When the Archdiocese of Washington decided that a nonsectarian pregnancy-aid center formerly given support by the archdiocese could no longer be supported because the center had begun to dispense contraceptives, the Washington Post decided that the story rated front-page coverage (in its Oct. 20 issue). In the present cultural climate, presumably, the idea that anyone might remain opposed to contraception — as the Catholic Church has not ceased to oppose it in her moral teaching — no doubt seemed so outlandish to the paper's editors that they thought the big-splash coverage justified.

In a fashion typical of today's mass media, the paper did not fail to emphasize how many Catholics refuse to accept the Church's moral condemnation of the use of contraception. The pregnancy-aid center's director, it pointed out, like the chairman of the organization's board of directors, was a Catholic; both were quoted voicing strong opposition to the Church's position. The familiar statistic was trotted out that “at least 73% [of Catholics] disagree with the Church's ban on contraception.”

A religious sister described as a “nun and nurse” was also cited. She said she had referred pregnant women to the center and characterized as “hurtful” the archdiocese's decision not only to cut off its own support, but to publicize its decision so that other Catholics and Catholic organizations would no longer support the center.

“They have gone too far to send out a message to women's groups in parishes that they should not give this most necessary help to pregnant women and their children,” the nun-nurse was quoted as saying. She added that she would like to see the Church's teaching changed. “I pray about that,” she said. “And make comments when I can.”

The center's board chairman, described in the Post article as a “space scientist” by profession, was particularly indignant that the archdiocesan pro-life office had said that the Depo-Provera “contraceptive” injection now provided by the center could function as an abortifacient, preventing a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the uterine wall. There was “no medical evidence” for this, according to the Catholic scientist.

He must not have looked at the scientific literature, since the evidence has by now been well established: Not only Depo-Provera, but all forms of hormonal contraceptives (“the pill”) are at least potentially abortifacient. That is, they do not merely prevent conception, but can cause the early abortion of an embryo already conceived. If this Catholic space scientist had been looking at the scientific evidence that is there, he would also have found that Depo-Provera has been shown to increase the risk of cervical cancer — thus are women today being “helped” by the services of such clinics.

[T]he pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected

Thus, too, in yet one more small skirmish in today's culture wars, has the Catholic Church and her moral teaching been held up to public scorn by a major metropolitan daily newspaper. The Church is depicted as irrational and retrograde — and opposed to helping women and children — while the common assumptions of today's contraceptive society and culture are simply taken for granted. It is also taken for granted that today's newspaper readers will immediately grasp and sympathize with the accusations lodged against the Church.

Nor is the point lost on anyone that, in today's culture wars, those who accuse the Church can nearly always count on some within the Church who are ready to fight against her and her teachings.

There is surely a huge irony in the fact that, as the evidence mounts that the Catholic Church has been right about contraception all along, the public opposition to the Church's position both intensifies and becomes more crude. And one of the saddest things about the whole phenomenon is the number of Catholics who choose to side with today's culture of death rather than heed the moral wisdom of the Catholic faith.

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae (Gospel of Life), Pope John Paul II pointed out how today's acceptance of contraception has contributed to the culture of death. Wrote the Holy Father, “the pro-abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected” (No. 13).

Given the pervasiveness of the mass media wherever one sets his or her eyes today, it is not surprising that so many Catholics view the Church through the eyes of the culture rather than viewing the culture through the eyes of the Church. Yet surely this is a tendency we must do all we can to turn around.

Kenneth D. Whitehead is the author of Political Orphan: The Prolife Cause

After 25 Years of Roe v. Wade.