoral means of birth control? Every action — for example, direct sterilization or contraception — is intrinsically immoral which (either in anticipation of the conjugal act, in its accomplishment or in the development of its natural consequences) proposes, as an end or as a means, to hinder procreation.” [Compendium, n. 498].

Notice that it is the chosen act itself that “proposes to” (or is directly ordered to) hinder procreation. If the person does not intend to hinder procreation, the act remains contraceptive and gravely immoral if that chosen act is ordered toward a contraceptive moral object.

Abortifacient contraception is an act which is inherently ordered toward both abortive and contraceptive ends. An abortifacient contraceptive drug sometimes prevents conception by preventing ovulation; but sometimes ovulation nevertheless occurs, and then the pill prevents implantation of the conceived prenatal, resulting in death. So the one pill has both contraceptive and abortive ends as its moral objects.

Pope Saint John Paul II: “The close connection which exists, in mentality, between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious. It is being demonstrated in an alarming way by the development of chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines which, distributed with the same ease as contraceptives, really act as abortifacients in the very early stages of the development of the life of the new human being.” [Evangelium Vitae 13].

Abortifacient contraception is worse than mere contraception, because the former sometimes results in the death of a prenatal. The use of abortifacient contraception by a married couple who are sexually active, over the course of many months, will likely result in the deaths of multiple prenatals. This hidden sin is a type of abortion, and therefore a type of murder.

The teaching of the Roman Catholic Magisterium on intrinsically evil acts is clear and definitive. Each and every intrinsically evil act is always immoral, by the very nature of the deliberately chosen act, regardless of intention (or purpose) or circumstances.

Pope Saint John Paul II: “But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the ‘creativity’ of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.” [Veritatis Splendor 67].

Radical Moral Revisionism

Many Catholic teachers today, including some priests and many lay persons, have radically revised the teaching of the Magisterium on intrinsically evil acts, so as to justify all manner of grave sins, including abortifacient contraception, contraception, and grave sexual sins. This radical reinterpretation of Catholic moral teaching is very popular, because it allows any intrinsically evil act to be justified by the claim that the intention or purpose for which the act was chosen, or the circumstances, can (supposedly) transform a choice into a new type of act, one that is no longer intrinsically evil. This approach was explicitly rejected by Pope Saint John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor:

“If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain ‘irremediably’ evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person…. Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act ‘subjectively’ good or defensible as a choice.” [Veritatis Splendor 81].

Despite this clear and definitive teaching, many Catholic lay persons and a few priests have gone forth to spread a false Gospel on the internet — a radically revised version of Catholic moral teaching. And what is especially popular today is various theological rationalizations to justify abortifacient contraception, contraception, and grave sexual sins.

Michelle Arnold

One particular excuse for the use of abortifacient contraception strikes me as particularly sick and wicked. Certain so-called Catholic apologists justify the use of abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose, while the couple is sexually active. Then they explain their twisted rationalization for the deaths of these prenatals.

Catholic Apologist Michelle Arnold teaches grave errors on contraception and abortifacient contraception. First, she claims that contraception is immoral based on its purpose (or intention), not based on the moral object of the act.

Arnold claims: “What would be a more helpful route is to explain forthrightly that some drugs have more than one purpose. They can be taken for a good purpose (to regulate cycles, to treat acne); and they can be taken for a bad purpose (contraception). If a drug that has both effects is taken solely for the good purpose, then it is okay to take that drug.” [Catholic Answers Post]

The CCC explicitly rejects the use of contraception even with a “legitimate intention” [CCC 2399] because contraception is intrinsically evil. It has an evil moral object (the proximate end toward which the knowingly chosen act is inherently ordered). Her claim that contraception, which in the above example is actually abortifacient contraception, can be justified by the purpose or intention of the act, is contrary to the clear and definitive teaching of the Church on intrinsically evil acts.

