Kevin G. Rickert:: Is Contraception Contralife?

Is Contraception Contralife?:  A Critique of Grisez et al.

Kevin G. Rickert

Since the encyclical Humanae Vitae in 1968, the issue of contraception has caused great pain and division in the Catholic Church.  Contraception is almost universally accepted by modern society and by a large percentage of professed members of the Catholic Church; at the same time, it is condemned by the Teaching Authority of the Church.  Perhaps one reason for this division of opinion is the relative inability of Catholic theologians, philosophers, and pastors to convince the faithful of the moral evil involved in contraception.

               With the increase in use and acceptance of contraception in modern society, even among averred Catholics, there appears to be a greater need for clear and sound argumentation as to the immorality of contraception.  It is to this end that Germain Grisez, John Finnis, Joseph Boyle, and William E. May have proffered their article, “‘Every Marital Act Ought to be Open to New Life’:  Toward a Clearer Understanding” in the July, 1988 edition of The Thomist.[1]

               An argument demonstrating the moral malice of contraception must not only identify the aspect of contraception that renders it morally evil but must also show why such an aspect is morally evil.  Historically, there have been two main ways of arguing against contraception.  In recent times, most ethicists and moral theologians who have condemned contraception have done so on the grounds that it is evil in its relation to marital love and human sexuality.  In the Middle Ages, however, the predominant argument located the moral malice of contraception in its relation to life.  For nearly eleven centuries (from the fourth to the thirteenth), theologians of Western Europe, without ever being challenged, had considered contraception to be like homicide.[2]

               Nevertheless, St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the mid-thirteenth century, refused to treat contraception as homicide.  According to St. Thomas, contraception—the use of sterilizing chemicals—is a grave act which is against nature but is by no means homicide.  Furthermore, he maintained that one should not be considered “irregular” (as one who is guilty of homicide would be) unless abortion is procured of an already formed child.[3]  By the 18th century, the traditional argument which compared contraception to homicide, was virtually abandoned.  According to John T. Noonan, this argument, as old as Regino of Prum (840?-915) and Burchard (965-1025), as ancient indeed as St. Jerome, had fallen into disuse.  Finally, “with St. Alfonsus the homicide approach ended its theological life.”[4]

               One might describe Grisez et al.'s article as a new and improved attempt to revive, at least in an extended sense, one important aspect of the dated homicide argument.  While Grisez et al. admit that contraception is not homicide, they forcefully maintain that it is similar in one very important respect, viz., they both involve a will that is turned against the basic human good of life.

               The principle thrust of their article is to argue that contraception is morally evil primarily because it is “contralife.”  This argument is significant in that it attempts to show, like the homicide argument of old, that the evil of contraception derives from its rejection of the basic human good of life.  If this argument is successful, the conclusion would posit contraception as a different sort of moral evil than was thought by many who have agreed that it is evil.  Insofar as contraception can be shown to entail a contralife will, its evil would be comparable to the evil of homicide.

               Most people who contracept, however, do not consider themselves to be doing anything even remotely related to homicide.  The conclusion for which Grisez et al. argue, viz., that contraception is morally evil because it is “contralife,” seems, prima facie, to be counter-intuitive.  In the course of this paper, it will become further evident that the argument presented by Grisez et al. is not philosophically viable.

               In order to develop and defend the argument that contraception is morally evil primarily because it is contralife, Grisez et al. must answer three questions:  First, what kind of an action is contraception?  Second, what is wrong with this action?  And third, how does contraception significantly differ from Natural Family Planning (NFP)?[5]



               Grisez et al. begin their argument with a key distinction.  They claim that contraception is not a sexual act and, therefore, conclude that contraception is not a “sexual sin.”[6]  (‘Sin’ should be taken here only to mean a morally evil act.)  Grisez et al. state:  “Assuming contraception is a sin, it is not a sexual sin, such as masturbation, fornication, adultery, homosexual behavior, and so on.”[7]  This distinction may appear to have some substance as well as some value for the present discussion; however, on closer examination, it can be shown to be problematic and misleading.

