Question regarding girlfriend's ability to conceive


#1

Hello,

My girlfriend and I are in a healthy, non-sexual relationship. We have discussed her ability to conceive in the past, and she feels this is a point that will "scare me away" since she has been advised by her doctors that she will likely die (due to cardiac arrest) if she tried having a baby, and while it hasn't scared me away, it has left me with some questions.

First, some things about her: she is an amazing young woman, who survived leukemia at the age of 3 but has experienced some setbacks due to the chemo and radiation therapy she received at such a young age, including stunted growth (she is 4'9''). Her circulation is poor, and she is often cold. She goes in for check-ups every few months to ensure she remains cancer free. She was previously on birth control prior to our meeting, but has been off it since. We've talked about NFP, but she is unsure about it: her understanding is that one slip, one pregnancy, and she's dead. Unfortunately I haven't done all my homework, but it sounds as if the pregnancy itself could kill her, not only the labor.

While there's no definite talk about marriage, these issues are important to understand because we don't need them interfering after marriage should that occur. Would we as a married couple need to abstain completely from sexual relations? What would we do?


#2

Is she Catholic? If she is not Catholic she can continue to use birth control, and you can have marital relations with her while she is on birth control provided that she is the one to use it, and not you.

Search the Ask an Apologist forum for this, it’s a question that’s asked frequently.

forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=134113&highlight=pill

Hi Paul,

For the sustaining of the marriage the Church does allow the spouse who desires to be faithful to Church teaching regarding contraception, to have sexual relations with the spouse who is using such. The faithful spouse must not directly use the contraception and must continue to try to educate the other in the teachings of the Church in this matter. So you may have intercourse if she uses the contraceptive ring or the pill or some other device, but you may not withdraw as you have been doing.

I suggest that you get the book, “Good News About Sex and Marriage” by Christopher West (available through shop.catholic.com or by phone: 888 291 8000) and read it with her. Your are in my prayers.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.


#3

I would talk to a priest on the issue. I don't think the churches stance would be abstanence.

My aunt has a hole in her heart and would also have died through child birth. They were able to adopt two children. But in their case they were allowed to have a vasectomy.


#4

Well, there are a couple of things you could choose:

(1) Not marry. Perhaps she should consider this option since having sexual relations is an integral part of marriage.

(2) Marry and choose to abstain indefinitely. This is an option, but requires *serious *spiritual counsel. And, if either spouse wanted to cease abstaining and begin normal conjugal relations, this would be their right.

(3) Marry and use a conservative plan of NFP (for example, post ovulatory intercourse only). This is quite possible to do, and I know several people with the same type of life threatening situation (one with a congenital heart defect, actually) who have chosen this path and have done just fine all these years.

No one here can tell you what to choose. But these are moral options. None of them should be undertaken lightly.


#5

This is not quite accurate.

A person cannot GO INTO a marriage intending to contracept or to just look the other way while a spouse does. A person who is not yet married can make the choice to not marry a person who insists on contracepting. It would not be moral to go into marriage with this intent and it might also impact validity.

The Church’s guidance you reference is for the* already married *who find themselves in a position where their spouse insists on contracepting.


#6

What do we do if my wife is ordered not to become pregnant?
forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=130748

Are there exceptions to the ban on sterilization?
forums.catholic.com/showthread.php?t=100315

These are from the Ask an Apologist forums and seem directly related to your issue--I hope they help!


#7

I’ve never seen anything in Catholic teaching to suggest this. Married couples are only required to be open to life. It is possible to be open to life while intending to contracept, since the majority of people who use contraception end up having children.

The OP’s girlfriend can’t have children because she’d die from a heart attack, but she is still open to life if she intends to have children should the just reasons for not having them go away.

I think if you are right, then something like 98% of Catholics are in invalid marriages, because something like 98% of Catholics use artificial contraception, and very likely intended to when they got married.

I’ve never heard of an annulment being granted simply because a spouse intended to use contraception (i.e. they were open to children, but instead of NFP were going to use condoms or the pill or whatever). It seems like annulments would be extremely easy to get if what you say is true.


