The compassion we experience for any person in distress or suffering anxiety includes women who are distressed at the prospect of a pregnancy. People in distress are also very vulnerable. And so we consider it a matter of grave concern when commercially motivated "solutions" are put in front of them in their most vulnerable moments "solutions" that may result in greater disaster than the pregnancy they fear.
A separate paper has been prepared on our behalf, titled "Chemical contraception: the dangers and fallacies", to document these dangers. Our comments here will focus on the kind of thinking that has created a climate of fear relating to pregnancy, leading too often to desperate "solutions".
When it became socially acceptable to substitute "protected sex" for chastity, extra-marital sex and sexual activity at an earlier age became more frequent. People thought they could have sex without its natural consequences, given especially the promises being made on behalf of the pill.
An attitude was being formed: why refrain from having sex if the consequences could be avoided? Chastity was becoming redundant.
Then the failure rate of the pill began to show:
Most of the 15,501 women who had an abortion in NZ in 1999 were using contraception when they became pregnant. They had been led to believe they could rely on contraception and found it failed them 2.
But by then, people had become used to the idea of sex without consequences, and so the pressure was on to find other ways of eliminating the consequences.
Abortion began to be seen as a back-up to failed contraception, and the number of abortions sky-rocketed from just under 6000 in 1980 to 15,500 in 1999.
This is the context into which the pharmaceutical industry brings its latest "solution" - the "morning after pill" - a pill that can work in two ways: if it does not succeed in preventing fertilisation, it then prevents implantation of the fertilised ovum. It only masks the abortion by bringing it about much sooner.
Our teaching on abortion is already clear: terminating that tiny life is wrong, and other people's reasons for wanting to do so cannot make it right.
But those who resort to abortion also diminish their own lives. Often they are victims of negative prejudice and social pressure surrounding pregnancy. They have been "set up" for making that false equation: unexpected pregnancy - unwanted pregnancy. The truth is that many an unexpected pregnancy has become the source of its mother's greatest joys. Prejudice and fear are preventing them from discovering this truth.
To make the morning-after pill available to teenagers over the counter encourages sexual promiscuity, and increasingly isolates young people in difficulty from the help and advice they need. It is futile to address the problem of teenage pregnancies, which are so numerous in this country, without reference to clear moral principles. To continue the pretence that each person can decide for themselves what is right and wrong just compounds the problem. Merely providing ever easier access to early forms of abortion will not work. It is crucial for the moral health of our society that we rediscover the true place of sex in human relationships' 3.
Young people have also been misled. Reliance on contraception as a way of separating one's actions from its consequences is only a kind of smoke-screen. It doesn't change the reality; nor does it help people to make a connection between what they do and accepting the consequences of what they do.
In this sense, reliance on contraception can never be a true substitute for chastity. Chastity is really just a combination of respect for one's self, respect for others, and self-restraint. These are the ingredients of character and trustworthy relationships, of personality and dignity. But these strengths come only with practice. Virtue is a strength made easier by practice.
A society that ridicules the practice of chastity unwittingly ridicules respect for one's self, respect for others, and self-restraint. It is helpful to reflect on the range of socially unacceptable behaviours that result from lack of self-respect, lack of respect for others, and lack of self-restraint. They include many forms of violence against persons.
Those who rely on contraception to intercept the consequences of their own choices lose in yet another way: it has to do with love:
Love is our origin, love is our constant calling, love is our fulfilment in heaven 4.
This love which enters so comprehensively into the very meaning of our lives is mainly a spiritual reality. It finds wonderful expression in bodily ways, but it is always more than what our bodies can say.
The love which accounts for our origin is God's own love, reaching into the world through each new person.
The love which is our destiny will be so wonderful that marriage itself will have been surpassed.
So too, the love which is our constant calling is primarily a spiritual reality. It finds expression in all the wonderful ways that can transform people's lives. It is the love that changes everything (Lloyd-Webber). It is the self-sacrificing love of a parent for his or her child; it is the faithfulness of couples who have grown old in the commitment they once made to each other; it is the love of all the Mother Teresas, known and unknown - ordinary people surpassing themselves in being there for others. It is life-giving through and through.
Husband and wife also surpass themselves when they bring a new life into the world. The stream of life-giving love which originates in God permeates the whole of their love for each other. This is why the Church teaches that marriage is holy.
We invite you who are called to bring life and love into the world to recognise anew the privilege that is your calling.
We invite you who become pregnant no matter what the circumstances of conception to welcome your little one in the way you would like to be welcomed yourself.
We invite you who are not yet married to practice the self-respect, the respect for others, and the self-restraint that you will need for a marriage based on mutual respect.
In these ways we can all work together to reverse a culture of self interest and fear that tends to cut life off, and we can open ourselves anew to the wonder of it all - becoming channels of life-giving love.
Signed by the Bishops
Peter J Cullinane, Bishop of Palmerston North, President, NZ Catholic Bishops' Conference
John J Cunneen, Bishop of Christchurch
Denis G Browne, Bishop of Hamilton, Vice President
Thomas, Cardinal Williams, Archbishop of Wellington
John A Dew, Auxiliary Bishop of Wellington, Secretary
Leonard A Boyle, Bishop of Dunedin
Patrick J Dunn, Bishop of Auckland
Owen J Dolan, Coadjutor Bishop of Palmerston North
Max Takuira Mariu SM, Auxiliary Bishop of Hamilton
Robin W Leamy SM, Emeritus Bishop of Rarotonga
The full text is available from Catholic Communications, Private Bag 47 904, Ponsonby, Auckland. (A statement from the Catholic Bishops of Scotland, called 'Morning-after pill' is available here ).
"Chemical contraception: the dangers and fallacies".
Most Rev Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, Archbishop of Westminster. Media statement 12 December 2000.
Wedding Mass, Preface III.
Chemical Contraception: the dangers and fallacies
Catholic Bishops of Scotland: Pastoral Letter on the Morning-After Pill