               Grisez et al. point out that one can perform a contraceptive act without performing any sexual act whatsoever or without even willing any sexual action.  They present an example in which a dictator attempts to control the population by having a fertility-reducing chemical placed in the public water supply.[8]  This makes clear the fact that contraception is not a sexual act, yet their conclusion, that contraception is not a sexual sin, does not follow.  If a sexual sin can be defined as an offense against the natural ordering of sexuality (i.e., if a sexual sin is a disordering of the sexual act itself, the natural end of the sex act, or the proper meaning of the sex act), then contraception qualifies as a sexual sin.  To characterize contraception as a non-sexual sin, therefore, would be erroneous.  It is obvious that contraception does, like other sexual sins, prevent the sexual act from reaching its natural end.  With this understanding of what a sexual sin is, it would follow that contraceptive action, even that of the hypothetical dictator mentioned above, is a sexual sin.  That contraception is a sexual sin, in fact, is the position that is held by most in the modern tradition who oppose contraception.[9]

               For argument's sake, it may be granted that contraception might be morally evil for reasons other than its sexual offense; however, one should not concede that contraception is altogether not a sexual sin.  With this mistaken concession, one would close one's investigation to the possibility that contraception is immoral in its relation to sexuality, and would therefore search, possibly in vain, for some other grounds on which to base its immorality.

               Having ruled out contraception as an example of sexual sin, Grisez et al. proceed to locate the evil of contraception in its  “contralife character.”  They hold that the act of contraception  is contralife by definition:

Contraception can be defined only in terms of the beliefs, intentions, and choices that render behavior contraceptive.  To contracept one must think that (1) some behavior in which someone could engage is likely to cause a new life to begin, and (2) the bringing about of the beginning of new life might be impeded by some other behavior one could perform.  One's choice is to perform that other behavior; one's relevant immediate intention (which may be sought for some further purpose) is that the prospective new life not begin.[10]

They state further that “Since contraception must be defined by its intention that a prospective new life not begin, every contraceptive act is necessarily contralife.”[11]

               It should be noted that since Grisez et al. define contraception as contralife, we should not expect to find them presenting an argument to demonstrate the contralife character of contraception, for to do so would be to beg the question.  Rather, their argument will accept, as given, that contraception is contralife and will argue that such acts, qua contralife, are immoral.



               The argument presented by Grisez et al., showing that contraception is morally evil because it is contralife, can be restated in the following manner:

l)  Contraception always involves the intention (choice) that a prospective life not begin (i.e., contraception involves a contralife will).
2)  Choices involving a contralife will are contrary to reason.
3)  Therefore, contraception is a choice which is contrary to reason.
4)  Choices which are contrary to reason are morally evil.
5)  Therefore, contraception is morally evil.

As was mentioned above, Grisez et al. hold the first premise to be true by definition.  This premise states the specific aspect of the nature of all contraceptive acts upon which Grisez et al. ground the moral evil of contraception.  It is this aspect of contraception which, according to them, relates contraception to homicide, and it is this aspect which will be brought under closer scrutiny later in this paper.

               The truth of the second premise is shown in the following explanation of what it means to choose contrary to reason.  Grisez et al. state that:

whenever there is a reason to do something and a reason not to do it, one chooses in harmony with reason by choosing not to do it, but chooses contrary to reason by choosing to do it, unless the reason to do it is rationally preferable to the reason not to do it.[12]

According to Grisez et al., the good of the life of the prospective new person provides the primary reason not to perform a contraceptive act.  This good, according to Grisez et al., is incommensurable; therefore, there can be no grounds for holding any other reason to be rationally preferable to it.[13]  The contraceptive (contralife) choice, if indeed it is contralife, is, thus, a choice contrary to reason.

               The third premise follows necessarily from the first and second premises.  The fourth premise is assumed by Grisez et al. as a given which “no one is likely to challenge.”[14]  And the concluding proposition follows necessarily from the third and fourth premises.


               Having examined the grounds on which Grisez et al. hold the premises to be true, it is necessary to examine the validity of their logical structure.  The inference producing the third premise from the first and second, is a straight forward modus ponens.  Whether or not this inference is licit, however, is questionable.  Are Grisez et al. using the term ‘contralife’ in exactly the same sense in the first and second premises?  In other words, are they equivocating on the middle term?  In order to answer this question, it will be necessary to evaluate the precise sense in which they use the term ‘contralife’ in each  premise.

