Open to Life: A Definition
December 3, 2007 § 45 Comments
Apparently there was recently some hubbub about a rumor that some clerics in India were going to tell people that it is OK for married couples to use condoms sometimes if one of the spouses is HIV positive. In the combox there appears to be (as usual) multiple understandings of what “open to life” means as a description of a particular sexual act.
Let me suggest the following understanding: a sexual act is open to life when it is the kind of unmodified behavior in which pregnancy ordinarily occurs, when it does occur, unimpeded.
Notice that this understanding has nothing to do with intentions, expected outcomes, the actual state of the fertility of the pairing, etc. The sexual congress of a post-menopausal couple or an accidentally sterile couple is unequivocally open to life on this understanding. The sexual congress of a couple using NFP to limit pregnancies is unequivocally open to life on this understanding.
The sexual congress of a couple who has modified their act artificially, via the Pill, a condom, or any other form of artificial birth control, is just as unequivocally not open to life on this understanding — even if the reason for the artificial modification of the act has nothing to do with fertility.
Notice that Congolese nuns who take the Pill as a precaution against rape do not engage in sexual congress which is not open to life — because when a woman is raped she is not choosing to engage in sexual congress at all.
I backed in to this understanding by starting with the fact that contraception is intrinsically immoral. We know from Veritatis Splendour that when an act is intrinsically immoral it is immoral in the chosen behavior itself, independent of the intentions of the acting subject or the circumstances. So every intrinsically immoral act is immoral because of the kind of behavior it is, independent of intentions or expected outcomes. Contraception is immoral because it involves sexual congress which is not open to life; it follows from the intrinsic immorality of contraception that “sexual congress not open to life” must be understood as a kind of chosen behavior, independent of expected outcomes.
So for sexual congress to be “open to life” in the pertinent sense means that the sexual behavior must be that kind of sexual behavior which ordinarily may result in pregnancy, performed in such a way as would not artificially impede pregnancy. Whether a particular instance of such marital congress is or is not expected to actually result in pregnancy is quite irrelevant.
(HT: Cordelia’s Shoes)