#8

[quote="GoBison, post:3, topic:183864"]
But in their case they were allowed to have a vasectomy.

[/quote]

There is NO SUCH THING as being "allowed" to have a vasectomy. Sterilization is intrinsically evil. It is always a gravely wrong act.


#9

[quote="flyingfish, post:7, topic:183864"]
I've never seen anything in Catholic teaching to suggest this. Married couples are only required to be open to life.

[/quote]

This is not an accurate representation of Church teaching. The Church's teaching is not that couples must be "open to life" but that each and every act of intercourse must be ordered per se to unity and procreation.

[quote="flyingfish, post:7, topic:183864"]
It is possible to be open to life while intending to contracept, since the majority of people who use contraception end up having children.

[/quote]

The idea of being "open to life" in the totality of the relationship while excluding it in individual acts of intercourse is called proportionalism and has been rejected by the Church. Janet Smith has a great article refuting proportionalism.

[quote="flyingfish, post:7, topic:183864"]
The OP's girlfriend can't have children because she'd die from a heart attack, but she is still open to life if she intends to have children should the just reasons for not having them go away.

[/quote]

And, the only moral way to avoid indefinitely is abstaining through NFP or completely. Contraception is not a moral means of doing so.

[quote="flyingfish, post:7, topic:183864"]

I think if you are right, then something like 98% of Catholics are in invalid marriages, because something like 98% of Catholics use artificial contraception, and very likely intended to when they got married.

[/quote]

It is not the use of contraception alone which could call the marriage's validity into doubt, nor did I say that it WOULD impact validity.

I said it MIGHT impact validity. Validity might be in question regarding an intent against children.

And, yes, very many Catholics may indeed be in invalid marriages.

[quote="flyingfish, post:7, topic:183864"]
I've never heard of an annulment being granted simply because a spouse intended to use contraception (i.e. they were open to children, but instead of NFP were going to use condoms or the pill or whatever). It seems like annulments would be extremely easy to get if what you say is true.

[/quote]

Please demonstrate where I said a decree of nullity could or would be granted *because *of contraception. I did not.


#10

[quote="1ke, post:9, topic:183864"]

It is not the use of contraception alone which could call the marriage's validity into doubt, nor did I say that it WOULD impact validity.

I said it MIGHT impact validity. Validity might be in question regarding an intent against children.

And, yes, very many Catholics may indeed be in invalid marriages.

Please demonstrate where I said a decree of nullity could or would be granted *because *of contraception. I did not.

[/quote]

When you said that it's wrong to enter a marriage where one person intends to use contraception, I assumed you meant such a marriage would be invalid.

Would you mind giving a source for Church teaching that states a faithful Catholic should not marry a spouse who intends to use contraception?

The Church allows Catholics to marry non-Catholics for instance. Non-Catholic very likely use birth control (with perhaps a few exceptions). In all my readings of Catholic/non-Catholic marriage I've never seen it taught that a Catholic may only marry a non-Catholic if the non-Catholic agrees to use NFP, or that it would be somehow immoral to marry a non-Catholic who intends to use birth control.


#11

Flyingfish, that's one of the very good reasons to only marry a Catholic.

It's called partial "simulation" if one party enters into a marriage intending to exclude one of the "goods" of marriage (children, fidelity, etc). That can be found grounds for an annulment. Ask anyone on a Tribunal.


#12

[quote="flyingfish, post:7, topic:183864"]
I've never seen anything in Catholic teaching to suggest this. Married couples are only required to be open to life. It is possible to be open to life while intending to contracept, since the majority of people who use contraception end up having children.

The OP's girlfriend can't have children because she'd die from a heart attack, but she is still open to life if she intends to have children should the just reasons for not having them go away.

I think if you are right, then something like 98% of Catholics are in invalid marriages, because something like 98% of Catholics use artificial contraception, and very likely intended to when they got married.

I've never heard of an annulment being granted simply because a spouse intended to use contraception (i.e. they were open to children, but instead of NFP were going to use condoms or the pill or whatever). It seems like annulments would be extremely easy to get if what you say is true.