               In the first premise, the term ‘contralife’ is defined as the intention that a prospective life not begin.  In other words, it denotes direction of the will against the possible good of a possible, but not actual, person.  The definition of term ‘contralife’ operative in the second premise, however, is concerned with either possible or actual goods of an actual person.  By examining the justification of the second premise, one notices that the term ‘contralife’ denotes the opposition of the will to a basic human good, viz., the good of life.  An investigation into what is meant by “the good of life” will show that opposition to “the good of life” is not what is signified by the term ‘contralife’ in the first premise.

               In their book Beyond the New Morality, Grisez and Shaw speak of “the good of life” in the following manner:

The goods themselves are not abstractions, existing “out there” beyond us and other people.  Rather, they are aspects of human beings, ourselves or others—aspects which either already exist in actuality or have the potential of being realized.  To act directly against one of the fundamental goods is therefore to violate an actual or possible aspect of the personhood of a real person or persons:  to violate “life” means violating somebody's life—for instance, means killing or mutilating someone.[15]

Human goods, therefore, are not “existing out there”; they are aspects, either potential or actual, of real human beings.  Thus, qua possible or qua actual, they have their being only in an instantiated actuality.  The good of life is, thus, only an actual or possible good when it is an attribute of an actual being.  The term ‘contralife’ in the second, therefore, signifies the direction of a will against a possible or actual good of an actual human being.[16]  The term ‘contralife’ in the first premise, however, cannot mean the same thing because, in this case, there is no actual human being having a possible or actual good.

               One might argue that possible life exists qua possible in the mother and father.  This, however, cannot be.  Pete's good of life, an aspect of his personhood, can exist only in him.  His life cannot exist in Joe or Sally, nor could it have existed in his mother and father, qua aspect of Pete.[17]  If anything concerning Pete existed in his mother and father, it would not be Pete's life qua aspect of him; to say that his good of life existed in them is to assert nothing more than their having the power or faculty to procreate.  An act of contraception on the part of the parents, therefore, would not have been against any possible or actual aspect of Pete, since Pete was not actual and could not have had possible or actual aspects; rather, it would have been against their procreative faculty.

               The term ‘contralife’, therefore, as it is used in the first premise does not denote a will which is turned against the basic human good of life.  It is precisely upon this denotation, however, that the truth of the second premise is based.  The argument is faulty because it has equivocated on its middle term.

               The act of contraception, therefore, with respect to the true good of life, is not related to homicide in any morally significant manner.  The will in contraception and the will in homicide differ not merely in degree but in kind.  In homicide, one wills that an actual human being cease to be; in contraception one wills that a mere possibility remain non-actual.  In homicide the person wills that an existent being be deprived of a good, whereas, in contraception the will does not bear on the reduction of a good of any actual person.  Contraception, therefore, is not contra-the-good-of-life because it is not contra-a-good-of-any-real-person.  This accounts for the common intuition that those using contraception are not doing anything remotely related to homicide.  They can only be said to be contra “life” in some abstract or metaphorical sense, not in any actual, or morally significant, sense.  This, apparently, is the thought of Paul VI, who admits that couples may positively will that a prospective life not begin.  Paul VI states the following:

it is true that in both cases [in contraception and in NFP] the husband and wife agree in positively willing to avoid children for acceptable reasons, seeking to be certain that offspring will not result.[18]

This is not a surprising position, if, as has been shown, contraception, indeed, does not affect the good of life of any real human being.

               In response to this objection, namely, that contraception does not affect the good of life of any existing person, Grisez et al. argue that all human acts affect only the future.  They claim that in homicide the victim's entire life is not destroyed; the past and the present are beyond harm.  Therefore, homicide supposedly affects only the future, and thus contraception, likewise, is apparently “only against life that would be, not against life that is.”[19]

               This talk of future effects should not be allowed to distract from the relevant issue at hand, viz., that the contralife will in homicide is directed against the good of a real person, and that the will in contraception is not.  This response, presented by Grisez et al., therefore, neither addresses nor changes the fact that contraception is not truly contralife.

               Grisez et al. seem to have a further response to the argument that contraception does not affect an existing life.  They state that:

Although the goodness of the [actual] life which is destroyed [in homicide] provides the reason why deliberate killing is wrong, the moral evil of killing primarily is in the killer's heart.[20]

By locating the moral malice in the heart, Grisez et al. appear to avoid the objection that the contraceptive act does not take the life of an actual person.  To demonstrate their point, that morality is in the heart, they explain that a man can commit adultery without touching a woman; in fact, one need not even wish to commit adultery with any real woman.  According to Grisez et al., if one “imagines an ideal playmate and freely consents to his wish that she were real so that he might commit adultery with her, he commits adultery.”[21]  Analogously, the contralife will of homicide and the “contralife will” of contraception would be, accordingly, grounded in the heart.

