In 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the pill for contraceptive use, effectively disconnecting sex from its biological purpose. With 24/7 contraception, sex became comparable to a great game of bowling, or a great night out with friends, or a really great meal. 

But in comparison to the life-changing event of bringing a child into the world, the separation of sex from procreation actually rendered sex meaningless, reducing its significance to that of a pleasurable moment, and no more.

In 1973, the Supreme Court ensured that sex could remain meaningless when Roe vs. Wade decided that the life of a child in the womb was a mother’s personal business. The worldwide cost of meaningless sex now runs about 50 million abortions annually. A world that cannot speak enough of human dignity has, since 1980, labeled over one billion children “a lump of tissue,” denied them any dignity at all, and discarded them as medical waste. 

Such carnage is unprecedented. In the craft of killing, Hitler, Stalin and Mao are small-time thugs compared to a new ideology that elevates sexual desire to a god — a god that requires the daily human sacrifice of tens of thousands. 

Perhaps sex reduced to simple pleasure was not so simple after all.

The advent of the pill and the legalization of abortion are not unrelated. Contraception requires abortion. When sex rendered meaningless inadvertently shows its true purpose with a child conceived, that child is no longer a child but a mistake. And mistakes must be dealt with. 

But the path to declaring a living child a mistake requires effort. As humans we must differentiate the child from ourselves. In using a scientifically equivalent term, like “fetus,” we remove the humanity of the child by simple reference. Downgrading “fetus” to “lump of tissue” comes pretty easy, especially when that lump of tissue will inconveniently change our life. With a biologically complex, living child reduced to the role of “tissue,” a child conceived becomes a mere medical decision, a cancer to be removed.

In rendering sex meaningless and denying the humanity of the child we also diminish our own humanity. When contraception is accepted as the norm, we divorce ourselves from what makes us male and female, because these terms mean nothing when they are no longer tied to “father” and “mother.” In referring to the sexuality of a mosquito, we do not reference its ability to have a good time or its potential for finding its true self, but its capability for reproduction. Similarly, our sexuality is the part of us that creates life, that gives us the potential to be a mother or a father. 

In considering the child it teaches us how to love, because love always starts with the other, even when that other is yet to be conceived. Contraception and abortion are a repudiation of that other.

A society that rejects others by redefining them as less human must also redefine love. Rather than focus on the other, the new love will focus on ourselves. We will love when it feels good and walk away when it doesn’t. The pursuit of what feels good is hardly love, but often its antithesis, as what feels good to one frequently harms another. If to be human is to love, then downgrading love will also downgrade what it means to be human.

On the 41st anniversary of Roe vs. Wade (Jan. 22, 1973), perhaps it is time to consider not only the 50 million abortions per year, but the cost to the survivors, those who successfully ran the gauntlet of the modern womb. Imagine growing up in a world knowing your life was conditional on the convenience of another. Imagine growing up in a world where love is love — as long as it works for the lover, not the beloved. In a world of broken families, we don’t really have to imagine any of this. We need only to look around us.

Then imagine a world where instead of a mother and father declaring, “I’m not ready,” when a child is already conceived and living, they declare, “I’m not ready,” long before seeking the intimacy of the bedroom. In those three words, simply spoken at the right time, is an understanding of what it means to be sexual and what it means to love the child yet born. 

Imagine a world populated by those who loved enough to deny themselves for the life of another. Just imagine.

(Mr. Jermann lives in Olean.)