In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Dobbs vs. Jackson decision just one year ago, many Catholics are being forced to revisit what it means to be truly pro-life. As the question of the legality of abortion is being considered by each state, a sad truth has been revealed. While most pro-life people seem to admit that a baby about six months or later in utero is a child, the earlier in the pregnancy one goes, the more questionable the life of the child becomes to many people. Once we get to the earliest stages of pregnancy at 4-5 weeks, things become very muddled for both Catholics and non-Catholics alike—hence the strange response to many of the pro-life laws, despite polls in which people overwhelmingly respond that they are pro-life.
While we can argue over the details of each law, allowing different circumstances and exceptions, ultimately, the debate boils down to one question: when does life begin?
As Catholics, we are told that life begins at conception—it is for this reason that the Church stands against abortion in all circumstances, and also against all forms of contraception. This teaching has been articulated in many places throughout the Church’s rich history, but has been especially considered in recent times, with the advent of modern forms of contraception. Our Church is one that is truly pro-life. At our core is a belief that human life, created in the image of the wonderful Creator, is good, no matter the difficulties or circumstances of its coming into being.
This teaching can be hard for many to grasp—both inside and outside the Church. It leads to all kinds of questions regarding how we treat women, how we act as married couples, and how we can respond to a crisis pregnancy. It should also inform how we vote and interact with our elected officials. We cannot separate this teaching from living our Catholic faith, or even compromise on it, as it lies at the heart of the understanding of the human person. However, it also does not stand alone, but rather these questions need to be addressed in the context of the whole of faith—hand in hand with understanding the virtue of Chastity, the beauty of true Charity, and the light of forgiveness.
It should be clear to all who live today that this is not a simple issue for many people—and neither does the Church see it as entirely simple. For this reason, recent popes have spent ample time teaching both the reasons why the Church believes this and how we can respond to human life and sexuality in a way that is beneficial for both women and children.
It is now more important than ever that Catholics turn to the Church for guidance to help them understand these complex issues. Fortunately, the Church does not disappoint. This month marks the 55th anniversary of one of the most concise but also profound modern encyclicals on the subject: Humanae Vitae. In this letter, Pope Paul VI provides an incredible resource for Catholics looking to better understand why the Catholic Church stands against contraception and abortion. In articulating the Church’s position, he guides his flock to see how using contraception—and the mentality that leads to its use—has led to a whole gamut of cultural problems, including the increase in divorce and the scourge of abortion.
This document is worthy of a close study, rather than just a passing read through. It’s worth discussing with friends, fellow parishioners, or anyone interested in knowing more about why the Church holds its positions. It’s worth considering both for what it means to our culture and for what it means in your own life.
Though the organization Endow writes their studies for women, its study on Humanae Vitae is uniquely put together such that co-ed (or even male) groups can benefit from working through its pages. Giving its readers the historical and societal context for the document, this invaluable study helps its participants to consider and discuss the reasons for the Church’s teaching and to consider how this teaching can be applied to their own lives. In doing so, Endow’s study provides the ready preparation its participants need to engage with the culture, helping to spread the culture of life.