               A careful comparison with contraception, however, demonstrates the failure of this analogy and the problem with grounding morality almost exclusively in the heart.  Unlike in the adultery case mentioned above, a person using contraception does not imagine an ideal child and then freely consent to a wish that the child were real so that one could snuff out its life.  It might be the case with a murderous intent that one wishes another were real and present so that they could be murdered, but this certainly is not the case in the contraceptive intent.  The difference is clear.  A murderer must intend to take some real person's life.  The person using contraception, however, does not intend that a real person's good of life be taken.  In fact, the attractiveness of contraception lies precisely in the result that no life is taken.  In abortion, on the other hand, a life is posited, it becomes real, and then is willfully taken.

               If people using contraception harbored a truly contralife will, i.e., if their will were truly turned against the life of a real person who may occupy the mother's womb, they would be logically committed to abortion or infanticide, should conception occur.  This, however, is not the case; people using contraception are not logically committed to abortion or infanticide.[22]

               Although morality may be in the heart, as Grisez et al. point out,[23] it ultimately must be grounded in the orientation of the heart toward reality.  The heart of the person using contraception is not turned against the good of life, either possible or actual, of a person in reality; therefore, with respect to life, it is not opposed to any real goodness.  A system of ethics which likens contracepters to murderers is blind to the value of existence; it is blind to reality.[24]



               Since Grisez et al. hold that contraception is necessarily immoral because it is necessarily contralife and that NFP is not necessarily immoral because it is not necessarily contralife, it is helpful to examine how Grisez et al. attempt to demonstrate that NFP (taken here to mean noncontraceptive NFP unless otherwise specified) is not necessarily contralife.[25]  First of all, they admit that the contraceptive intent and the noncontraceptive (NFP) intent may involve the same reasons.  The essential way in which they differ, according to Grisez et al., is in the choices which each involves and the relation of those choices to the benefits and burdens which accompany them.  In contraception the choice is to impede the baby's coming to be as a means to an end, which is to realize the goods which accompany the choice to use contraception and/or to avoid the evils which would accompany not choosing to use contraception.  In NFP, on the other hand, the choice is not to impede the baby's coming to be; rather, the choice is to abstain from sexual intercourse which could result in (a) the baby's coming to be and the loss of goods and/or avoidance of evils which accompany that baby's coming to be, in order that (b) the goods represented by that reason be realized and/or the evils represented by it be avoided.[26]

               In other words, the difference between the two choices, according to Grisez et al., is that contraception is the choice to do something which will impede the coming to be of a baby, whereas NFP is a choice not to do something while accepting the side effects, i.e., the baby's not coming to be, as well as the goods, and/or avoidance of evils, which follow.  Grisez et al. claim that contraception, by definition, is a choice to do something to prevent the beginning of a life of a possible person.  Yet, NFP is simply to abstain, or not do something.[27]

               If contraception is wrong, as Grisez et al. maintain, because it is contralife, and if NFP is to remain morally non-blameworthy, then NFP and contraception must significantly differ with respect to future possible life.  This difference, however, has not been successfully shown.

               According to Grisez et al., the difference between contraception and NFP is not necessarily in the reasons but in the choices.  Contraception is a choice to do something which will prevent conception; NFP is a choice not to do something which would result in conception.  The difference, according to Grisez et al., is that NFP is not an action which prevents conception; rather, it is a passive acceptance of the effect, namely, no conception.[28]

               To consider abstinence merely as a passive acceptance of effects is incorrect, for abstinence cannot always be considered simply a “not doing”; in NFP, it is an active disruption of an otherwise regular (and possibly life-giving) sexual routine.  Abstinence, therefore, is not simply a “not-doing.”  It is an active deterrence of what one ordinarily would otherwise do.[29]

               The couple practicing NFP abstain for some intended purpose.  They carefully calculate when to abstain, and they choose to put forth the effort to abstain for a reason.  The project (intentionally altering a regular pattern of sexual relations) is organized for an end, viz., to prevent the couple from causing a new life (to prevent the sperm from reaching the ovum).