Arnold claims: “If a person has proportionately grave reason to take a medication for a legitimate medical purpose, then unintended side effects of that medication fall under the principle of double effect. The purpose of taking the medication is to treat a legitimate malady; there is no purpose to cause temporary sterilization or to abort a child.” [NFP and the Single Girl article]

In Veritatis Splendor, Pope Saint John Paul II explains that every intrinsically evil act is immoral regardless of purpose or intention. Michelle Arnold openly and directly contradicts this teaching. And her claim that the principle of double effect can justify abortifacient contraception is untenable. Every explanation of the principle of double effect has a list of criteria which must be met for an act to be justified as moral by that principle. And one of the criteria is ALWAYS that the act must NOT be intrinsically evil. So abortifacient contraception cannot be justified by the principle of double effect.

Arnold’s grave error is to completely ignore the moral object of the act. The Magisterium teaches that an act is judged to be moral or immoral based on the three fonts of morality: intention, moral object, circumstances. Any act with an evil moral object is intrinsically evil and always immoral. Arnold has essentially done away with the moral object, by speaking as if the morality of an intrinsically evil is based solely on purpose or intention.

She also expresses this idea as whether the abortive or contraceptive end is “willed”, by which she means intended. But the Church means something else by the term “willed”. In sound moral theology, the moral object is always willed, at least implicitly, whenever the good or evil act is knowingly chosen. If you choose abortion or contraception while intending a non-abortive or non-contraceptive end, the deliberately chosen act remains intrinsically evil because both contraception and abortion are condemned whether they are chosen as an end or a means. When you choose an act, you are willing that act and its moral object, regardless of your intention.

Now she correctly explains that the use of abortifacient contraception would not be moral in cases of rape:

Arnold: “To the extent that some Catholic theologians allow for the possibility of using “emergency contraception” in the event of rape, they allow for it only when it has been determined that the woman has not ovulated. If there is a possibility that ovulation has occurred and that fertilization is now possible, no orthodox Catholic theologian would allow for “emergency contraception” because it would act abortifaciently by preventing implantation of the fertilized ovum.” [Catholic Answers Post]

But then she contradicts herself by allowing the use of abortifacient contraception, by a couple who are sexually active, as long as there is a medical purpose or intention [NFP and the Single Girl]. And now comes the sick explanation as to why these deaths of innocent are justified:

Arnold claims: “Also a mitigating factor is that there is always some degree of natural pregnancy loss in the first weeks of pregnancy. Many women have probably lost a pregnancy without ever knowing they were pregnant or having taken any drug that could have caused it. These drugs may increase that potential somewhat, but we have no way of measuring the degree of increase.” [NFP and the Single Girl, comment #12]

Some women have miscarriages early in pregnancy, sometimes without knowing they are pregnant. True. But a miscarriage is not an abortion. Arnold claims that “these drugs” — abortifacient drugs taken deliberately, while sexually active — “increase the potential” for the deaths of prenatals “somewhat”. So she justifies the deliberate and knowing choices to take an abortifacient drug and to remain sexually active by speaking as if the resultant deaths were the same as a miscarriage. To the contrary, miscarriages are not the result of any deliberate knowing choice by the woman; that is what makes them miscarriages. The use of an abortifacient, and the choice to remain sexually active while taking that drug, are nothing other than the sins of abortion and contraception. For these are knowing deliberate choices, not accidents.

Now, no one disputes the assertion that an abortifacient pill can be used for a medical purpose, as long as the woman refrains from sex; in such a case, no sexual acts are deprived of their procreative meaning, and no innocent prenatals are killed. But the deliberate choice to take an abortifacient pill and the deliberate choice to have sexual intercourse while on that pill, is a grave sin. The claim that these prenatals’ deaths are unintended is irrelevant, since abortion and contraception are each intrinsically evil. They are immoral regardless of intention. A good intended end does not justify the choice of a intrinsically evil means.

The claim that these prenatals’ deaths are miscarriages is absurd. These prenatals die as a direct result of deliberate and knowing choices, to take an abortifacient and to have sexual relations. The fact that we do not know how many prenatals die or when, does not justify the choice, for we know that these choices are ordered toward two evil ends: contraception and abortion.

To say that the use of abortifacient contraception while sexually active merely increases the natural rate of miscarriage is like saying that driving recklessly while inebriated merely increases the rate of motor vehicle accidents. To the contrary, each human person is responsible for his or her knowingly chosen acts. The choice to take an abortifacient and to remain sexually active is the deliberate knowing choice of an act ordered by its very nature toward abortive and contraceptive ends.

