Even if one accepts the tortured logic of Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical on birth control (which is widely disregarded by the faithful) it is still difficult to make sense of two recent Roman pronouncements on contraception.
William Saletan of Slate points out logical and scientific flaws in the Vatican's argument against the so-called morning-after pill advanced in the Dignitas Personae. But that document is a marvel of rational discourse compared to the views advanced over the weekend in an article in The Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano . As Tom Heneghan of Reuters reports, Pedro José Maria Simón Castellví, head of the International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations claims without much in the way of proof, "that the contraceptive pill pollutes the environment massively, contributes to male infertility and causes abortions."
Silvia Aloisi of Retuers Rome bureau managed to get a few reactions to the article.
The deputy chairman of the Italian Society of Contraception dismissed the article as “science fiction. “Gianbenedetto Melis told Italy’s Ansa news agency: “The pill cannot provoke an abortion because it blocks ovulation, and if there is no egg to be fertilised there can be no pregnancy.” Flavia Fronconi, a pharmacologist, said “the world is full of substances with oestrogen effects … Even a plastic bottle left in the sun releases oestrogen ‘polluting’ the liquid that we drink.”
Monsignor Elio Sgreccia, former president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy for Life, was cautious about the link made in the article between the pill and male infertility. “It’s true that the spreading of hormones in the environment increases the chances of multiple births and in turn provokes male infertility,” Sgreccia told the daily Corriere della Sera. “But there are several causes for this. And more than anything else, it stems from the fact that they are used in agriculture fertilisers, so they end up in vegetables and meat,” he said.
Ross Douthat of The Atlantic offers this reasoning in the article's wake:
An orthodox Catholic is required to believe that the Church teaches truly in matters of faith and morals. He is not required to believe that the Church teaches truly in matters of science; indeed, the Church does not have "teachings," properly understood, on scientific questions. Where the two intersect - well, there things get a bit dicey. My sense of that matter is that I am bound to accept the Church's moral judgment that the taking of innocent human life at any stage from conception to natural death is a grave evil (and would not have become a Catholic if I did not), but that I am not bound to accept a Vatican document's summary of where the science stands regarding whether the morning-after pill does in fact take a life, by preventing implantation of a fertilized embryo. And therefore, to take up Rod's hypothetical, if someone contemplating taking the morning-after pill asked for my opinion on the matter, I would tell them that I've seen no persuasive evidence that suggests that emergency contraception is anything save, well, contraception - whose use is sinful according to Catholic teaching, obviously, but not nearly so gravely sinful as abortion.
Saletan has also probed Castellví claims in a very funny column in which he notes that in essence, Rome is arguing that:
The new cause of male infertility is female urine. Specifically, the urine of women who are committing the sin of contraception.