In the Wake of the Texas Heartbeat Bill — Fewer Abortions, More Vasectomies

Direct sterilization, such as vasectomy, is gravely sinful, regardless of the circumstances.

Pro-abortion activists protest SB 8 at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11, 2021, in Austin, Texas.
Pro-abortion activists protest SB 8 at the Texas State Capitol on Sept. 11, 2021, in Austin, Texas. (photo: Jordan Vonderhaar / Getty Images)

In May 2021, when Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law one of the nation’s strictest abortion measures, pro-life Americans were understandably enthusiastic. Texas Senate Bill 8 (SB 8), popularly known as the “heartbeat bill,” banned abortions once a fetal heartbeat could be detected — generally by the sixth week of pregnancy. Unlike other heartbeat bills which had failed to withstand judicial scrutiny, the Texas law empowers private citizens to sue abortion providers. This novel provision makes it difficult for abortion-rights groups to sue state officials, demanding that they block the law.

With the passage of SB 8, pro-life citizens in the state of Texas saw, for the first time, an opportunity to protect the lives of innocent children in the womb. They hoped, too, that enactment of SB 8, combined with the Supreme Court’s decision to review the case of Dobbs v. Women’s Health Organization, would lead to a review and eventual overturning of the faulty Roe v. Wade decision.

In September 2021, after the Supreme Court declined to hear arguments from abortion providers and abortion-rights groups, Texas’ heartbeat bill went into effect. As was expected, abortion supporters and liberal media exploded in rage and fear, warning that women’s rights were being violated and that women, desperate to end their unwanted pregnancies, would resort to coat-hanger abortions.

But there was another, welcome effect: The abortion rate in that state dropped dramatically. The New York Times reported that in the month after the new Texas law went into effect, the number of legal abortions fell to only half what it had been in the previous year. The downward slide in abortions fell short of the 83% decline that had been predicted by experts at the Texas Policy Evaluation Project (considering that 83% of abortions are performed after the cut-off date of six weeks), but the reduction was still significant, and was well received by the pro-life community. John Seago, legislative director of Texas Right to Life, called the passage of SB 8 “a phenomenal success for the pro-life movement.” 

Abortion, No — Vasectomy, Yes?

But with the decrease in women’s ability to obtain an abortion in the Lone Star State, it appears that men have reacted in a self-destructive way: Dr. Koushik Shaw at the Austin Urology Institute reported a 15% increase in scheduled vasectomies at their clinic.

The Washington Post defined the choice by men to defend themselves from parenthood as “acts of love” and as a “form of protest” against the heartbeat bill. The Post failed to mention the alternate explanation: that men with prurient interest in premarital or extramarital sex might prefer to satisfy their self-indulgent urgings without the natural consequence of parenthood and child support payments.

But here’s the thing: The Catholic Church teaches clearly that vasectomy is wrong. Oh, yes, abortion is the outright taking of an innocent human life — and as such, it’s among the most heinous of sins. That doesn’t mean, though, that preventing the birth of a child without also committing an act of murder is acceptable. All methods of contraception, from the birth-control pill to sterilization to vasectomy, are sinful because they deliberately interfere with God’s intended purpose for the sexual act.

Sexual intercourse, the Catholic Church teaches, has two purposes: the “unitive” purpose by which a husband and wife grow closer to one another; and the “procreative” purpose, by which God uses the two persons to help in creating a new human being, a unique person destined for an eternity in heaven. Philosopher Germain Grisez explained:

Sterilization intended as a means of birth control (often referred to as ‘direct,’ ‘deliberate’ or ‘intentional’ sterilization) is intrinsically evil, for it fails to promote the good of the human person because of its adamant refusal to accept the inherent procreative (‘life-giving’) dimension of the marital act as built into it by God. (The other inherent aspect of the marital act is the personalist [unitive] or ‘person-uniting’ dimension.)
No benefit to the person as a whole can justify any procedure which brings about sterility and is chosen for that very purpose. In no way does sterility as such truly benefit anyone; it only facilitates sexual intercourse — the distinct act in and through which some benefit is expected — by excluding conception. Thus, the intention of choosing sterilization is contraceptive, and the sterilizing act is at best a bad means to a good ulterior end.

Grisez went on to add yet another evil that is a part of vasectomy: bodily mutilation. For this reason, he believes, vasectomy is more seriously wrong than other methods of contraception.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).

The Catechism clearly teaches that direct sterilization, such as vasectomy, is morally unacceptable, regardless of the circumstances. Rather, spouses should consider natural controls that do not interfere with bodily function, such as Natural Family Planning.