[/quote]

Actually, contraception is a relatively frequent ground of nullity. Chances only are that some postponement would not invalidate even with the use of contraception, but that's a new thing in ecclesiastic jurisprudence. What is more, a decision by one spouse without input from the other to have no children or only one or not until they make six digits or something, would also invalidate. "Opennness" is not some abstract attitude that in theory one has no problem with it, nor can the right to have offspring be conveyed under a future condition (any essential part of marriage being conferred under a future condition makes marriage invalid). It does not extend to "openness to openness". This openness is well illustrated in case of infertile people who do all that would normally be done and would be accepting of children but despite all they do, they can't conceive. This is different from making a choice not to conceive. This said, I can't say with certainty that the marriage would be found invalid, but I would have doubts as to its validity.

What 1ke said reflects on a traditional distinction between intent not to fulfil and intent not to obligate oneself (respectively *animus nonadimplendi *and *animus non se obligandi *for the nerds among us). Without mutually exchanging each other's procreative power (which basically precludes unilaterally making binding decisions), marriage would indeed be invalid. Exchanging it, but not intending to use it would be a different thing, generally not invalidating. If the parties' attitudes were such that they would either not confer or not accept the rights themselves, then marriage would be invalid. This does not mean that the marriage in the OP's situation would be invalid, but, respectfully, it means there's a lot of problems with certain positions with regard to it.

[quote="flyingfish, post:10, topic:183864"]
When you said that it's wrong to enter a marriage where one person intends to use contraception, I assumed you meant such a marriage would be invalid.

[/quote]

If that person intends 1) to keep using it indefinitely in order to prevent any pregnancy from occurring or to reserve the right to do so, 2) to decide about #1 unilaterally, then the marriage is invalid. I've never seen a canon law case or doctrinal work dealing with the case of compelling health reasons from the very start of marriage and intent being based on it, so I don't know if perhaps that marriage wouldn't escape invalidity (marriages, once contracted, are presumed valid), but in a typical situation, it invalidates. It would at any rate necessarily be invalid if a person contracting withheld the right to decide on the offspring (essentially contradicting the vows being taken).

Would you mind giving a source for Church teaching that states a faithful Catholic should not marry a spouse who intends to use contraception?

You can't have a source on every little detail in our lives. However, there's a source that we shouldn't have sex with anyone not a spouse and in an invalid marriage, the other person is not a spouse.

The Church allows Catholics to marry non-Catholics for instance. Non-Catholic very likely use birth control (with perhaps a few exceptions).

Non-Catholics are not guaranteed to intend to exclude indissolubility or offspring, which is a stance held by the Roman Rota as well, despite what lower tribunals tend to say. Disparity of faith (or cult) is an old impediment and it isn't a defect of consent (i.e. whatever affects the content of the consent). It deals with the fact that being married to a non-Catholic or especially non-Christian could be dangerous to one's faith. The Church doesn't really "allow it", she actually prohibts it with the possibility of dispensation.

In all my readings of Catholic/non-Catholic marriage I've never seen it taught that a Catholic may only marry a non-Catholic if the non-Catholic agrees to use NFP, or that it would be somehow immoral to marry a non-Catholic who intends to use birth control.

There's a limited level of detail of instruction that will be affirmatively given to you without your asking and without the responder having a reason to contemplate the issue you didn't ask about. The requirement (for validity) to be open to children is not waived for non-Catholics.


#13

Ask your girlfriend to look into the life of saint Gianna Molla.


#14

[quote="chevalier, post:12, topic:183864"]
Exchanging it, but not intending to use it would be a different thing, generally not invalidating. If the parties' attitudes were such that they would either not confer or not accept the rights themselves, then marriage would be invalid. This does not mean that the marriage in the OP's situation would be invalid, but, respectfully, it means there's a lot of problems with certain positions with regard to it.