Jimmy Akin

Catholic Apologist Jimmy Akin makes the same set of mistakes as Michelle Arnold. He treats abortifacient contraception and contraception as if these intrinsically evil acts were immoral based on intention. And he then justifies these sins as long as the intention is not to abort or to contracept. Such an approach directly contradicts the teaching of the Church on the basic principles of ethics. Both Michelle Arnold and Jimmy Akin seem to have no idea what a moral object is. Their condemnation of intrinsically evil acts is always predicated on intention or purpose (and sometimes also circumstances).

In his post on intrinsically evil acts (which I critique here), Akin correctly states that there are three fonts of morality: intention, moral object, circumstances. But then he cannot figure out what a moral object is, so he wrongly concludes that it is part intention and part circumstance, thereby inadvertently reducing the three fonts of morality to two.

In a post on contraception and chemotherapy, Akin advises a married couple that they may use abortifacient contraception and remain sexually active. He knows that these choices may result in the deaths of prenatals. And he justifies these deaths in two ways. First, he give the same rationalization as Michelle Arnold: that many couples face a risk of natural miscarriage, and so (supposedly) the use of abortifacient contraception while sexually active is morally comparable, as if abortifacients were some type of “natural” cause of a miscarriage.

Second, he gives his own sick rationalization for the deaths of prenatals from abortifacient contraception: the deaths of these prenatals is a physical evil.

Akin claims: “It doesn’t matter how deformed a child is in this life or how short his life is…. We cannot proceed from a calculus that treats this life as if it is all there is and that regards birth defects and death as horrible, irremediable evils. They’re just not…. Never having existed is a worse fate, if I may put it that way, than living only a short time….” [Read the full explanation here].

So Jimmy Akin justifies the deaths of innocent prenatals, caused by abortifacient contraception while sexually active, because living for a short time is better than not living at all. Presumably the prenatals do not live at all because the couple refrain from sex while using abortifacients or while the wife is on chemotherapy.

This claim by Akin ignores the fact that the use of abortifacient contraception while sexually active is moral evil. Yes, any death of a human person is a physical evil, but this includes persons who die as a result of someone else’s grave sin. Akin speaks as if the deaths of these prenatals has no connection to the deliberate choices of the couple. To the contrary, when your deliberate choices directly result in the deaths of innocents, that is the moral definition of murder. And when the murdered innocent is a prenatal, it is the type of murder called abortion. To justify such a grave sin by saying that at least the prenatal had life for a short time is sick and twisted. It is like justifying the grave sin of euthanasia by saying that at least the person being killed had a long and happy life.

And then the explanation gets worse:

Akin claims: “It is true also (I assume) that getting pregnant could harm your wife’s health and limit her chances for survival. But it is up to her to determine what risk she would be willing to take in this matter. Knowing the odds regarding survival with or without a pregnancy, if she determines that lovemaking involves an acceptable level of risk then you should respect that decision. It is not a sin. The situation is similar to that of the many women whose health or life for natural reasons could be jeopardized by a pregnancy but who decide that they are willing to accept the risk.”

To the contrary, if you know that pregnancy will result in your wife’s death, or in grave harm to her health substantially decreasing her risk of surviving cancer — and also likely resulting in the death of the conceive prenatal — then it is NOT MORAL to have sex. The circumstances of any act must be evaluated based on the moral weight of the reasonably anticipated good and bad effects. The death of your own child in the womb and the increase in risk of death to your wife far outweighs the good of “lovemaking”. It is always a sin to act when you reasonably anticipate that your choice to act will do more harm than good.

In sinful secular society, sexual acts have been exalted far beyond their proper place in the scale of human values. We sometimes speak of the idolatry of sex found in modern society. But some Catholic teachers have adopted this same error; they exaggerate the good of martial relations as if it were so valuable as to justify the deaths of one’s own children in the womb and also justify the risk of death to a spouse. Sex has become so important to some persons that they are willing to commit the sins of abortion, abortifacient contraception, and contraception, rather than refrain from sex.

In his post, Jimmy Akin justifies the deaths of prenatals by reference to the resurrection, saying that the killed prenatals will have eternal life and resurrected bodies. But what does Jesus say?