               Likewise, in contraception, one takes certain measures at the proper time in order to prevent the sperm from meeting the ovum.  Thus, both contraception and NFP are, in a relevant sense, positive acts.  Just as the serious abstainer understands that sperm could possibly reach the ovum and thus takes measures to prevent it, so the contracepter sees the possibility that the sperm could reach the ovum and takes measures to prevent it.  They are both employing intended precautionary means in order to insure that the sperm will not meet the ovum.

               The significant difference between contraception and NFP, therefore, cannot lie in the fact that NFP is a passive acceptance or a “not doing something or other.”  Furthermore, “not doing” cannot be the significant difference which distinguishes the contraceptive act from the noncontraceptive act because so called “contraceptive NFP” would then be equated with noncontraceptive NFP on the grounds that it also is a “not doing.”  This, however, would be a contradiction, for “contraceptive NFP” would then be noncontraceptive NFP.[30]

               Finally, Grisez et al. hold that NFP, when practiced without good reasons, is contraceptive and contralife.  In order to free “non-contraceptive NFP” from the moral blameworthiness of a “contralife act,” and thus distinguish it from contraception, Grisez et al. appeal to the principle of double effect.[31]  They explain that a person legitimately using NFP intends only to avoid the burdens which having another baby would impose.  The couple may not, according to Grisez et al., intend the very not-being of the prospective baby.[32]

               This appeal to the principle of double effect, however, does not succeed.  If it is morally blameworthy to intend that a prospective baby not come to be, then NFP does not meet the criteria for the principle of double effect.  The prevention of the baby is the means to the end, namely, absence of burdens.  In order to achieve an end one must intend the means.  This, of course, is not allowed under the principle of double effect whenever the relevant means themselves are determined to be evil.  If it were true, as Grisez et al. claim, that it is evil to intend that a prospective baby not come to be, then, every form of NFP would be “contralife” since each intends, either as an end in itself, or as a means to another end, that the prospective baby not come to be.

               As was mentioned above, Paul VI recognized that in both contraception and NFP one intends to avoid children that might have otherwise come to be.  The difference does not lie in the direction of the will towards the being of a prospective baby, but in the actions by which one goes about avoiding the births of children.  Paul VI teaches that the evil of contraception flows primarily from the separation of the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual union.


               Finally, the logical flaw in the argument presented by Grisez et al. being apparent, and its having been shown that, with respect to life, contraception and NFP do not significantly differ, it is pertinent to examine two of the many logical consequences which would follow if the “contralife thesis” were true.

               First, if the direction of one's will toward the future possible life of a possible person is to be considered on a par with the direction of one's will toward the future possible life of an existing person, at least one absurdity would seem to follow.  When a woman in her fertile period is near a possible (and fertile) mate, a future possible life could be actualized.  If, however, one's choice concerning the future possible life of an existing person is to be considered as on a par with one's choices concerning the future possible life of a possible person, then the fertile couple who sits watching a movie rather than copulating is failing to promote future possible life, just as the couple who sits watching a movie rather than performing the Heimlich maneuver on their choking child.  In both cases, they are choosing the movie over the “good of future possible life.”  Both involve the same apathy of the will toward the future possible life.

               Clearly, the latter couple ought to stop watching the movie and perform the Heimlich maneuver on their choking child.  It is not necessarily true, however, that the other couple ought to stop watching the movie and copulate.  The absurd conclusion follows from the false assumption that the direction of one's will toward future possible life of a possible person is on a par with the direction of one's will toward the future possible life of an actual person.

               Furthermore, if contraception is contralife, and if this is immoral, then an unmarried couple who uses contraception would be condemned for having a contralife will.  An unmarried couple, however, can hardly be condemned for having a contralife will when it is perfectly normal, in fact expected, that they not will to conceive a child.  Although they ought to will the continuation of any existing life, an unmarried couple ought to will not to conceive a child outside of wedlock.  Grisez et al. state that “in itself the coming to be of a new human person is a great human good.”[33]  This is a true statement, but it is not equivalent to the statement “causing or willing to cause the coming to be of a new human person is always good.”  Some people, at least those who are not married, should not cause, nor will to cause, the coming to be of a new human person.  Contraception, it could be said, is not against the coming to be of a new human person, which is always good; rather, it is against causing, or willing to cause, the coming to be of a new human person, which is not always good.  It should be noted that this line of argument does not conclude that an unmarried couple may use contraception.  It simply shows that contraception would not be illicit for them, qua contralife.