[/quote]

It would seem to be the OP's situation though, they would be exchanging the rights, but seeing how the OP and his girlfriend both know that a pregnancy would kill her, they would, for a very valid reason (I mean, if this is not a valid reason to indefinitely postpone pregnancy, then frankly such a reason does not exist) not use it.

And it's not as though they intend not to use it period, which would be closed to life. They intend not to use it while the condition that would kill the girlfriend were she to get pregnant is present.

The method of contraception doesn't seem relevant to me. Take a couple that didn't have the life-threatening illness. They might marry intending to have children, but also intending to use the pill or condoms instead of NFP to space them. Do you think such a marriage would be invalid? It would seem to be that the openness to life would be there.

A little bit of an aside: is openness to openness = openness? Reminds me a bit of modal logic, "it's possible that it's possible" and "possible". Depending on which axioms you take, in some systems it's true, in others it's not. In the most intuitive ones, it's possible that it's possible = it's possible.


#15

I would add that all the canon law technicalities aside, it just seems intensely wrong, cruel, and frankly evil to deny marriage to someone who intends not to get pregnant because she has a life threatening illness that would kill her if she got pregnant.

If a person intending not to get pregnant for such a reason can't get married, then pretty much all people who are too sick to have children and for that reason intend not to have them can't get married.

Whatever happened to the law is for the people, rather than the people for the law. Canon law is man made law that can be changed.

Also given that the Church allows Josephite marriages where the couple doesn't even intend to have sex, much less children, this seems even more contradictory to me.


#16

Monkciate,

The issues your girlfriend faces are secondary. That might sound strange or even hurtful - but hear me out, I mean them in the utmost spirit of love.

The FIRST question that you need to ask yourself, and the MOST important issue, is whether or not God is calling you into the vocation and sacrament of marriage with this woman. I strongly urge you to pray before the Blessed Sacrament on this issue, and also to frequent confession and daily mass.

God will speak to you through the deep desires of your heart. The more you pray, particularly time before the Blessed Sacrament, the more you will understand God’s will for you.

If you do feel called to marriage with this woman, then you must propose to her. Let her discern for herself whether she feels called to the vocation and sacrament of marriage with you.

If you both feel called by God to the vocation and sacrament of marriage to each other - then that is what you both should do. The issue of her ability to survive pregnancy then becomes an issue that can and must be addressed.

Know that artifical contraception is always gravely disordered and evil. However, it sounds like that you might have just cause to immediately start using natural family planning (popepaulvi.com/) to prevent pregnancy. An orthodox Catholic priest can help you discern the justness of this action. The link I gave you can help you find out how to use the Creighton Method to effectively prevent pregnancy - and it is extremely effective (at least as effective if not more effective than artificial birth control - don’t believe the lies of Planned Parenthood to the contrary).

However, you must understand that it is possible - under any technique or birth control - that she might become pregnant. She must know what she is undertaking, and the risk to her own life. She might (and this is her decision prayerfully made) decide that the risk to her life is necessary to fulfill God’s will; and in doing so might earn great merit.

Alternatively, you might avoid relations alltogether during marriage. However, you both must know what you are doing and why - and that will require tremendous discernment and prayer in conjunction with counseling from an orthodox priest.

Those are my recommendations. Don’t just listen to us here on the forums - pray before the Blessed Sacrament, listen to God, listen to your priest, and listen to each other. Only by doing all of these things can you make the best choice. Don’t expect the answers to come too quickly, you might need a few months or more.

I will pray for you.

God Bless,


#17

WHAT? when did anyone ever propose that in this thread? Maybe I missed something…
Anyway, the Church does NOT “deny” marriage to anyone based on their physical disability to have children. A man may morally choose not to marry a woman with such a disability, but the Church does not do this. :confused: where would you ever have gotten that idea?

The Church does say that all marital acts must be ordered to, and physically open to, life. So, no contraception or sterilization. Indefinite continence, or periodic continence are the only moral means of avoiding pregnancy. IMO, as a faithful, practicing Catholic, it would be unwise to marry a person whom you KNEW intended to contracept, no matter the reason.


#18

I'm not at all sure this whole scenario and question is real, but let's play along.

