Chastity and Respect for Human Life

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.