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This Week 404: Birth Control (1963)


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A documentary about birth control and the dilemma that it poses to Roman Catholic women. There are five million Roman Catholics in Britain for whom contraception is a mortal sin.

Mrs Margaret Molloy says that she believes fervently in God and does not wish to offend, but she wants to limit the number of children that she has due to poor health. She already has eight children, but her husband now has to look after them four to five months a year. She describes her situation as desperate and heartbreaking, and she and her husband even go without food in order to feed the children. Her doctor has told her not to have any more, and advised her to get a supporting letter from her priest - who told her that he could not help her.

Mr and Mrs Hegarty have fourteen children, but no problems because Mrs Hegarty is healthy.

A couple stand by their child's cot. The baby has muscular dystrophy and only months to live, and their doctor believes that there is a possibility that future children could suffer from the same disease. The Catholic couple does not use contraception.

At a family planning clinic, a female doctor advises a woman about birth control methods such as the sheath (condom), diaphragm, contraceptive pill and the rhythm method. The Catholic Church only permits the last of these.

A woman in the clinic has had five children and doesn't want any more. She has decided to ask for contraception because she feels she cannot go on having children year after year. She did not approach her priest because she thought he would have no answers.

A non-Catholic doctor speaks about the importance of spontaneous love-making in a marriage and the necessity for birth control. She talks about the great sympathy she feels for Roman Catholic women, and the emotional and physical problems they have as a result of their dilemma. If a Roman Catholic woman comes to her for contraceptive advice, she outlines the methods available and leaves them to choose. She says that the rhythm method has inherent problems, especially for women with irregular menstrual cycles or unsympathetic husbands. Some women feel so guilty about attending her clinic that they stop going to confession.

Father Collins, a Liverpool-based Catholic priest, states that contraception is against the natural law of God, and as such it is as wrong for non-Catholics as it is for Catholics. The purpose of marriage is the procreation and education of children, and if you abuse that then you are abusing a sacred function. When asked what he would do if a Roman Catholic woman said that she wanted to practice contraception, he said that he would try to discover the underlying reason behind the problem (health, poverty, poor housing) and then advise as best he could - but he would never advise contraception as he believes it to be evil and wrong.

Mrs Molloy says that she feels that her priest does understand her problems and those of women like her, but he cannot do anything. He has offered her financial help, but this isn't what she wants. She concludes that there is no answer other than taking matters into her own hands and living with her conscience.

A doctor says that couples must be disciplined and not have more children than they are capable of educating and supporting. If they can't do this, they should follow the advice of Thomas Aquinas that all moral judgements are based on common sense - which itself is God-given.