Is this the 16 year old girlfriend that you asked about in October?

A 28 year old should not have a 16 year old girl friend.

Concerning the original post. For an issue such as this, you really should have an in-depth discussion with your priest.

Some posters have told your about the zero tolerance policies of the church. I don't believe in zero tolerance policies. These policies do not allow for rational thought and compassion for unusual circumstances. I ask myself, "What would Jesus do?" I don't honestly believe Jesus would condemn her for taking steps to protect her life.

For the woman in question, unless she plan to remain a lifelong virgin, I would suggest that she discuss sterilization with her doctor.

I'm sure to hear that I have no right to make a decision contrary to church law. I am fully prepared to answer for those choices on my judgment day.


#19

[quote="ContegoFides, post:16, topic:183864"]
Monkciate,

The issues your girlfriend faces are secondary. That might sound strange or even hurtful - but hear me out, I mean them in the utmost spirit of love.

The FIRST question that you need to ask yourself, and the MOST important issue, is whether or not God is calling you into the vocation and sacrament of marriage with this woman. I strongly urge you to pray before the Blessed Sacrament on this issue, and also to frequent confession and daily mass.

God will speak to you through the deep desires of your heart. The more you pray, particularly time before the Blessed Sacrament, the more you will understand God's will for you.

If you do feel called to marriage with this woman, then you must propose to her. Let her discern for herself whether she feels called to the vocation and sacrament of marriage with you.

If you both feel called by God to the vocation and sacrament of marriage to each other - then that is what you both should do. The issue of her ability to survive pregnancy then becomes an issue that can and must be addressed.

Know that artifical contraception is always gravely disordered and evil. However, it sounds like that you might have just cause to immediately start using natural family planning (popepaulvi.com/) to prevent pregnancy. An orthodox Catholic priest can help you discern the justness of this action. The link I gave you can help you find out how to use the Creighton Method to effectively prevent pregnancy - and it is extremely effective (at least as effective if not more effective than artificial birth control - don't believe the lies of Planned Parenthood to the contrary).

However, you must understand that it is possible - under any technique or birth control - that she might become pregnant. She must know what she is undertaking, and the risk to her own life. She might (and this is her decision prayerfully made) decide that the risk to her life is necessary to fulfill God's will; and in doing so might earn great merit.

Alternatively, you might avoid relations alltogether during marriage. However, you both must know what you are doing and why - and that will require tremendous discernment and prayer in conjunction with counseling from an orthodox priest.

Those are my recommendations. Don't just listen to us here on the forums - pray before the Blessed Sacrament, listen to God, listen to your priest, and listen to each other. Only by doing all of these things can you make the best choice. Don't expect the answers to come too quickly, you might need a few months or more.

I will pray for you.

God Bless,

[/quote]

Wow. Well said!


#20

[quote="flyingfish, post:15, topic:183864"]
I would add that all the canon law technicalities aside, it just seems intensely wrong, cruel, and frankly evil to deny marriage to someone who intends not to get pregnant because she has a life threatening illness that would kill her if she got pregnant.

[/quote]

Marriage is more involved than our culture would lead us to believe. It is not merely a religious or civil license for two people to live together and have sexual intercourse. If it were, then the Church would have no issue with two men "marrying" each other or a man and a woman "marrying" only for a year. No, marriage is in fact a permanent sacrament which has as it's primary purpose the begetting and raising of children. This sounds shocking to modern ears, but it is how Catholics understand this vocation. To "deny" someone marriage because they intend to contracept and exclude the possibility of biological children is no more cruel than denying someone a new job if such a person intends to stay home and avoid coming to work. Even if such a person had valid reasons for staying home (a serious health condition, for example), it's equally true the employer can not be expected to hire and pay a person for work they cannot do. Likewise, we can pity a woman for whom pregnancy would pose such a serious health risk, and we can urge her to seek medical solutions that would restore her health and her capacity to assume the vocation for which she desires, but we cannot accuse the Church of being evil for truthfully pointing out that the sacrament of marriage, by definition, involves an openess to children.


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