Love, Responsibility and Vasectomies

Fertility — in men and in women — is not a disease.

Pro-abortion activists hold a sign reading "Vasectomy Prevents Abortion" as they protest in Los Angeles after the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24.
Pro-abortion activists hold a sign reading "Vasectomy Prevents Abortion" as they protest in Los Angeles after the overturning of Roe v. Wade by the U.S. Supreme Court on June 24. (photo: Frederic J. Brown / AFP via Getty Images)

Nov. 18 is “World Vasectomy Day.” It’s observed on the third Friday of November.

World Vasectomy Day has been around a while, but expect it to get lots of airtime this year. In the wake of the Dobbs ruling, it will undoubtedly be hawked as men “taking responsibility” for their fertility when “reproductive rights” are “under assault.” According to a promo piece run last year in the Washington Post, “Men Across America Are Getting Vasectomies ‘As an Act of Love,’” guys are being sterilized to play their part in birth control by taking the onus off women. They’re also showing “support” for their wives “and other women” allegedly threatened by the collapse of the abortion license of Roe v. Wade.

The story cites one Austin urologist who claims the number of vasectomies he performed went up 15% following Texas’ recent pro-life law. Buried much lower in the story is the admission that “reliable statistics on the number of men who sought vasectomies since the Texas ban … aren’t available.”

Amid the article’s cheerleading about how quick and easy male sterilization is (“10 minutes” in a traveling van coming to a neighbor near you) is an extended puff piece about the “practitioners” who are now roving America and the world helping men be “responsible” and express their “love.”

There are, of course, men who are “big babies” and “cringe” at the prospect of cutting their vasa deferentia, but the “practitioners” (and their journalist allies) are telling a new “story” about “masculinity.”

How is a Catholic to understand all this?

First, Catholic moral theology has always differentiated contraception from sterilization. Both intend to prevent life by separating the procreative and unitive meanings of marital intercourse. But sterilization adds an additional evil by mutilating one’s healthy genital system.

The Church affirms that sexual intercourse has two meanings: it can give life and it can join a man and a woman together. The Church teaches that for people to arrogate the right to divide “what God has joined together” in the sexual act is immoral, an exercise of pride that also rejects the other person as a subject of love and turns him or her into an object of use.

Fertility is not something “below” or “inferior” to the person. It is an aspect of the person as God made us. To say that “I love you” but “I don’t love you as fertile” divides and denigrates the person — this is useful, that isn’t.

Sterilization does not just end fertility. It ends fertility by deliberately mutilating a healthy organ, cutting the vas deferens to prevent sperm from being ejaculated. The vasa deferentia do what they are naturally supposed and what God designed them to do. A healthy man produces fertile sperm.

There is no sickness here. There is only a rejection of the healthy, redefining it as sick. One of the men interviewed for the Post story captured this inversion: he said his vasectomy “was a total relief — almost like a COVID shot — like I’m safe now.”

COVID-19 is a virus that does objectively bad things to you. Fertility is a normal state of health that poses only subjective inconvenience to you.

By connecting vasectomies to abortion, the Post was trying to get a two-fer out of this story. Both procedures rely on alienating people from their bodies: women from their potential maternity, men from their potential paternity. Both assert that the normal, natural function of the human body somehow requires “fixing” (a term often used in conjunction with sterilization) by technology.

Fertility — in men and in women — is not a disease.

It is not even something subpersonally indifferent. It is a healthy, i.e., good part of the reality of the person. Abortion and sterilization both reject the human person as they are, demanding they be “fixed” according to how we prefer them to be.

Karol Wojtyła would have bluntly (and rightly) called that use, not love.

Connecting abortion and sterilization is not, however, illogical. They are joined, just not the way the Post thinks. Rather than expressions of “love” and “responsibility,” they are flights from both, evasions of the demand of integral personhood in the name of subjective preferences. To do that, however, requires turning moral values upside down, so that the good of life which fertility represents is now deemed evil — almost like COVID — while the rejection of person in whom that good is found (because there’s no abstract fertility, only Jill’s or Jack’s) is called “responsibility.” (The traveling doctors in this story have created “Responsible Men’s Clubs” for their patients).

Commenting on this story, John Hirschauer correctly notes that “vasectomy is unnatural. It estranges a man from himself. Its internal logic leads inexorably to abortion, population control, and eugenics.”

Expect plenty of stories like this one. As the mainstream media trots out the bogeyman of a post-Roe America, note the common thread: Life itself has no value in itself. Life can even be branded “evil” and its rejection an act of “love” just because I want to.

That’s why, contrary to the claim that “if you were really pro-life you’d support birth control,” no society where the latter has become commonplace avoided legalizing abortion within a generation. Both are related but in direct, not inverse, proportion.

Expect the drumbeat to treat sterilization as a good thing to increase, since advocates of child mutilation (AKA “gender-affirming medicine”) now want to tell you that genital mutilation on minors are “good” things, which just happen to leave their victims sterile. Puberty is normal; puberty blocking is not.

Do we really think our loved one’s properly functioning human body somehow needs to be technically “fixed?”