Which is Worse: Condoms or Abortifacients?

Which is Worse: Condoms or Abortifacients? The answer should be obvious, the use of abortifacients is more gravely immoral than the use of condoms because the former has both contraceptive and abortive moral objects, as well as the harm of taking innocent prenatal life in the consequences, whereas the latter is mere contraception. But in her new book, Self-Gift: Humanae Vitae and the Thought of John Paul II, Janet E. Smith, Ph.D., answers otherwise.

In past articles, she repeatedly approved of abortifacient contraception, used in marriage for a medical purpose, calling the deaths of innocent prenatals a small but acceptable risk. In one article, Smith calls abortifacient contraception “anovulant or non-abortifacient contraceptives”. This language blatantly denies the abortifacient action of chemical contraceptives. The break-through ovulation rate for the birth control pill (BCP) is about 20% per month. [Gardner, Ph.D. and Miller, M.D., Journal of Women’s Health, Vol. 14, n. 1, 2005 PDF] Break-through ovulation is unfortunately very common. As a result, abortifacient contraception may kill more prenatals than abortion.

In a subsequent article, Smith acknowledges that these pills are abortifacients, but calls the risk small but acceptable. She suggests that the woman need not abstain from sex while taking abortifacient contraception, because the risk is somehow acceptable: “If those hormones have an abortifacient effect, does she need to abstain? Or is the risk so small that the risk would be acceptable.”

Well, a 20% per month break-through ovulation rate, for women under 32 years, means that the risk of an early abortion is 39%. For an older woman, who is less fertile, the risk is about 21%. That means for every 100 women under 32 using abortifacient contraception, 39 will have an early abortion per year, and for the older women, 21 per year. Multiply that by the hundreds of millions of women using abortifacient contraception, and the risk is neither small nor acceptable.

In her new book, Self-Gift: Humanae Vitae and the Thought of John Paul II, Smith continues to favor abortifacient contraception over mere contraception, to an extent that is absurd.

“The hormones have an intrinsic ordination to stopping ovulation and to rendering her infertile but they do not have an intrinsic ordination to rendering sexual acts infertile.” [Self-Gift, Kindle Locations 7587-7588]

We are speaking about abortifacient contraception, which is intrinsically ordered toward both abortive and contraceptive ends. And she ignores the abortive end, and somehow justifies the contraceptive end by saying that this type of contraception ONLY stops ovulation and renders her infertile, and that somehow this does not mean that her sexual acts are infertile. It is an absurd argument on the face of it. Abortifacient contraception is used because it makes sexual acts infertile. That is the usual intended end and the evil moral object. But even when the woman has a different intended end, as in the quoted example which was to treat endometriosis, the use of abortifacient contraception is still intrinsically evil, as it retains its evil moral object of killing innocent prenatals. Frequently.

As for sex using a condom, somehow Smith makes this act worse than abortifacient contraception. She claims that the former deprives sex of its unitive and procreative meanings, and also would not suffice to validly consummate a marriage. Then she adds that abortifacient contraception does suffice to validly consummate a marriage, and does retain something of the unitive meaning. Somehow, in her perverted moral analysis, Janet Smith makes mere contraception with a condom worse than killing your own prenatal children with abortifacient contraception.

But it’s not all bad. She thinks that premarital sex is less sinful with a condom, than without.

As sources of physical evil, perhaps both mutual masturbation and condomized fornication are less evil than simple fornication since both have less risk of resulting in pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Thus, which is worse: engaging in an act that is defective as a human act (an act of condomized fornication) or an act that potentially does significant harm (an act of noncondomized fornication by the fertile or those having an STD)? Perhaps condomized fornication is a lesser moral evil, but it is still clearly a moral evil.” [Self-Gift, Kindle Locations 7635-7639]

According to Roman Catholic moral theologian Janet E. Smith, people having sex outside of marriage would be choosing a lesser moral evil if the use a condom than if they do not. The hypocrisy here is stunning. Smith pretends to defend Humanae Vitae, when in fact she has radically reinterpreted all its teachings. She justifies the use of contraception outside of marriage by saying that premarital sex with a condom is less sinful than without a condom. And yet, in several different recent articles, she publicly decries the popularity of contraception in secular society, and blames contraception for the prevalence of non-marital sex. Which position is true? Which position does she believe? If contraception caused the evil of an increase in extra-marital sex, why does she justify the use of contraception outside of marriage?

