(Masterpieces of Women's Literature, Critical Edition)

At the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), a meeting of Catholic bishops from around the world which in many ways thoroughly changed and modernized Roman Catholicism, there was an expectation that Pope Paul VI would alter the official stance against artificial contraception. His predecessor, Pope John XXIII, had established a commission to analyze the church’s teaching on contraception. Although the majority report of the commission called for a change in the Catholic church’s teaching, Pope Paul VI chose to disregard the report and to reaffirm the traditional position against contraception. His encyclical, Humanae Vitae (meaning “of human life”), describes a morally licit sexual act as one that involves both procreative and uniting elements. Artificial contraception eliminates the possibility of a procreative element. Humanae Vitae further strained the relationship between the women’s movement and Roman Catholicism. Most feminists argue that reproductive choice is essential to authentic women’s liberation and that this choice includes safe, available, affordable contraception. The decision also divided Catholics: Polls have consistently demonstrated that the vast majority of Catholics in the United States and Canada do not observe the ban on artificial contraception.