With the recent approval by the FDA of the over-the-counter sale of Plan B, the "morning after" pill, there has been much discussion of where various groups of Americans come down on the issue of contraception. When we think about American attitudes toward a topic like this, we tend to assume that religious "red state" Americans line up on one side of a divide, with secular "blue state" Americans on the other. Perhaps, but only up to a point. American evangelicals, as it happens, are pro-contraception. A Harris Poll conducted online in September 2005 shows that evangelicals overwhelmingly support birth control (88%).
It makes one wonder how Catholics and Evangelical Christians can be so close on pro-life issues like abortion and euthanasia and so far apart on an issue like contraception. I think it stems from the lack of sacraments within the Evangelical Christian tradition. For the Evangelical Christian community, marriage is a human contract, blessed by God, but still completely human. A Catholic sacramental view of marriage acknowledges a distinct mystical change that occurs with the sacrament. It is an avenue for God’s grace. Two people give themselves totally to each other and through their union give each other totally to God. Through the sacrament of marriage, they are duty bound to lead each other to Heaven.
Through this total self-giving and love for each other, they model God’s love for mankind. Christ is the bridegroom. His Church is the bride. Through the unitive and procreative aspects of marriage they participate in God’s gift of new life. Therefore, marriage is not seen as merely a good thing for the bride and groom. Marriage is a vocation as solemn as Holy Orders. The married couple dedicates their lives to working for the Kingdom of God through their vocation of marriage. This means completely surrendering their own will to God’s will. A contraceptive mentality, whether it involves the use of artificial contraception or periodic abstinence, is not total surrender.
That doesn’t mean you cannot plan or space children. It does mean the reasons for being opposed to pregnancy must be serious. It is wrong to pass judgment on others based on their choice to have less rather than more children. All we can hope is that couples adequately discern their reasons for avoiding pregnancy. In a truly Catholic culture the decision to avoid pregnancy cannot be made lightly. It requires prayer and reflection. In contrast, the “contraception culture” views avoiding pregnancy as the norm.