Chastity and Respect for Human Life
Summary: I. The Trivialization of Sexuality and the Contempt for New Human Life. II. Sociological Evidence. III. Connatural Knowledge. IV. Chastity and the Demands of Justice. V. The Great Divide: Sexuality and Procreation.
In his encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Saint John Paul II claims that “the trivialization of sexuality is among the principal factors which have led to contempt for new life” (EV 97). The present essay examines the plausibility of this assertion. It looks at the sociological evidence on the relationship between contraception and abortion, which is not as unambiguous as is sometimes claimed. The analysis then turns to G.E.M. Anscombe’s insistence on moral knowledge as connatural, with evident repercussions on the abortion debate, given the debate’s considerable practical implications. Barring access to abortion would require a substantial change in today’s sexual mores, which are themselves based on the separation between sexuality and procreation consequent to the broad availability of effective contraceptives. This separation is so radical that some authors can give influential accounts of pregnancy and abortion without any reference to sexual intercourse. As long as, due to people’s sexual customs, ready access to abortion is perceived indispensable, it will be hard for them to acknowledge the contempt for new human life involved in it. To remedy abortion—and the disregard for human life in general—one would thus have to begin by challenging the prevailing sexual mores, seeking to recover sexuality’s inherent connection to procreation, which is one of the essential aspects of the virtue of chastity.