Does Contraception have a place in Christian Relief Work?

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I was recently invited to tour a new medical ship run by the international Christian relief organisation Youth With a Mission (YWAM). This particular ship, destined for work in Papua New Guinea (PNG), is larger and newer than their current vessel, and it will allow YWAM to increase their medical assistance by 500%, offering healthcare immunisations and training to 1.3 million people, a quarter of the nation’s population. The ship will offer basic but vital services which many of the poorest people of PNG would have little hope of accessing otherwise, such as optical and dental treatment, pregnancy assistance, as well as medications to fight malaria and tuberculosis. There was no doubt in the presentation and ensuing discussion that the work being undertaken was of immense value, truly taking up the most basic Christian tenant to offer help to those in need.

The ship is currently moving up and down the east coast of Australia raising awareness and seeking young people as medical and general volunteers. The reason I was invited aboard was to help them create an awareness of the work amongst young Catholics, especially those who might look to give a few months to volunteering. As the discussions developed I knew there was one question that needed to be asked, and that was their policy on abortion and contraception. While I was relieved to learn that as a Christian organisation they did not carry out abortions, they did distribute the contraceptive pill and the Depo-Provera injection which is designed to prevent pregnancy for three months at a time. Their reasoning for distributing contraceptives was because they operate within the medical policy of the nation in which they serve and contraceptives are part of the ‘health’ strategy of PNG. Their response was not a real surprise and they are certainly not the only Christian relief agency travelling this path (even World Vision is the same). Contraceptives now form a large part of the medical response in developing nations and that is often because it is tied to much needed relief dollars from wealthier nations such as Australia and the USA.

From a moral standpoint though, treating fertility as a disease to be stopped is never an authentically human or Christian response. The long standing Judeo/Christian theological tradition is that fertility is a gift allowing and calling couples to share in the life-giving power of God. And while that has never meant that all couples are obligated to have 10 children, it does not follow that we are able to sterilise the meaning of the sexual union as a complete sharing of two people.

It is a tragedy that natural and scientifically accurate methods of fertility awareness (such as the Billings Ovulation Method) are not taught to these poor women as opposed to injecting them with what is a dangerous drug every three months. After all, a women is only fertile for a small portion of every cycle; natural fertility awareness respects and helps a couple to understand this and plan their family accordingly. Contraception doesn’t care about a woman’s natural cycle, it simply kills fertility completely as if it were some sort of cancer. Even the communistic Chinese government has tested and authorised the national teaching of the Billings Method to help couples comply with their one child policy; of course they don’t care about the moral value of sexuality, but it shows that the method is understood to be highly effective. Teaching couples about fertility awareness helps them understand their bodies and appreciate the gift of their sexuality; handing out contraceptive pills and injections to women is unfortunately more akin to the way we de-sex animals and far below our dignity as beings created in a divine image.

And in addition, even though the YWAM medical ships may not carry out surgical abortions, it is part of the workings of the pill and depo injections that they act as chemical abortifacients, meaning that they stop the implantation of an embryo that has already been formed as a new life. Women are thus likely having very early abortions and being completely unaware of that fact. Anyway, once the theory of contraception has been accepted, the idea of abortion is never far behind. They are two sides of the one coin which says that fertility is a medical problem to be dealt with.

It is very unfortunate that over the past forty or so years a number of Christian (Protestant) welfare organisations have bought into the heavily funded agenda from groups like Planned Parenthood which says that the distribution of contraceptives and even surgical abortion is necessary in the developing world. It is something which the Catholic Church, for some of the reasons above, finds intolerable. And admittedly it makes work with Protestant welfare groups, which on the most part have good intentions, often impossible. The saddest aspect of it all though is that these groups, working under the Christian flag, are standing beside policies that are harmful to the people and families they seek to serve.

Bernard Toutounji

Bernard Toutounji

Bernard Toutounji is an Australian Catholic writer and speaker. He writes a fortnightly column called Foolish Wisdom (www.foolishwisdom.com) which examines afresh issues within news, culture or faith. One of Bernard’s favourite quotes comes from Edith Stein who said "All those who seek truth seek God whether this is clear to them or not". Bernard is married to Jane and they have two daughters.

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2 thoughts on “Does Contraception have a place in Christian Relief Work?”

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    It isn’t much of a surprise that Protestant groups are pushing contraception, given that they changed their teachings on it close to the beginning of the 20th century. Couple that with the incessant push from Planned Parenthood and others, and it’s an already forgone conclusion. Unfortunately, there are also some Catholics and Catholic organizations, at least in the US that also buy in to the lie that contraception and abortion are necessary for the development of nations. We cannot simply counter this by quoting moral truths that are unquestionably absolute, but perceived in the abstract to be ineffective on a personal level. In order to effectively argue against this mindset, we must understand why the thought prevails in the first place, from the human level, and what we can do on that human level to lead to the spiritual.

    From the human level, offering contraception and even abortion makes complete sense. In order to understand this mindset, we must temporarily suspend our understanding of Catholic teaching on contraception and abortion and adopt the mindset of those we wish to help. I can speak from experience working in convenience stores in poor neighborhoods and in transitional maternity homes for homeless pregnant women, among other experiences, that offering contraception to the poor and sick makes complete sense on a human level.

    I don’t know how the statistics are in Australia, but in the US, we have a huge problem with children being born out of wedlock. Single parent families, most of the time being a mother with her children, are more disposed to living in poverty and dependence on government assistance. Consequently, the children of single parent homes are more likely to grow up to live in poverty themselves, become involved in crime, and have their own children out of wedlock. It is alarmingly more common for women to have multiple children with different fathers, and men to impregnate multiple women. These broken families suffer psychologically, spiritually, and also in the physical sense that they live in poverty. On a completely human level, does it not make sense to distribute birth control to these women who “don’t know any better” to prevent this cycle from continuing? Does it not make sense to try to prevent children from being born into an unbroken cycle of poverty and misery, where they don’t have a statistical chance of making it at all? I’ve personally known women who have tried to have more kids just to get more assistance from the government. Isn’t this a preventable drain on public resources?

    We need to recognize the human needs of the people we are trying to serve. Everyone needs food, shelter, clothing, health care, and a sustainable way to obtain those things, i.e.a good paying job. I intentionally left out the spiritual needs at this point because that is the standpoint that government, and Christian organizations are taking. We live in a world where the “sexual revolution” has left in its wake millions of children who live in poverty, without a father, or without food. As the casualties of this so-called revolution climb higher and higher, governments and other charitable organizations are trying to step in to try to help with this problem.

    We Catholics, and Protestants alike, have a message that there is a better way to live. That there is an unimaginable joy found in the bounty and infinite Mercy of God the Father. Before we can even mention those Truths, it is necessary to take care of the human needs of people, as we demonstrate through our love, forgiveness, and mercy the principles by which we live as Catholics. These human needs do not include contraception or abortion. Jesus fed the five thousand through a miracle because He knew that they would be hungry. His words took greater meaning because He took care of their physical needs as well as their spiritual needs. He opened their hearts by speaking to the spiritual and taking care of the physical. In order to make a difference, one that will turn the hearts and minds of people away from the contraceptive mentality, we have to get our hands “dirty” and reach out to those who are suffering and living in poverty. Only then, when we meet people at the human level, can we turn towards the loving arms of God the Father.

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