The “Birth Control for a Medical Purpose” Question

“Is it OK to use birth control to treat Menorrhagia?” This was the question asked by user “DenverCatholic” in the Ask an Apologist section of Catholic Answers discussion group. See the original question and answer here. The poster stated the following:

My wife suffers from Menorrhagia (heavy menstrual bleeding). She is 48 years old and 3 doctors (including one Catholic doctor, to my surprise) have told her she needs to be on birth control medication to manage it. We are way past child-bearing age… Would this be acceptable under Church teaching? She’s questioning the prohibition of birth control for a situation like this.

An answer was provided by Fr. Vincent Serpa “Catholic Answers Apologist”–

The Church does allow such use so long as it is for medicinal purposes and the intention is not to contracept.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

Father Serpa’s answer is incorrect. The Church has NEVER permitted contraception, much less abortifacient contraception, merely because the purpose is medical or the intention is good. Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral.

Before I explain further, let me point out a false claim in the original poster’s question. He says “We are way past child bearing age”. First, men are never entirely past child bearing age, although male fertility does decline, be degrees, with increasing age. Second, a woman who has the medical problem of heavy menstrual bleeding is obviously not postmenopausal. So while she, too, is less fertile than in her younger years, she is most likely still able to conceive. They are not past child bearing age.

Contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Moreover, we are talking about a chemical contraceptive (the birth control pill), which is also abortifacient (able to cause an abortion). Abortion is also intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

There are three fonts of morality, three things that make any knowingly chosen act good or evil:

(1) intention — the purpose of the act; the end in view
(2) moral object — the end, in terms of morality, toward which the chosen act is inherently ordered; the moral object determines the inherent moral meaning or essential moral nature of the act.
(3) circumstances — the good and bad consequences of an act, in so far as they can be reasonably anticipated at the time the act is chosen.

If any one or more of the three fonts is bad, the act is a sin. A bad intention makes any act a sin, even if the moral object and consequences are good. A bad moral object makes any act intrinsically evil and therefore a sin, even if the intention and consequences are good. And bad circumstances (when the bad consequences outweigh the good) make any act a sin, even if the intention and moral object are each good.

Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral because they have an evil moral object. A good intention or purpose cannot change the moral object, and thereby make the intrinsically evil act good:

Pope John Paul II: “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).

So Fr. Serpa is wrong to claim that a married couple can use abortifacient contraception as long as they have a good intention or a medical purpose. The purpose or intention of the act is the first font of morality. The moral object is the second font. A good intention cannot transform an intrinsically evil act into a good act because the first font cannot change the second font.

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)

It doesn’t matter if the use of contraception is an end, as when a couple intends to hinder procreation, or a means, as when the couple intends the use of chemical contraceptives is a means to treat a medical disorder. Intrinsically evil acts are never justified by intention or circumstances. And the end does not justify the means.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church: “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 Church clearly teaches that a “legitimate intention” cannot justify contraception. Yet Fr. Serpa says exactly the opposite; he claims a good intention (to treat a medical disorder) justifies contraception. Worse still, the type of contraception he justifies is abortifacient. Both contraception and abortion are intrinsically evil, and yet he claims that a good intention (a medical purpose) makes these intrinsically evil acts moral.

Pope Pius XI: “But no reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything intrinsically against nature may become conformable to nature and morally good.” (Casti Connubii, n. 54.)

Every intrinsically evil is said to be “intrinsically against nature” because every sin is against the natural law, the law written on our hearts by God. No reason, not even a very grave one, can justify the choice of an intrinsically evil act.

Pope John Paul II: “No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.” (Evangelium Vitae, n. 62)

A medical purpose or a difficult circumstance can never make licit (moral or permissible) any intrinsically evil act, including contraception and abortion.

The deliberate choice of an intrinsically evil act is always a sin. The choice is voluntary; it is intentional. To intentionally or deliberately choose an intrinsically evil act, such as contraception or abortion, is always a sin. However, do not confuse the first font of intention (the purpose for which the act was chosen) with the intentional choice of the act itself. The will is involved in each font of morality, but in different ways.

The first font (intention) is the intended end or purpose of the act. The second font is based on the moral type of the act, that is to say, the moral nature of the chosen act, as determined by the moral object. The first font is in the subject (the person who acts) — it is his chosen intention. The second font is in the objective act; the moral object is the end toward which the act itself is inherently ordered. These are two different types of ends.

The intentional or deliberate choice of an intrinsically evil act is always a sin because the act is wrong by its very nature. Nothing can change the act to make it moral.

Pope John Paul II: “In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture…. 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.” (Veritatis Splendor, n. 81)

Abortifacient contraception is intrinsically evil. Therefore, the good intention to treat a medical disorder, or the difficult circumstance of the woman’s suffering, cannot remove the evil of the act. Contraception and abortion are “irremediably evil acts”.

Fr. Serpa, along with many other online commentators, are causing harm to souls by teaching a grave error on a matter of morality: justifying abortifacient contraception based on intention and circumstances. As a group these persons have convinced many Catholic married couples to use abortifacient contraception while still engaging in marital relations. Over the course of many couples and many years, this false teaching has caused many actual abortions. Not only are Fr. Serpa and many other commentators at Catholic Answers teaching false doctrine on a grave matter of morality, they are also committing formal cooperation with the sins of abortion and contraception. The resulting deaths of innocent prenatals cannot be justified by recourse to intention or circumstances, nor by the false claim that “the Church approves” of this sin.

The Church’s teaching is clear: abortifacient contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Whoever teaches otherwise, teaches heresy and is a partly responsible for the resultant deaths of innocent unborn children.

For more on contraception and intrinsically evil acts, see the series of articles on my website: Catechism.cc.

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

See a list of my books and booklets here.

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6 Responses to The “Birth Control for a Medical Purpose” Question

  1. Dot says:

    Please say whether or not this is moral: A sexually inactive teenager taking The Pill to regulate her cycle. It would seem all fonts are good, up until such time as she is married. Then she must stop taking it.

    • Ron Conte says:

      For any woman who is not sexually active, including a married woman who refrains from marital relations while treating a disorder, the use of the Pill to regulate her cycle is moral. It is not contraceptive or abortive, because there is no sexual relations to be deprived of its procreative meaning and no child can be conceived and then aborted.

  2. Bill says:

    Is it immoral for a married couple to choose to abstain from sexual relations? Or more directly, if the couple mentioned in the original question made the decision, for medical reasons, to abstain from sexual relations, would that change your analysis of the morality of taking pill? (In essence it would make the situation much like that in Dot’s question, because there would then be “no sexual relations to be deprived of its procreative meaning and no child can be conceived and then aborted”.

  3. Bill says:

    Ron, thank you for your insight.

  4. Dot says:

    I thank you as well and am praying for your intentions.

Comments are closed.