On Contraception: Dilemmas and Uterine Sovereignty

Brandon Evans, IV Leader Guest Columnist

Contemporary and controversial, abundance of opinion is apparent regarding contraception. The often fervent establishment of principle comes absent considerable scrutiny of conviction. To achieve a more comprehensive understanding of this argument then a more thorough debate of underlying concepts should be asserted.

An often fundamental objection to contraception comes from a moral principle that can be found in both religious and secular ideation. It appears that religious objections stand as most dominant and will be the initial basis for consideration. One of the primary arguments opposed to contraception is from the idea of natural law. The idea that sexual intercourse is intended for the purpose of procreation is a basic natural law. Within this definition, any act of coitus must be for the sole purpose of creating new life. Therefore, the use of barrier methods and contraceptives becomes a direct violation of this purpose. This leads to an interesting dilemma facing the catholic church. The catholic church condones the use of natural family planning (NFP). For those unfamiliar with NFP, it is, in short, a method in which partners engaging in sexual activity do not use contraceptives but plan sexual encounters based on ovulation and menstrual cycles to avoid impregnation. However, this method seems to contradict the very idea of procreative natural laws. This argument is nothing new, but how does this acceptable practice not constitute a logical fallacy of the church’s position of purpose. Leaving the telos aside, perhaps reviewing the consequentiality is of just as much importance.

When contemplating the idea of a contraception it seems a deductive aspect can be abstracted. That facet is potential. Using contraception prevents the creation of new life and abortion terminates new life either intentionally or unintentionally (e.g. spontaneous abortion or miscarriage). Both of these ideas are about prohibiting the potential of a new life. Apart from religion, this is a difficult moral question to answer definitively. However, are there circumstances that justify the elimination of potential? For example, the World Health Organization (WHO) released data in 2010 identifying that, while pregnancy-related deaths had dropped, there was still nearly 1,000 women dying each day to pregnancy-related causes. The WHO identified four main factors that contributed to maternal death and in some cases fetal or child death including bleeding post-birth, infections, hypertensive disorders, and unsafe abortions. While the fundamental answer, of course, would be to improve sanitary conditions, health care access and quality, socioeconomic stability and/or prosperity, and governmental function. These concepts have been a challenging course of action for generations. All of the previous improvements are noble and worthwhile causes but they are long-term progressive goals, and they are not, currently or effectively, preventing maternal and child deaths that can be prevented and have already occurred. The deaths that are being discussed are precisely related to pregnancy. Therefore, is it acceptable to prevent these deaths by preventing pregnancy through contraception? Before the argument becomes logically fallacious, there is no reason to reduce this to absurdity and invoke a slippery-slope response of sterilization or forced abortions. However, there can be an argument regarding natural rights, consequentialism, and the disparaging conditions plaguing this atrocity (that is, the overwhelming majority of pregnancy-related deaths are in under-developed Asian and African nations).

Natural rights are nothing new and represent a strong philosophy that is entrenched in American liberty. John Locke would argue our intrinsic rights, that is before government and the means before our death, to life, liberty, health, and property. While there is no doubt the argument will be made that the potential fetus has these natural rights as well, what then of the mother who has these rights when the fetus may bring about her undesired death? Society would then be in the position of deciding the who has the priority to their natural rights: the mother, the fetus, or neither in cases where both will die. However, if natural rights are accepted then this decision must be left to the individual. After all, the mother has the right to her life, liberty, and health. Where then does any authoritative body have precedence over the natural right of the mother including governments, the church, or society.

Some will argue that the consequences alone bear the support of contraception, especially in areas of poverty or ignorance. Matters of population and the incapacity of the indigent circumstances to enable the natural rights of the newborn. The economics of poverty wherein a child born to poverty may exacerbate the situation further. For those adamantly opposed to abortion, the reciprocal effect of contraception reducing the need for abortion in unwanted pregnancies. Utility is not the chief argument of this thesis but is merely another subjective measure that is often introduced.

There must be a point when a woman’s right is recognized, and empowerment and education is understood to be that right. There are no easy answers, and certainly no easy fixes to these problems. The importance of this debate is that no confined individual or group retains the authority or understanding, and that all individuals weigh objectivity above unevaluated ideology, principle, or belief regarding a woman’s right or anyone else’s for that matter.