In news that is not at all unrelated to what I've just posted about the views of lay Catholics regarding Catholic magisterial teaching on issues like contraception: the Guttmacher Institute has just released a report showing that the rate of abortions in the U.S. is now at its lowest level since 1973. The reason for the decline? As Sandhya Somashekhar summarizes the report's findings for Washington Post,
The abortion rate in the United States dropped to its lowest point since the Supreme Court legalized the procedure in all 50 states, according to a study suggesting that new, long-acting contraceptive methods are having a significant impact in reducing unwanted pregnancies.
Increased access of women to contraception is diminishing abortion. Abortion is, the Catholic bishops of the U.S. have told us incessantly since Roe v. Wade, a premier evil of our society, one that must be eradicated at all cost.
And yet when the Obama administration followed best-practice medical guidelines by including contraceptive coverage in its Affordable Care Act, the bishops chose to go on the attack, leaving many Catholics who want to see abortion rates drop with our heads spinning, since the bishops' malice towards a Democratic president and their determination to see him undermined seems completely to outweigh their professed concern to combat abortion--for which contraceptive access is an essential combat weapon.
As Patricia Miller notes in a recent Religion Dispatches article, the recognition that use of contraceptives may be morally licit, or even morally desirable, is not really new at all in the Catholic tradition. As Miller reminds us, the commission that Pope Paul VI appointed to advise him about revising Catholic magisterial teaching regarding artificial contraception encouraged Paul VI to change Catholic teaching about contraception.
But Paul VI chose to listen, instead, to the minority position of his advisory commission, which was articulated by the French Jesuit Stanislaus de Lestapis, who imagined that Catholic acceptance of contraceptive use would lead to a "contraceptive mentality" that would cause civilization to fall apart. The minority advisors also argued that if the church could admit it has been wrong for centuries about a matter like contraceptive use, people would begin to doubt its teaching authority in other areas.
The result of Paul VI's disastrous decision to ignore the advice of the majority of members of his own advisory commission regarding the issue of contraception: the teaching authority of the church has been undermined in the most conspicuous way possible, as the large majority of lay Catholics in developed nations simply ignore church teaching about contraception. And, increasingly, about other matters of sexual morality . . . .
It doesn't take much insight or education for many lay Catholics to recognize that that 1) if abortion is a premier social evil and we strongly wish to diminish the number of abortions, and 2) if contraception use diminishes rather than increases abortions, then 3) contraceptive use might have a strong moral basis to it, and 4) our bishops are unreliable moral teachers when they simultaneously claim that 4) abortion is the worst evil possible and 5) the Obama administration is immoral for seeking to provide wider access to contraceptives.
The moral incoherence with which Catholic teaching about these issues has ended up is pronounced, and is not convincing to anyone with a head on her shoulders or a sound conscience. And it's absolutely rooted in Paul VI's disastrous decision to refuse to listen to the majority of his advisors about the issue of artificial contraception, because--irony of ironies--he feared that the moral authority of the church's teachers would be undermined if he dared to admit that the magisterium might have been wrong about birth control.