“Yet truly, those who shall be held worthy of that age, and of the resurrection from the dead, will neither be married, nor take wives.” (Lk 20:35). The resurrected just have eternal life, but they do not marry and so they do not engage in sexual relations. Life is more important than sex. Therefore, the married couple should refrain from sexual relations if they must use abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose, or if a mediation such as chemotherapy would kill or cause birth defects in their conceived unborn children.

Judie Brown and Dr. Paul Hayes

Over at EWTN, Judie Brown gives the correct explanation on the use of abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose.

Brown: “Catholic theologians have long said that the best way to prevent the death of a preborn child IF the pill is used for medical reasons is to abstain during the time the pill is being used for therapeutic reasons. The reason is obviously that the pill can kill and nobody knows during which cycle it will kill and which cycle it would not kill. I have not seen any moral theology text that excuses the death of a preborn baby under the guise of UNINTENDED MISCARRIAGE.”

She also quotes and agrees with Catholic OB/GYN physician Paul Hayes, M.D. on the same topic:

Hayes: “Even if a woman were married, birth control drugs COULD (whether or not they SHOULD be used is another discussion) be used to treat a medical condition as long as the husband and wife were to abstain from marital relations….” [EWTN.com]


The explanations of Brown and Hayes are correct. Abortion, abortifacient contraception, and contraception are intrinsically evil and therefore always immoral. An intrinsically evil act is never justified by intention or purpose, nor by circumstances. The contrary view, expressed by Akin and Arnold, depends on a grave distortion of the basic principles of ethics, treating intrinsically evil acts as if they are justifiable (or no longer intrinsically evil) depending on intention. They also err by treating direct abortion, resulting from deliberate acts, as if it were morally equivalent to a miscarriage. As for the principle of double effect, it never justifies intrinsically evil acts.

The Church today is besieged by Catholic teachers who are grossly incompetent. They have badly misunderstood the teaching of the Magisterium on faith and morals. They are poorly catechized. And yet they feel free to go forth on the internet to preach a distorted Gospel — even to such an extent that they would judge grave matters of morality as well as matters of life and death. They fit the expression of Jesus quite well: the blind leading the blind (Mt 15:14).

Do you really believe that Jesus and Mary would advise Catholic married couples to use abortifacients, while sexually active, resulting in the deaths of innocent unborn children? When did Jesus preach that marital sex is so important that it justifies killing the unborn? How is it that many modern-day Catholics have developed a perverse theology that justifies grave sins and ignores the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ?

False Teachers

Any Catholic who publicly proclaims that spouses may use abortifacient contraception, while remaining sexually active, is morally responsible for the deaths of innocent prenatals resulting from this erroneous claim. Such Catholic teachers have become like those secular persons who promote and justify abortion. And none of them has any fear of God.

These unqualified Catholic apologists teach without first having learned. They blithely proclaim that grave sins are moral and justifiable. They can’t offer a coherent explanation of Catholic moral teaching on intrinsically evil acts; they have no idea what a moral object is. They have badly misunderstood the principle of double effect. Their ignorance is exceeded only by their arrogance. A well-taught student in a Catholic high school has a better understanding of Catholic moral theology than they do. Yet they have the temerity to answer questions on grave matters of morality and to decide matters of life and death.

Teachers will have the stricter judgment!

{3:1} My brothers, not many of you should choose to become teachers, knowing that you shall receive a stricter judgment.

{5:19} Therefore, whoever will have loosened one of the least of these commandments, and have taught men so, shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever will have done and taught these, such a one shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
{5:20} For I say to you, that unless your justice has surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

{18:6} But whoever will have led astray one of these little ones, who trust in me, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck, and to be submerged in the depths of the sea.
{18:7} Woe to a world that leads people astray! Although it is necessary for temptations to arise, nevertheless: Woe to that man through whom temptation arises!

[2 Timothy]
{4:1} I testify before God, and before Jesus Christ, who shall judge the living and the dead through his return and his kingdom:
{4:2} that you should preach the word urgently, in season and out of season: reprove, entreat, rebuke, with all patience and doctrine.
{4:3} For there shall be a time when they will not endure sound doctrine, but instead, according to their own desires, they will gather to themselves teachers, with itching ears,
{4:4} and certainly, they will turn their hearing away from the truth, and they will be turned toward fables.

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

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