contraception with a good intention

Some commentators are claiming that contraception is only immoral when the intent is to contracept, i.e. when contraception is used with the purpose of preventing conception. Not true.

The Magisterium teaches that there are three fonts of morality: (1) intention, (2) moral object, (3) circumstances.

Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The morality of human acts depends on: the object chosen; the end in view or the intention; the circumstances of the action. The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the ‘sources,’ or constitutive elements, of the morality of human acts.”

Compendium of the Catechism: “The morality of human acts depends on three sources: the object chosen, either a true or apparent good; the intention of the subject who acts, that is, the purpose for which the subject performs the act; and the circumstances of the act, which include its consequences.”

USCCB Catechism: “Every moral act consists of three elements: the objective act (what we do), the subjective goal or intention (why we do the act), and the concrete situation or circumstances in which we perform the act…. All three aspects must be good — the objective act, the subjective intention, and the circumstances — in order to have a morally good act.”

When an act has an evil moral object, that act is intrinsically evil and always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances.

Pope 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, n. 67.)

Pope John Paul II: “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, n. 81.)

Is contraception only immoral with a contraceptive intent? No. The Magisterium teaches that contraception is intrinsically evil, meaning that the act itself is inherently wrong due to an evil moral object. Intention and circumstances cannot justify an intrinsically evil act.

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)

Contraception is condemned both as an end (when the intended end is contraception) and as a means to some other end, even to a good end.

Can a good intention justify contraception? The CCC says it cannot:

“Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).” (CCC, n. 2399).

The reason that magisterial documents describe contraception as deliberate or intentional is that, in choosing any intrinsically evil act, the human person is intentionally choosing not only the exterior action, but also its essential moral nature, as determined by its moral object. The choice to use contraception is the intentional choice of an act that, by its very nature, renders sexual acts unfruitful, independent of the purpose (intended end) for which the act was chosen, and independent of circumstances.

All three fonts of morality pertain in some way to an intentional choice by the human will. Both good and bad acts are of the will. The font called intention is the intended end or purpose for which the act is chosen.

The font called moral object is the moral nature of the act itself, as determined by the end (moral object) toward which the act is inherently directed. Any act with an evil moral object is intrinsically evil and always immoral. But intrinsically evil acts are always intentionally-chosen — they are deliberate or voluntary, in that the person knowingly chooses a particular kind of act. By choosing a contraceptive act, the person is necessarily also choosing the nature of that act as determined by its moral object. No one can choose an intrinsically evil act (second font) and somehow make that act moral by a good intention (first font). The act is inherently immoral.

The font called circumstances also involves intention, in that a person intentionally chooses an act with knowledge of the reasonably anticipated good and bad consequences of that act. Just as the intention of the person cannot change the moral object, so also the intention cannot change the circumstances and consequences of that act.

The use of contraception, that is, the intentional (or deliberate) choice of an act that is inherently directed toward the deprivation of the procreative meaning from sexual acts, is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of the intention or purpose for which the act was chosen and regardless of circumstances.

by Ron Conte

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