Contraception and Common Sense, by Dr. Les Hemingway, M.B., B.S.

Published by Human Life International, 4 Family Life, Front Royal, VA, U.S.A., 32360

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Les Hemingway left school at the age of 14 to become a turner and fitter. He later resumed full time schooling, graduating from Melbourne University Medical School in 1955. After working at Footscray hospital for two years he entered general practice. He worked in Warrnambool for nearly 37 years and now spends his time providing locum relief for other doctors in Victoria and NSW. Les became a Catholic in 1957 and immediately faced questions relating to the church’s teaching on contraception. He has followed that teaching in his private life (Les and Verna Hemingway have twelve children) and also in his professional life. He has written this book to explain why all lay people and other doctors should do the same.


The use of contraception is contrary to natural law. This fact is recognized by the Catholic Church1, but in general the Church’s claim is poorly understood. Nature is manipulated every day as rivers are dammed to store water, plants and animals are bred to supply food, fibres, companionship and sport and the natural progress of disease is checked by surgery or drugs. So people ask: “What is the difference between removing a diseased appendix and tying fallopian tubes, or between taking an antibiotic and taking the contraceptive pill?”

One difference is easily explained. Appendices are only removed when they become diseased. Antibiotics are taken to kill dangerous micro-organisms. Such therapeutic procedures restore patients to health - by destroying pathological bacteria or removing malfunctioning bodily parts.

Contraceptives function in a totally different way. Instead of removing a malfunction they actually produce one. Contraceptives turn normal fertility into an abnormal, sterile state. They impair the function of healthy reproductive organs. Contraceptives damage the bodies of those who use them and they are taken for that express purpose. Contraceptives have more in common with poisons or pesticides than with operations and medications directed against disease.

However while this shows how contraceptives differ from therapeutic surgery or drugs, it does not explain why contraception is unnatural. That explanation is revealed by studying human nature.

1…the Church, calling men back to the observance of the norms of the natural law, as interpreted by her constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marriage act (quilibet matrimonii usus) must remain open to the transmission of life.” Humanae Vitae - Encyclical Letter on the Regulation by Birth By Pope Paul VI Issued on 25 July 1968. Article 11 ACTS translation, page 11 [Emphasis added] See Appendix I for further Catholic references to natural law


An important characteristic of human nature is the power of reason. This lets mankind gain knowledge and make progress by observing natural phenomena, collating information and making experiments.

The power of reason allows different entities to be ranked in order of importance - so particularly precious things need not be sacrificed for the sake of anything of lesser value.

Such reasoning is used when a diseased organ is removed to preserve life or to restore health - as this sacrifices part of a patient’s body for the benefit of the whole. But it is neglected in contraceptive acts - because when contraception is used sexual intercourse takes precedence over any life which may proceed from it.


A couple contemplating coitus have two things to consider -the pleasure associated with intercourse and the pregnancy which may result.

There could be no pleasures without life - so life itself is more important than any pleasure of life. Consequently if a couple cannot or will not accept a child at any time, reason demands that they refrain from potentially fertile sexual acts.

To enjoy intercourse while preventing pregnancy is to grasp a pleasure of life while rejecting the whole life that could result. This gives pride of place to sexual intercourse and assigns life to a much lower, less important place. But life is more precious than any pleasure of life (including sexual activity) - so contraceptive intercourse is an irrational act.

Rational beings act naturally when their behaviour can be described as “reasonable” and act out of conformity with nature when that description cannot be applied. In contraceptive intercourse pleasure takes precedence over life, so contraceptive acts cannot be called “reasonable”. Therefore contraceptive intercourse is contrary to human nature - as the Catholic Church claims.

Admittedly only potential life is excluded by contraception, since new life does not come into being until conception occurs. But this makes no difference to the argument - since sexual acts are equally non-existent until they are enjoyed. To bring a potential act of intercourse into existence while denying the same privilege to a possible pregnancy is to give precedence to a part of life over the whole and perform an irrational act.


The difference between life and a pleasure of life can be clarified in the following way. If a couple were having intercourse and someone yelled: “there’s a bomb in the bed, it explodes in two minutes”, they would leave the room at once. A swift exit would leave them free to experience many pleasures in the future, whereas hesitation could turn a piece of sexual enjoyment into the last action of their lives.

In practice most people would admit that life is more important than intercourse if their own lives were at stake. Unfortunately such clarity of thought is less frequent when the lives in question could belong to others - especially when plentiful contraceptives make it easy to act in an unnatural or subhuman way.


This raises such questions as: Is clear thinking always necessary? Must human beings act in a perfectly reasonable fashion all the time? Surely it is permissible to forget strict logic on occasions and let the heart rule instead of the head?

It would be optimistic to expect everyone to act rationally all day and every day. Human passions can be strong and unruly. Few people exercise effective self-control at all times and never do anything unreasonable. Nevertheless while irrational behaviour is common it should not be encouraged - since mankind progresses by clear thinking and not by letting passion take precedence over serious thought.

Many problems confront the human race. These problems cannot be solved until the relevant matters are classified into order of importance - so the most useful goals can be pursued with vigor while less essential ambitions take second place.

Contraception is not an aid to serious, disciplined thought. Contraception is often justified by appealing to population pressures, financial constraints and so on, but such appeals overlook important facts. Sex is only one of many pleasures available to mankind. Sex can be wonderful, but life itself is much more wonderful. Consequently whenever contraception is used the power of reason is not being used effectively. Instead it is over-ruled by desires of the flesh.

This is more important than most people realize. If reason can be over-ruled in bedrooms it may meet the same fate in boardrooms, in houses of parliament and in other places where important decisions are made. The use of contraception will not help solve mankind’s problems. Instead it must exacerbate those problems - by helping strict reasoning to fall into disuse.


