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Catholics Asked to Tell Their Bishops to End Ban on Contraception

July 21, 2008

July 25th Marks 40th Anniversary of Vatican’s Devastating Decision

Washington, DC—Forty years ago, a decision was announced that has had a catastrophic impact on the poor and powerless around the world. On July 25, 1968, Pope Paul VI slammed the door on the hopes of the vast majority of Catholics and confirmed a complete prohibition on modern methods of contraception. The papal encyclical Humanae Vitae was a defining moment in modern church history and continues to be a source of great conflict and division in the church.

It is a little-known fact that before Humanae Vitae was released the hand-picked Vatican Birth Control Commission voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the church rescind its ban on artificial contraception. However, the pope rejected that recommendation and today, the rupture that Humanae Vitae caused between the Vatican and lay Catholics remains.

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, called on Catholics to contact their bishop and tell them that the ban must end. In their calls and e-mails, Catholics should press their bishops to contact the Vatican, explain the will of Catholics worldwide and call for an end to the ban on contraception. He said, “It is well known that Catholics, particularly those in the global north, have ignored this ban. It is time for them to speak out and say enough is enough. We need Catholics to pick up the telephone or send an e-mail to their local bishop saying that it is time to change church policy. Less-privileged people—who often only have access to health care through Catholic-run facilities or live in countries where the Catholic hierarchy has considerable influence over public policy—are dying as a result of the ban.”

The danger was significant when unintended pregnancy and maternal mortality were the predominant risks, but with the advent of HIV and AIDS, it is essential that individual Catholics speak out. Catholics for Choice will be campaigning around the anniversary and for the rest of the year.

“The hierarchy is now forced to defend a teaching that was judged indefensible 40 years ago and has only become more so with the arrival of new issues, such as preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS,” said O’Brien. “It’s downright irresponsible and dangerous, particularly because of HIV and AIDS, for the Catholic hierarchy to insist that Catholics and non-Catholics, who are also affected by the ban, must not use contraception.”

Forty years on, Humanae Vitae obstructs the implementation of good public policy for family planning and HIV prevention. To mark the anniversary, Catholics for Choice has released a new publication, Truth & Consequence: A Look behind the Vatican’s Ban on Contraception, which uncovers the history and current impact of the ban.

Effects have been particularly disastrous in the developing world where the Catholic hierarchy holds significant sway over many national family planning policies. However, its effects were seen in the United States during congressional debates this year on reauthorizing the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). Due to considerable lobbying by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the final legislation decouples vital family planning services that can prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

Despite scientific evidence that condoms are a critical part of HIV-prevention efforts, the Vatican has refused to relax the ban on contraceptives and has spread disinformation about the effectiveness of condoms that undercut many national efforts to promote their use.

As with the use of contraception more generally, Catholics around the world support condom use and use them to protect themselves against sexually transmitted infections as well as unplanned pregnancies. A recent CFC poll found that overwhelming majorities of Catholics in Mexico (90 percent), Ireland (86 percent), the US (79 percent) and the Philippines (77 percent) believe promoting condoms is the prolife position. However, the hierarchy, having lost the battle for the hearts and minds of lay Catholics, now seeks to use its power and influence over national and local laws in an attempt to legislate adherents to the faith.

“The past 40 years have been marked by a hardening of the Vatican’s opposition to contraception, including condoms, at the very time that the world has moved to a different, more comprehensive view of sexuality and women’s role in society,” noted O’Brien, adding, “The Vatican did not succeed in turning back the clock 40 years ago and it is unlikely to succeed in the future. But many people, especially women in poor countries, will continue to suffer as it tries to do so.”

For more information, please contact Jen Heitel Yakush at or +1 (202) 986-6093. You can learn more about Humanae Vitae in a new publication from Catholics for Choice, Truth & Consequence: A Look behind the Vatican’s Ban on Contraception, which explains how the Vatican’s ban on contraception came about and is available for download at