Surprised by Joy of Unplanned Pregnancies

DUBLIN, Ireland—Women who become pregnant without intending to, are more likely to enjoy motherhood than women who plan their pregnancies, according to a study published in the current issue of the British Journal of Medical Psychology.

Researchers at Glasgow University found that women who became pregnant without planning to do so, had better chances of strengthening their relationship with their partner or spouse and of also improving their work and social life.

The study is based on interviews with 128 women. Eighty-one percent of respondents who did not plan their pregnancies were found to be in a position where they believed they gained from becoming mothers, while only 16% of those who planned their pregnancies were of that view.

The study supports claims made by Archbishop Desmond Connell of Dublin on the effect family planning and some treatments for infertility have on the relationship between parents and their children.

In a homily given marking the anniversary of the publication of Humanae Vitae, Archbishop Connell said: “We all know what is meant by the unwanted child, but we do not perhaps sufficiently appreciate what is meant by the child that is wanted. The wanted child is the child that is planned; the child produced by the decision of the parents begins to look more and more like a technological product. This is clear in the case of in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, genetic engineering, cloning; but it may not be altogether absent in the practice of family planning.

‘A profound alteration in the relationship between parent and child may result when the child is no longer welcomed as a gift…’

“A profound alteration in the relationship between parent and child may result when the child is no longer welcomed as a gift, but produced, as it were, to order. Parental attitudes would thereby be affected, creating a sense of consumer ownership as well as a new anxiety to win and retain the child's affection. The child no longer belongs to the family in a personal sense if it is radically a product rather than a person. So much of parental ambition has been invested in the one or two children that a properly personal relationship becomes problematic.”

The archbishop's comments have provoked a great deal of controversy in Ireland. Tony O'Brien, chief executive of the Irish Family Planning Association, said: “It is extraordinary to hear a leading cleric resorting to fiction in an attempt to justify the teachings of the Catholic hierarchy. To suggest that children who have been ‘planned’ are not intrinsically loved by their parents is a fantasy, gratuitously offensive and without any basis.”

Others, particularly Catholic couples who used Church-approved family planning methods, were hurt by the archbishop's remarks, as they believed Church teaching was that families should only have as many children as they could afford.

A subsequent statement issued by Father John Dardis, communications officer for the Dublin Archdiocese, indicates that Catholics using Church-approved natural family planning were included within Archbishop Connell's remarks.

Father Dardis said: “The issues in the planning of families require deeper reflection. Regardless of whether the method used is artificial or natural, if the mentality of planning takes over from the idea of a child as a loving gift from God, then the problems the archbishop talks about are likely to occur. This is very far removed from the position the Irish Family Planning Association accuses the archbishop of holding.

“Thirty years ago, the lack of availability of contraception was seen as a problem by women [in Ireland] and contraception was seen as potentially liberating. Now, it is the availability of contraception that many people, including women, see as problematic since contraception freely available can give the impression that sexual activity can be engaged in without consequences. There is a real danger that instead of encouraging young people to understand the true nature of a sexual relationship within the context of marriage, our society could promote contraception as a panacea.

“Archbishop Connell is extremely sensitive to the needs of married people and has supported them” Father Dardi said. “He is aware of the problems that exist in marriages and is convinced that marriage is the bedrock of Irish society and must be supported. It is in this light that his concerns and comments should be read.”

In his homily, Archbishop Connell discussed how Humanae Vitae has alienated some Catholics. “It is true that many Catholics dissent from this teaching and live at odds with Church authority,” he said. “It is also true that dissent on an issue that is regarded as important gives rise to a dissenting mentality that may easily spread beyond that particular issue alone. Dissent with regard to contraception lay at the origin of what has come to be known as a la carte Catholicism.

“We are told that if only the Church would admit it was wrong about contraception, people would find it easier to accept its authority on a wide range of issues concerning sexual morality about which they now feel unsure.

“Put in this way, it seems that wrong-headed stubbornness on the part of Church authority is causing immeasurable harm to the Church as the people of God.

“A question that has to be answered, however, is whether contraception is right or wrong … That question cannot be answered simply by listing the advantages that would seem to follow if a decision were made in favor of contraception. That would make it a matter of expediency rather than truth. …

“One can even ask whether some of these advantages are as real as they seem. For example, does the answer we give to the question about contraception affect the rest of sexual morality? That is the question I asked myself when Humanae Vitae was published. It seemed to me then, and the experience of the last 30 years has provided abundant evidence, that the issue of contraception is the linchpin of the whole of sexual morality. The pill … broke the bond between intercourse and procreation. This bond with procreation situates sexual relations within a whole order of meaning, which includes the nature of love as an interpersonal mutual gift of self.

“Contraception violates that bond and thereby undermines the world of meaning associated with procreation by introducing direct opposition between intercourse and procreation.”

Cian Molloy is based in Dublin, Ireland.

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