A history of contraception in the United States – Catholic World Report

Archbishop Jerome Lloyd OSJVPosted by

Many 19th-century promoters of contraceptives were religious zealots who first attacked marriage, then procreation.

Catholic apologetics against contraception and abortion sometimes appear historically naive, as if these issues suddenly fell out of the sky in 1930 with Resolution 15 of the Anglican Lambeth Conference on contraception, or during The Sixties, or in 1973 with Roe v. Wade.

A little information about the early history of contraception and abortion advocacy in America—especially its deepest objectives—might help. The Catholic Church has vast resources to deploy as long as it understands its opponents well. And one important thing it should understand is that many of contraception and abortion’s early proponents were religious enthusiasts.

The philosophy of fruitlessness

The first public advocacy of contraception was not explicitly religious. It came in the form of a pamphlet by a self-defined “freethinking” materialist—a Massachusetts physician, Charles Knowlton, who wrote and published The Fruits of Philosophy in 1830.

As a young man, Knowlton had been upset by the very fact of his nocturnal emissions and had gone to a handyman and electrical tinkerer in the neighborhood who administered shock treatments for his “condition,” to no avail. Knowlton took a fancy to the electrical tinkerer’s daughter, married her, and found that his “problem” immediately was cured. Later, after conducting some private research into anatomy while studying medicine, he wound up in jail for nocturnal grave robbing, or as he put it, “depriving a parcel of worms of their dinner.” Dr. Knowlton, although he fancied himself to be among the illuminati, would seem to have been something of a creature of the night.

His pamphlet detailed all the methods of contraception that he had come across, including coitus interruptus, condoms, vaginal sponges, and the method he thought most effective, douching with a vaginal syringe. He justified birth control with an argument that remains a standard today, in arguing for sex education in schools as well as in condemning the Catholic Church for not supporting mass condom distribution:

Let not the old ascetic say we ought not to gratify our appetites any further than is necessary to maintain health and to perpetuate the species. Mankind will not so abstain, and if any means to prevent the evils that may arise from a farther gratification can be devised, they need not. Heaven has not only given us the capacity of greater enjoyment, but the talent of devising means to prevent the evils that are liable to arise therefrom, and it becomes us, “with thanksgiving,” to make the most of them.

Click below to continue reading…

A history of contraception in the United States – Catholic World Report

One comment

  1. Genesis 1:28 “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
    It appears that God did not seem to place limits on species swarming the earth. “be fruitful”, but how many? The planet is finite, while humans remain infinite.

Leave a Reply