How a famous Catholic birth control ban has hit the poorest the hardest

Just 11 years after the first contraceptive pill went public, billions of women underwent the opposite. When Pope Paul VI published Humanae Vitae in 1968, Catholic women in the Vatican and beyond said goodbye to birth control. It endures today.

Lydia Morrish
Lydia Morrish NewsMavens, Europe
How a famous Catholic birth control ban has hit the poorest the hardest - NewsMavens
Paul VI. Wikicommons

Why this story matters:

Many women in today's world enjoy the sexual liberation and reproductive freedom that birth control brings.

But a lot of women, particularly those in places with influence from the Catholic Church on politics and healthcare, haven't as easily enjoyed those privileges.

Although contraceptive methods are widely available now, Catholic Bishops in some parts of the world, particularly in sub-Sharan Africa, the Republic of Ireland, and Italy, have wielded influence on women's access to contraceptives.

On the 50th anniversary of the Vatican's infamous birth control ban, new studies show the consequences of restricting access to birth control.

The effects are most potent in sub-Saharan Africa, where teachings that contraceptives are wrong or even don't work have aided epidemics of HIV.

Women have also impacted by religious influence on politics in the Western world. In the United States, President Donald J. Trump signed off reforms that would allow any employer, insurance plan, school, or individual to use the guise of religious or moral objection to deny access to no-cost contraception.

Working class women and women in poverty are those most likely to experience the downsides of limited access to birth control, according to Catholics for Choice.

The advocacy group says Humanae Vitae's enduring legacy has failed the world's most vulnerable women.

Details from the story:

  • It is the 50th anniversary of the papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, published in July 1968.
  • It laid out definitively Catholic opposition to birth control, stipulating that procreation should always take place inside marriage with the intent of child-bearing.
  • But half a century on, studies suggest the effects of Humanae Vitae have been dire for vulnerable women and women in poverty.
  • Women in the developing world where the Catholic hierarchy exerts power over governments often cannot access family planning services.
  • Sub-Saharan Africa, the Philippines, South America, the United States and the Republic of Ireland have been most affected. But Humanae Vitae's legacy can be felt globally.
  • Maternal health specialists criticize the "outdated" text but Catholic natural family planning advocates argue the sexual revolution has caused more harm.
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