What I mean by that is, when I first read the famous document written by Pope Paul VI, I was instantly captivated. Here was a work that really made sense to me—even though it had been written decades before and was entirely counter-cultural.
As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops eloquently states, the papal encyclical “provides beautiful and clear teaching about God’s plan for married love and the transmission of life.”
As a young woman, I had struggled with the question of when human life began. Was it at birth? Six months in the mother’s womb? Some time in the first trimester? My perusal of mainstream news sources didn’t seem to help—my fellow reporters appeared as confused as I was.
Yet here was a document that confirmed the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception. It honored God as the author of life, and parents as stewards of that life. As Humane Vitae states: “Responsible parenthood, as we use the term here, has one further essential aspect of paramount importance. It concerns the objective moral order which was established by God, and of which a right conscience is the true interpreter. In a word, the exercise of responsible parenthood requires that husband and wife, keeping a right order of priorities, recognize their own duties toward God, themselves, their families and human society.”
Humanae Vitae was absolutely prescient in its predictions about what would happen if the natural law were not respected. Consider, for instance, the way that women would be treated. The document states that a man “may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, let us remember Pope Paul VI’s words: “…great indeed is the work of education, of progress and of charity to which We now summon all of you.” Humanae Vitae is a tremendous gift to the world. Let us treasure it, and cherish the dignity and value of all human life.
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Maria V. Gallagher is an advocate for pregnant women and their children. Prior to her advocacy, Maria worked as a radio reporter and television news producer. She writes from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.