               It has been shown that contraception may not be distinguished as necessarily not a sexual sin; thus, it is erroneous to assume that the moral evil of contraception must derive from some other offense, such as an offense against the good of life.[34]

               It was also shown that the “good of life,” which is allegedly opposed in the “contralife act” of contraception, is not the same good of life considered by Grisez et al. to be an incommensurable basic human good.  The “contralife” approach, as shown, confuses the mere possible goods of nonentities with the basic human good of life; the latter is, by definition, a good of an actual human being.  Contraception, therefore, is not morally evil qua contralife.             Moreover, the contralife approach fails to significantly differentiate contraception from NFP.  Not only do Grisez et al. fail to adequately distinguish the two, but they seem to have an unorthodox understanding of NFP.  According to Grisez et al., the sin of contraception would be evil in the same respect as the sin of using NFP without a good reason.  Contraception, however, seems to be a different kind of act than the misuse of NFP.  Contraception is always an attack upon the nature of the sexual union; NFP never is.  The use of NFP without good reasons may be a selfish abuse of marriage, but it is not morally equivalent to contraception.  Furthermore, Grisez et al. claim that one may not will that a possible person not come to be, yet one may emotionally not-want a baby which might be conceived while using NFP.  This is an odd conception of NFP, for it would seem, to the contrary, that those using NFP may positively will that a possible person not come to be, but, apparently, they should never emotionally, or otherwise, not want a baby actually conceived in their sexual union.  In other words, they should not be using NFP if they are not willing to joyfully receive any child with which they might happen to be blessed.

               Finally, considering the other conclusions which follow from the contralife thesis, it seems that such an approach actually leads to a more confused understanding of the contraception issue.  Contraception must be considered in relation to sexuality, yet human sexuality must always be understood in relation to love and the other authentic human values which are essentially linked to sexuality.[35]  Although the modern age seems largely blind to the genuine values involved in the sexual sphere, a return to the old homicide argument, a la Grisez et al.'s “contralife” approach, is not the answer.  Grisez et al. claim to be answering those who do not accept the inseparability of the unitive and procreative aspects of the sexual union, but why should one think that the contralife thesis is any more acceptable to these people?  Since it is difficult enough to convince contemporaries of the contralife character of abortion, why should anyone think that they will be convinced of the alleged “contralife” character of contraception?  If actual human life causes no conviction, a fortiori neither will possible life.  But love.  If nothing else, love is one thing which still holds a place of reverence.  People will go to great lengths for what they think is love.  Therefore, by showing what love truly is, and by pointing out the links between love, sex, purity, and reverence, one argues forcefully and convincingly.

               Toward the end of their article, Grisez et al. discuss some pastoral approaches to contraception.  Perhaps it is appropriate, likewise, at the end of this article to comment on pastoral aspects of the arguments here discussed.  What would the effect be if a confessor were to attempt to explain to a penitent the quasi-homicidal “contralife” aspects of contraception?  It is likely that penitents would leave the confessional profoundly confused.  From a knowledge of ordinary high school biology, one would know that the contraceptive means do not confront any aspect of an existing human being.  One will recognize the difference between contraception and homicide to be as great as the difference between not-building a house and burning down someone's house.  Would there not be less confusion in explaining the irreverence of the contraceptive act and the values inherent in the sexual sphere?  Would it not be more effective to explain the mystery and values of the sexual union which demand a reverent and pure response?  This, indeed, is the approach taken by most ethicists and moral theologians in recent times, for it is the clearer understanding.


3920 Dunlavy #9

Houston, Texas


[1] Germain Grisez, et al., “‘Every Marital Act Ought to be Open to New Life’:  Towards a Clearer Understanding,” The Thomist, Vol.  53, No. 3. (1988).


[2] Cf.  Joseph Sommer S.J., Catholic Thought on Contraception Through the Centuries (Ligouri:  Ligouri Pamphlets and Books, 1970), pp. 32, 33.


[3] “Hoc pecatum quamvis sit grave . . . et contra naturam . . . tamen est minus quam homicidum . . . Nec est judicandus talis irregularis, nisi jam formato puerperio abortum procuret.”  St. Thomas Aquinas, Scriptum super Quatuor Libros Sententiarum Magistri Petri Lombardi, IV, d. 31, q. 2, a. 3ex.


