Editor’s Note: The author’s original title was “The Self-Gift Implicit to the Conjugal Act: Is Not Contraception, at Least Partially, Mutual Reciprocal Repudiation?“
(Fourth in a four-part series)
Here is my own speculative TOB-enabled scientific interpretation: the gift of bearing new life belongs uniquely to the woman. In God’s plan for the woman, in particular, to be truly happy in the conjugal relationship she must be able to be fully and unconditionally loved for who she is; that is, accepted fully for the unique person she is, without any compromises.
Because her identity is more mysterious on account of this hidden life-giving power (than, say, the man’s is), she of necessity and without being able to do anything about it must communicate her life-giving identity as part of her person when in the conjugal act she communicates her whole being. This existential nakedness (“apocalypsis”, “unveiling”), though only remotely hinted at by the more obvious, physical nakedness of the conjugal act (remember John Paul II said the body is the sacrament of the inner mystery of the person) is the place for the deep and intimate self-revelation the woman will express in this act.
This is dangerous territory! It is a dangerously intimate self-revelation but also self-exposure. In fact, affirming love and the need for authentic procreative self-actualization appear to be so important that they constitute the only reasons sufficient for nature to permit this intimate and dangerous core self-exposure.
The procreative dimension of woman is therefore a special dilemma in the unfolding of her feminine life, fraught with anxiety; this unique psychosexual integrative challenge presents the “opportunity” or susceptibility to exploitative manipulation because it is especially vulnerable to suggestions capable of exploiting fear.
Contraception introduces the diabolically clever arrangement whereby the woman – more so than the man aware of the anxiety-prone integrative challenge posed by her procreative dimension — is deceived into thinking this core challenge to self-integration need not be faced boldly, indeed can be eliminated altogether. But this is a betrayal by the man, a kind of psychological prostitution, where her deepest self is repudiated, her greatest dignity trampled.
Trust is violated when a person is not accepted in her most fundamental person-self, precisely where the intrinsic language of the act is one of assumed complete giving and complete acceptance, and precisely at the very moment of her most intimate self-unveiling. Is this not why we veil the most sacred things?
John Paul II said what the rest of us could not say – could not know even – and that is why we now can say the rest. His fundamental insights tell us why contraception is associated with adverse mental health outcomes and just plain unhappiness in women, as we have already seen. Please look once again at what I wrote Judie Brown about the reasons abortion is that special kind of demon we may only eradicate “with prayer and fasting”; i.e., with enormous difficulty.
In nature’s plan, the woman is “chosen” from all others to receive love from a man, and then the child conceived is the living incarnation, symbol, and visible reminder (not unlike the living Eucharistic “anamnesis” of Luke 22:19) that she was a uniquely treasured and esteemed gift. Just as we can only love because Jesus has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn. 4:19), similarly the woman can only properly love the child conceived if that child is the living symbol of a genuine love she first received from the child’s father.
Contraceptive “love” is a betrayal; a degradation, a form of sexual depersonallization of the woman, not consciously admitted however. The shame from this is so great that (quite literally according to the medical and psychological literature), she in many cases would take her own life rather than see that trauma exposed. Similarly, she will abort her child because, in the absence of any real path to repersonalization for herself, she will have recourse to the depersonalizing of her own child. That way, her own shame can be “eradicated”; i.e., in the unconscious mind of the abortion-inclined woman, the shame dies with the child.
This tells us not only why abortion occurs, but also how little this all has to do with the purely abstract question of a child’s right to life, at least at the moment a woman discovers she has a pregnancy she does not want. Moreover, it tells us why some “prolifers” assiduously avoid tackling contraception. Perhaps they want to save babies, but perhaps many only want to do so until the moment of steep personal cost comes, until the moment they begin to look foolish. Unfortunately, that moment is also the moment of truth in the minds of women, the core issue that will eventually win back the minds and hearts of women to our side. Until that moment comes, the baby will always be the cancer they fear more than any other.
John Paul II has shown us the key going forward. Abortion is about contraception – “fruits of the same tree” – and contraception in turn is about women and their happiness in a unique way. When we begin to succeed in exorcizing contraception from the culture, and not a minute before, we will begin to build a true culture of life that can win on abortion.
Dominic M. Pedulla MD, FACC, CNFPMC, ABVM, ACPh
President, The Edith Stein Foundation
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