General Articles

Vatican Condemns Abortion, Contraception, and In Vitro Fertilization

On Tuesday, June 6, the Vatican issued the first sweeping statement on the issues of abortion, same-sex marriage, in-vitro fertilization, and contraception during Pope Benedict XVI’s papacy. The 57-page document, called Family and Human Procreation, was written by the Vatican ‘s pontifical Council for the Family. The document states that, “never before in history has human procreation, and therefore the family, which is its natural place, been so threatened as in today’s culture.”1 Although the document is a response to some of the most salient modern concerns about sexual and reproductive health and rights, it primarily reaffirms the Catholic Church’s traditional opposition to family planning and abortion and fails to address the Church’s persistent opposition to the use of condoms in the context of the global AIDS pandemic.

Instead of breaking new ground, the document simply reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s traditional views on issues stated in 1968 in the encyclical Huminae Vitae. That document states that the Catholic Church opposes any type of contraception except for natural family planning and that abortion “constitute[s] a violation of the fundamental right to life.”2 In his 1995 Evangelium Vitae, Pope John Paul II reiterated the Church’s position on abortion:

Some people try to justify abortion by claiming that the result of conception, at least up to a certain number of days, cannot yet be considered a personal human life. But in fact, “from the time that the ovum is fertilized, a life is begun which is neither that of the father nor the mother; it is rather the life of a new human being with his own growth. It would never be made human if it were not human already. This has always been clear, and … modern genetic science offers clear confirmation. It has demonstrated that from the first instant there is established the programme of what this living being will be: a person, this individual person with his characteristic aspects already well determined.3

The new document once again reaffirms this position.

Turning from abortion to related reproductive health technologies, the Council for the Family also claims that in vitro fertilization, artificial insemination, and the use of embryos for procreation violates the “sanctity of life” and undermines the “natural family.” According to the new document, “the human being has the right to be generated, not produced, to come to life not in virtue of an artificial process but of a human act in the full sense of the term: the union between a man and a woman.”4 Catholic doctrine also does not allow for the use of condoms, birth control pills, or other modern methods of contraception; the Church only endorses natural family planning, which includes periodic abstinence (standard days, calendar, or rhythm methods), withdrawal, and the use of prolonged breastfeeding to inhibit ovulation.5

Despite discussing contraceptives, the document makes no mention of the current controversy regarding condom use within marriage even when one of the partners is or may be infected with HIV. Frances Kissling, the president of Catholics For a Free Choice (CFFC), would welcome a change in the Vatican hard-line opposition to the use of condoms. CFFC’s campaign, Condoms4Life, proclaims that people of faith have the choice to use condoms, predicated on “theological grounds under which the Vatican can approve the use of condoms, especially in the interest of stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS.”6 The organization “ would celebrate a positive and life-affirming shift in the Vatican position on condoms.”7

Some Church officials agree with advocates such as Kissling. In an interview, Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Pontifical Council for Health Pastoral Care, said that Pope Benedict XVI had asked the council and other scientists and theologians to study condom use as a way to prevent HIV among married sero-discordant couples, couples in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is not. He also said that the Vatican would release a document on the subject soon. Other Vatican officials, however, recently denied reports that the Vatican plans to release such a document,8 and some officials say they would disapprove of such a policy shift. The head of the Council for Family, Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, strongly opposes the use of condoms in any situation.9 He incited controversy three years ago when he said that condoms do not prevent the transmission of HIV and that they might help spread the virus by offering a false sense of security.10

When it came to same sex-marriage, the Council for Family again reaffirmed the Catholic Church’s opposition to fundamental human rights: “couples made up of homosexuals claim similar rights to those reserved to husband and wife; they even claim the right to adoption. Women who live a lesbian union claim similar rights, demanding laws which give them access to hetero fertilization or embryo implantation. Moreover it is claimed that the help of the law to form these unusual couples goes hand in hand with the help to divorce and repudiate.”


  1. “ Council Decries Erosion of Traditional Family,” Los Angeles Times, 7 June 2006, A section.
  2. Joseph Malia, “ Vatican : Traditional family at risk,” Long Island Newsday, 7 June 2006.
  3. Pope John Paul II, “Encyclical,” Evangelium Vitae, 25 March 1995.
  4. Maria Sanminiatelli, “ Vatican Reiterates Family Stance,” Boston Globe, 7 June 2006.
  5. “Natural Methods of Family Planning,” Family Health International, accessed 26, June 2006, <
  6. Frances Kissling, “Condoms4Life Campaign Asks Vatican to Lift Ban on Condoms as Matter of Justice,” Condoms4Life press release, 24 April 2006
  7. Frances Kissling, “Condoms4Life Campaign Asks Vatican to Lift Ban on Condoms as Matter of Justice,” Condoms4Life press release, 24 April 2006
  8. Ian Fisher, “Ideals Collide As Vatican Rethinks Condom Ban,” New York Times, 2, May 2006
  9. Maria Sanminiatelli, “Vatican Reiterates family stance,” Boston Globe, 7 June 2006.
  10. IBID