[4] John T. Noonan Jr., Contraception (Cambridge:  The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1965), p. 365.


[5] NFP is “a practice adopted by couples who abstain from sexual intercourse at times when they believe conception is likely and engage in sexual intercourse only at times when they believe conception is unlikely.”  Germain Grisez et al., p. 399.


[6] Ibid., pp. 369, 370.


[7] Ibid., p. 369.


[8] Ibid., p. 370.


[9] According to Grisez et al., “recent Church teaching focuses almost entirely on other values, especially chastity, marital love, and the sacred character of virtuous sexual activity in marriage.”  Ibid., p. 367.


[10] Ibid.


[11] Ibid., p. 371.  Cf.  also pp. 401, 402.


[12] Ibid., p. 377.


[13] Grisez et al. hold that the basic human goods, e.g., life, play, knowledge, are all natural goods integral to human fulfillment.  Each good is incomparably good; therefore, no one of these goods can be placed ahead of any other to the exclusion of the other.


[14] Ibid., p. 374.


[15] Germain Grisez, and Russell Shaw, Beyond the New Morality (Notre Dame:  University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), p. 134.


[16] If a good is to be other than merely conceptual, it must be an aspect of an actual being.  In order for something to be other than nothing, it must exist in itself, in another actuality, or in the mind of another actual being; thus it receives its being.  The goods do not exist in themselves; therefore, in order for them to exist, other than merely conceptually, they must be aspects of some actual being.


[17] To say that a possible or actual aspect of X, qua aspect of X, preceded X is absurd.


[18] Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, trans. M. A. Calagari, S.J. (Phoenix:  by the translator, 470l N. Central Ave., 1989), 16.


[19] Grisez et al., p. 384.


[20] Ibid., p. 372.


[21] Ibid., p. 373.


[22] Although one may argue from sociological data that the contraceptive mindset is linked to the abortifacient mindset, no strictly necessary causal relationship can be shown to exist.


[23] Ibid.


[24] Perhaps, for a Kantian style philosopher, this move might be expected; however, for a realist, it is out of bounds.


[25] Grisez et al. hold that some instances of NFP may be contralife, specifically, the cases in which the couple does not have a good reason for avoiding pregnancy or when NFP is used as a  form of contraception.  Ibid., pp. 400, 401.


[26] Ibid., pp. 401, 402.


[27] Ibid., p. 402.


[28] Ibid.


[29] To abstain is to actively turn from an action or practice which one would otherwise perform.  If one is not likely to do something he can hardly be said to be abstaining from it.  Thus, one who hates meat is hardly said to abstain from eating meat on Friday, and a young child is not said to abstain from sex.


[30] Furthermore, it is not always clear that the doing/not-doing distinction is morally relevant.  Consider, for example, the case where the parents poison their child's orange juice, i.e., they do something; then, consider the case where they allow the child to drink orange juice which they know is poisoned, i.e., they do not do something.


[31] The principle of double effect states that, “given the fulfillment of four conditions—all four—an action with at least one good effect and with one or more evil effects may legitimately be performed.” The four conditions are:  “(1) The action itself must be morally good or at least morally indifferent (neither good nor evil); (2) The good effect must not be obtained through the evil effect, i.e., by means of the evil effect; (3) The evil effect must not be intended, but rather only tolerated; (4) There must be a sufficiently serious reason to justify allowing the evil effect.” Martin D. O'Keefe, S.J., Known From The Things That Are  (Houston:  Center For Thomistic Studies, 1987), pp. 52, 53.


[32] Grisez et al., p. 401.


[33] Ibid., p. 374.


[34] Perhaps Grisez et al. could find some other good to which they could link the evil of contraception.


[35] The sexual union, which possesses a special mystery and is always the bearer of significant human values, demands an attentive and respectful response.  The contraceptive act, however, entails a disdainful violation of the distinctive mystery of the sexual domain.  In the use of contraception, one assumes an irreverent approach to the sexual union, attempting to alter and master it for one's own use.  One refuses to recognize or respond to the significant values legitimately demanding an appropriate response, and, thus, one adopts an irreverent approach toward the Creator, the sexual partners, and the values involved in the sexual union.  Cf.  Dietrich Von Hildebrand, The Encyclical “Humanae Vitae”—A Sign of Contradiction, trans., Damian Fedoryka and John Crosby (Chicago:  Franciscan Herald Press, 1969).