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"EVERY MARITAL ACT OUGHT TO BE OPEN TO NEW LIFE'': TOWARD A CLEARER UNDERSTANDING I. INTRODUCTION NE FREQUENTLY encounters misinterpretations of the statement " Every marital act ought to be open to new life " and similar statements in recent Catholic teaching concerning contraception.1 There are two common misinterpretations. One is: No couple may engage in marital intercourse without the intention to procreate. The other is: No couple may engage in marital intercourse at times when they think procreation is impossible. As interpretations of the Church's teaching, these must be mistaken. For the Church teaches that contraception is always wrong and that natural family planning (NFP) is not always wrong. But NFP facilitates intercourse without the intention to procreate at times when procreation is thought to be impossible. Moreover, the Church has never taught that marital intercourse is good only if the couple desires to procreate; indeed, couples known to be sterile have never been forbidden to marry. We think that the only plausible interpretation of "Every marital act ought to be open to new life" is: It is wrong for those who engage in marital intercourse to attempt to impede the transmission of life which they think their act otherwise might bring about. For if they do try to impede that to which their act of itself might lead, they choose to close it to new life. 1 The proposition is formulated somewhat differently by Paul VI, Humanae vitae, 11, AAS 60 (1968), 488 (with references to Gasti connubii and to Pius XII's .Allocution to the Society of Italian Catholic Midwives); and by John Paul II, Familiaris consortia, 29, AAS 74 (1982), 115, following proposition 22 of the 1980 session of the Synod of Bishops. Moreover, the different formulations also are translated diversely. We do not think these differences matter for our present purpose. 365 366 GRISEZ, BOYLE, FINNIS AND MAY Un.derstood in this way, "Every marital act ought to be open to new life" expresses the same proposition as " Contraception is always wrong." Nevertheless, the affirmative formulation helps to clarify what contraception is, for it indicates the precise object of the contraceptive act. "Contraception" signifies only the prevention of conception, but the contraceptive act seeks to impede the beginning of the Zife of a possible person. The distinction is only conceptual, but we think it important, for the explicit reference to new life calls attention to the fact that contraception is a contralife act. The characterization of contraception as a oontralife act is one major element of the unbroken Christian tradition condemning contraception as always wrong. For example, a canon, Si aliquis, concerning contraception was included in the Church's universal law from the thirteenth century until 1917: " I£ anyone for the sake of fulfilling sexual desire or with premediated hatred does something to a man or to a woman, or gives something to drink, so that he cannot generate, or she cannot conceive, or offspring be born, let it be held as homicide ." 2 This canon does not say that contraception is homicide ; the tradition made no such mistake. The canon rather says that contraception sihould be regarded as homicide is regarded . To regard contraception as homicide is regarded is not only to make it clear that .contraception is wrong, but also to point to its being contralife as the reason why it is wrong. When contraception is regarded as contralife, it is seen as evil outside marriage as well as within. Historically, contraception probably was more common among the unmarried than the married, and much of the tradition condemned contraception without distinguishing between its uses in and outside mar2 Deoret. Greg. IX, lib. V, tit. 12, cap. v; Oorpus iuris oanonioi, ed. A. L. Richter and A. Friedberg (Leipzig: Tauchnitz, 1881), 2, 794: "Si aliquis causa explendae libidinis vel odii meditatione homini aut mulieri aliquid fecerit, vel ad potandum dederit, ut non possit generare, aut concipere, vel nasci soboles, ut homicida. tenea.tur." Some transla.te "ca.usa explendae libidinis," which is broad enough to cover all motivation by sexual impulse, "to satisfy lust," which unnecessarily limits the motive to habitual vice. " OPEN TO NEW LIFE " 367 riage. But. Casti oonnubii dealt with contraception...


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