Her teachings plainly contradict the teaching of Humanae Vitae and of the Magisterium more generally that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Fornication is gravely immoral. Add to this sin, the malice of contraception, and the sin is greater. The greater the moral disorder, the greater the sin. Calling “condomized fornication” a lesser moral evil is false and harmful to souls.

Church teaching on abortifacient contraception: “A specific and more serious moral evil is present in the use of means which have an abortive effect, impeding the implantation of the embryo which has just been fertilized or even causing its expulsion in an early stage of pregnancy.” [Vademecum]

And the entire book, Self-Gift, contains no clear condemnation of abortifacient contraception due to its abortive action. She speaks as if abortifacient contraception were merely contraceptive, or merely a type of “hormones” that would always be moral to take.

There are other severe errors in this new book by Smith, errors I’ll discuss in latter posts.

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

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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8 Responses to Which is Worse: Condoms or Abortifacients?

  1. Matt Z. says:

    The folks at Catholic Answers and there forums must have been taught by Janet Smith since they always promote contraception in all sorts of different cases.

    They use Humanae Vitae 15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever. (19)

    They think that abortifacient contraception is therapeutic when therapeutic means to heal. Abortifacient Contraception does not heal. It does suppress and destroy.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The problem is that many teachers do not really accept the doctrine on intrinsically evil acts. They try to find some excuse to permit intrinsically evil acts when such permission would be popular with their readers. They are also influenced by secular society.

  2. Matt Z. says:

    Here is a question that I have. Lets say the abortifacient pill used by the wife caused abortion in 1 in 500 marital relations. The abortifacient pill would still have its contraceptive effect and would still be intrinsically evil. But under the Vademecum for Confessors would it be ok for the non contracepting spouse, the husband in this case, to have relations with the wife if the other conditions are met in Vademecum?

  3. Matt Z. says:

    My prior post I was hypothetically referring to a different or new type of birth control pill, sorry for not being more specific.

    Back to the Vademecum for Confessors. How would taking such a pill as described above be different from the non contracepting spouse and the husband who is committed to the sin of Onan?

    When you give your stats on the abortifacients, is that the estrogen and progesterone pill?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The BCP is contraceptive and abortive. If a contraceptive only pill were invented, it would still be immoral as a type of contraception. The magisterium has condemn cooperation by one spouse with the use of contraceptives by the other spouse [Denz. 2795]. The Vademecum is speaking only of withdrawal:

      “This cooperation can be licit when the three following conditions are jointly met:
      * when the action of the cooperating spouse is not already illicit in itself;
      * when proportionally grave reasons exist for cooperating in the sin of the other spouse;
      * when one is seeking to help the other spouse to desist from such conduct (patiently, with prayer, charity and dialogue; although not necessarily in that moment, nor on every single occasion).”

      The action of the cooperating spouse, the wife, is not illicit in itself because the act is the normal conjugal act, up until the time that the husband chooses to withdraw. This is not the case with condom use or BCPs, which make the act illicit (non-procreative) at all times.

    • Ron Conte says:

      “When you give your stats on the abortifacients, is that the estrogen and progesterone pill?”
      All the different types of BCPs are abortifacient. I’m working on a new post with more specific info on the types of chemical contraceptives and the extent to which they are abortifacient.

  4. John Platts says:

    Pope Pius XI taught in Casti Connubii that “any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin” (n. 56), and this teaching applies not only to the use of barrier contraceptives such as the condom but also to abortifacient forms of birth control including hormonal contraceptives, emergency contraception, and IUD’s. In addition to condemning contraception, Casti Connubii also teaches that direct abortion “is against the precept of God and the law of nature: ‘Thou shalt not kill'” and constitutes the “direct murder of the innocent” (n. 63-66).

    The Catholic Church’s teaching against contraception in Casti Connubii applies to abortifacient forms of birth control such as the birth control pill, emergency contraceptives, contraceptive implants, and intrauterine devices since sexual acts that are contracepted through the use of artificial birth control are “deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life” through both its contraceptive effect and its abortifacient effect.

    While there were some Catholic theologians who claimed that the use of the birth control pill was morally acceptable on the grounds that the use of the birth control pill does not violate the integrity of the marital act back in the 1960’s, this theological position contradicts the teaching in Casti Connubii that any sexual act that “is frustrated in its natural power to generate life” is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

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