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Humanae Vitae

Humanae Vitae (Latin "of human life") is the name of the encyclical[?] written by Pope Paul VI which expresses the official position of the Catholic Church regarding abortion, contraception, and other issues pertaining to human life. It was promulgated on July 25, 1968.

Summary

The encyclical opens with the observation that circumstances often dictate that married couples should limit the number of children, and that the sexual act between husband and wife is still worthy even if it can be forseen not to result in procreation. Nevertheless, it is held that the sexual act must "retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life", and the "direct interruption of the generative process already begun" is unlawful.

Abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, is absolutely forbidden, as is sterilization, even if temporary. Similarly, every action specifically intended to prevent procreation is forbidden. All these are held to directly contradict the moral order.

Therapeutic means which induce infertility are allowed, if they are not specifically intended to induce infertility. Natural family planning methods (abstaining from intercourse during certain parts of the women's cycle) are allowed, since they take advantage of "a faculty provided by nature."

The dangers of artificial methods of contraception are outlined: by allowing sex without consequences, moral standards would fall.

The encyclical closes with an appeal to public authorities to oppose laws which undermine the natural moral law (see natural law), an appeal to scientists to further study effective methods of natural birth control and appeals to doctors, nurses and priests to promote the method.

History

The encyclical confirms a position taken by Pope Pius XII in 1951. Pope John XXIII had established a commission of theologians to study questions of birth control in 1963. Pope Paul VI added laymen to this commission. The commission produced a report in 1966, finding that artificial birth control was not intrinsically evil and that Catholic couples should be allowed to decide for themselves about the methods to be employed. Two members of the commission produced a minority report stating that the church should not and could not change its earlier teaching. The report was leaked to the press in 1967; Paul VI explicitly rejected the commission's recommendations.

Reception

Many Catholics disagree with the prohibition on artificial birth control and continue to use these methods. The policy has been criticized by development organizations who claim that it limits the methods available to fight world-wide population growth.

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