Contraception is not only unnatural. It is reprehensible on several other counts. Foremost among them is its disastrous effect on respect for human life.

Great value is placed on individual human lives. When travellers become lost, time and money are spent searching for them. When hostages are taken, armies and police forces are mobilized for rescue attempts. Patients in danger of death are admitted to hospital, where doctors try to save their lives. But when contraception is used, a potential human life is rejected as a worthless, unwanted interference with sexual pleasure.

When potential life is treated as worthless a similar attitude soon spreads to lives that have actually begun. In fact life already exists when many contraceptives take effect. IUDs (intra-uterine contraceptive devices) and MAPs (“morning after” pills) are really abortifacients. They do not prevent conception, but keep embryos from implanting in the uterus. The contraceptive pill may act in a similar way. It is supposed to prevent pregnancy by stopping ovulation and by damaging the cervical mucus so sperm cannot enter the uterus. The pill also inhibits the growth of the endometrium, so if the above mechanisms fail to block conception the embryo will be expelled - as happens with IUDs or MAPs. Thus the line between contraceptives which block conception and those which destroy human life is rather blurred.2

2: For a more detailed description of the action of these drugs see “A Consumer’s Guide to The Pill and Other Drugs”, by John Wilks B. Pharm. M P.S. Published in October 1996 by TGB Books, North Melbourne, Australia. Pages 15-24.


Contraception is often promoted as a preferable alternative to abortion. However in practice once contraception is accepted all forms of abortion follow.

The use of contraception implies that while sexual activity is important babies are a nuisance to be avoided. That viewpoint soon spreads to babies already growing inside their mothers. Such babies are often spoken of as mere “blobs of tissue” to be “terminated” at the whim of pregnant women and their doctors.

Contraceptive practice moves all too easily from preventing conception to destroying fertilized ova. Another short step leads to the full horror of surgical abortion - in which babies are taken from their mothers’ wombs and either flushed down drains, incinerated or dumped as garbage, or used as a source of “spare parts” for other human beings.

Contraception can never be a viable alternative to abortion, because it weakens or destroys respect for life. This is why supporters of contraception are often advocates of abortion as well, why abortion is used as a “back up” when contraceptives are not used or fail, and why abortionists make money in countries like Australia where contraceptives are plentiful.


The disrespect for life involved in contraception can be demonstrated in a mathematical if somewhat artificial way.

An average human life spans seventy years or 600,000 hours. Most sex acts take less than an hour, even allowing for fore-play and after-glow. Therefore on a time basis a single act of intercourse has about 1/600,000th of the value of a human life. But this ignores eternity, which gives infinite value to human life. So the respect for life involved in contraceptive intercourse is really 1/infinity - an infinitesimal amount.

Admittedly, most people who use contraception do not place such a small value on human life - not explicitly at any rate. But attitudes are formed by actions. Those who act as if potential life was virtually valueless can easily lose respect for lives that already exist. Consequently when contraception becomes widespread other manifestations of disrespect for life appear, including abortion (already mentioned) and euthanasia which is now being promoted just as actively as contraception and abortion were promoted in the past.

Contraception may seem innocuous, but it has wide-ranging effects. If life is treated with disrespect in millions of beds around the world, it will be hard to prevent wars and other disturbances that are hazardous to life and health. This becomes more evident when the effect of contraception on consideration for others is taken into account.


The Catholic church teaches “that each and every marriage act must remain open to the transmission of life.”3 But she permits natural family planning because: “God has wisely disposed natural laws and rhythms of fecundity which, of themselves, cause a separation in the succession of birth’s.”4

Therefore if: “there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the in fecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier.”5

3:Humanac Vitae Article 11. 4: Ibid. 5: Humanae Vitae. Article 16.


Marned couples can only achieve pregnancy during a few days of each menstrual cycle. Therefore births can be spaced out in a natural way if sexual intercourse is avoided on potentially fertile days. This “periodic abstinence” is not necessarily easy. However it provides a friendly approach to the regulation of births, whereas contraception has an opposing, unfriendly aspect.

An act of intercourse which remains open to the transmission of life is like a wedding feast to which all family members are invited. Such an act is hospitable and unselfish. It leaves the door open for any child who may come into being as a result. A contraceptive act is like a party where the door is slammed in the face of someone who had every reason to expect an invitation. There may be sound reasons for avoiding pregnancy but that does not alter the facts. A couple who enjoy intercourse are virtually throwing a party for themselves. They have a moral obligation to admit any special guest who may be waiting outside. To do otherwise is to act in a hostile manner towards a potential person who - given the chance - would become a member of their family.

People who act in an unfriendly way towards potential family members may do the same towards other members of the human race. Their use of contraception may be motivated by consideration towards existing children, by concern for “over­population' or pollution of the environment, or for various other reasons. But contraceptive intercourse is essentially exclusive. It cannot promote hospitality and unselfishness, or foster cooperation. Instead its widespread use must potentiate confrontation between different groups in society and aggravate any pre-existing tendency towards wars and other anti-social activities.


Contraception could even increase the risk of child abuse.

Contraception is used to stop another baby coming into the world while the very act that produces babies is being enjoyed.

To use contraception is to act as if babies were undesirable. If such actions continue, week after week, existing children may also be seen as undesirable - particularly when they have dirty nappies, become ill or irritable, throw tantrums or refuse to sleep. Nearly all parents struggle with their emotions under those circumstances. It could be harder to refrain from child abuse when one’s attitude to children is blighted by repeated contraceptive acts.

2001 Catholics Against Contraception