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March 2015

Dr. Halliday Sutherland

~ Champion of Life ~



Father James Morrow (1934-2010), the founder of Humanae Vitae House in Braemar, Scotland, famously said that “abortion is atheism in action.” He called his anti-abortion movement “Humanae Vitae” precisely because of the connection between artificial birth control and abortion. Two generations earlier, the Catholic physician Dr. Halliday G. Sutherland (1882-1960) observed in his book Birth Control (1922) that atheism was at the root of the new birth-control movement: three atheists had founded the Malthusian Society in London in 1876, and even before them, birth control had always been “an atheistic movement.”

Standing firm for self-control

Back in the 1870s, England’s Protestant clergy “denounced” this movement from the pulpits, but in 1921 they were openly debating whether or not birth control was a sin. After all, the practice was now spreading rapidly among the British upper classes, who by then were no longer Christians but “vague theists” embracing “false ideas of pleasures” and “self-realisation.” The Church of England would soon cave in at the 1930 Lambeth Conference and become the first Christian church to approve of this practice.   

In 1922, however, Dr. Sutherland stood in the breach trying to repel the assault of the birth-controllers. In his book, he notes that the upper-class promoters of the new morality assert that “self-control in matters of sex is an impossibility, and therefore not to be even attempted.” He remarks that this is the very excuse men give who visit prostitutes, namely, that the “sex impulse is irresistible,” and so now the same excuse is to be given “for conjugal union with prevention.”

He cites approvingly from a speech that the playwright George Bernard Shaw, an agnostic, gave to the Medico-Legal Society, on July 7, 1921. In that speech, Shaw scoffed at the notion that the sex impulse is irresistible:

I know a great many Catholic priests, and they are men who have had a great deal of experience. They have at the back a Church which has had for many years to consider the giving of domestic advice to people. If you go to a Catholic priest and tell him that a life of sexual abstinence means a life of utter misery, he laughs. And obviously for a very good reason.

Shaw recommended that methods be found for limiting family size that would “not induce people to declare that they cannot exist without sexual intercourse.”

Love and lust

The “Bible” of the birth-controllers of that era was Elements of Social Science, by Dr. George V. Drysdale (1824-1904), a foe of monogamy. In his work, Drysdale declares that marriage is a distraction from one’s “real sexual duties” and that it is a great mistake to yoke oneself to the love of a single person: “Love is, like all other human passions and appetites, subject to change, deriving a great part of its force and continuance from variety in its objects.” He is also a champion of promiscuity outside of marriage:  “Chastity, or complete sexual abstinence,” he insists, is “invariably a great natural sin.”

Dr. Sutherland replies that Drysdale has confused love and lust, which can be defined as slavery to passion. Birth controllers like Drysdale never recommend limited intercourse or self-restraint because their “motto” is unlimited pleasure without risk of conception. Thus, the artificial method of birth control leads those who adopt it into becoming “slaves to the sex impulse.” They can no longer be happy, for they are “at the mercy of an animal instinct,” of a “passion uncontrolled by nature.”

Degradation of women

While female advocates of artificial birth control claim to be speaking for the benefit of women, they are in fact encouraging their degradation. The proof? Birth-controllers like Dr. Drysdale condemn all contraceptive methods that apply to men because these methods might dull their pleasure or spoil “the impulsiveness of the venereal act.” Women alone must take precautions, and if they omit to do so or if those precautions fail, then the fault is theirs and they must bear the consequences. Dr. Sutherland calls this doctrine “diabolical” and cites Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell (1821-1910) to confirm his judgment.

Dr. Blackwell, the first woman to graduate with an M.D. (in 1849), was a great champion of women’s rights. There is a prize given today in her honour. Unlike our modern feminists, however, she insisted that artificial birth control degraded women:

Male sexual pleasure must not be interfered with, male lust may be indulged in to any extent that pleasure demands, but woman must take the entire responsibility that male indulgence be not disturbed by any inconvenient claims from paternity. Whatever consequences ensue the woman is to blame, and must bear the whole responsibility. 

Is this not as true today as a century ago and still as degrading? Dr. Sutherland notes that, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, “the man who adopts these practices is simply using his wife as he would use a prostitute” (Suppl. Qu. 49, Art 6). What could be worse for a woman than to be used as an exchangeable, impersonal object of lust?

Childless wage slaves

In the midst of the controversy raging in 1921, the obstetricians at the Royal Society of Medicine chimed in to warn that the practice of artificial sterility during early married life was the reason many women remained childless in later years. “One doctor recalled a large number of patients who had used contraceptives in early married life and subsequently had longed in vain for a child.” Another physician noted that “in women the maternal passion was even stronger, though it might develop later, than sexual passion.” He spoke of the profound unhappiness he found in these childless women. Today the growth of the lucrative IVF market has the same root: the use of artificial contraceptives in early marriage.

The economic degradation of women also follows from artificial birth control. Dr. Sutherland explains that up to the 20th century, the rule in Western society was that a woman of child-bearing age would be supported by her husband. Now, however, birth controllers want to force all women onto the labour market and use most of them for lower-paid types of work. Not only are the poor to have virtually no property, but under this new system they are to be robbed of a real home and turned into childless wage-slaves. 

Robbing the poor

In an eloquent passage, Dr. Sutherland expresses his indignation at the desolation that Malthus and his disciples, the birth-controllers, have brought upon the poor:

[Malthus] forged a law of nature, namely, that there is always a limited and insufficient supply of the necessities of life in the world. [ …] This new doctrine was eagerly adopted by the rich, who were thus enabled to argue that Nature intended that the masses should find no room at her feast; and that therefore our system of industrial capitalism was in harmony with the Will of God. Most comforting dogma! Most excellent anodyne for conscience against acceptance of those rights of man that, being ignored, found terrible expression the French Revolution.

Today this “heresy,” he says, affects “all our practical politics.” In devising a false law of Nature, “Malthus robbed the poor of hope. Such was his crime against humanity.”

Natural acts and natural law

The practice of birth control also violates natural law, as Dr. Sutherland explains vividly: 

It is like using language to conceal the truth, or using appetite so as to injure rather than to promote health. During the decline of the Roman Empire men gorged themselves with food, took an emetic, vomited, and then sat down to eat again. They satiated their appetite and frustrated the object for which the appetite is intended. The practice of birth control is parallel to this piggishness.

Could the unnatural side of this vice be depicted more strongly?

Birth controllers argue that culture means artifice, for, after all, humans wear boots and hats and cut their hair, so why should birth alone be untouchable? Dr. Sutherland replies that only a materialist, i.e. an atheist, can fail to see the difference between a natural act in the physical world and the natural moral law that governs human conduct. Murder is a natural act in the physical world, but it cannot be defended by the natural law of conscience.

Sola scriptura sell out

A few decades ago the U.S. Supreme Court invented a right to privacy in order to make artificial birth control and then abortion-on-demand available to all women across the country. In 1914, William Inge, Anglican Dean of St. Paul and a champion of artificial birth control, asserted that same right. He was a pied piper leading the way to destruction, declaring: “this is emphatically a matter in which every man and woman must judge for themselves, and must refrain from judging others.” In the 1920s Margaret Sanger cites him approvingly in her birth-control publication.

Ironically, the Protestants of the Reformation were convinced that using unnatural means for the avoidance of conception was forbidden in the Bible and that the punishment for that sin was death (Gen. 38:9-10). But as Bossuet has shown in his History of the Variations, the Protestant churches have tended to change their doctrines year by year, including moral doctrines, but the Gates of Hell, or heresy, will not prevail against the Church founded on Peter.

Immutable Catholic doctrine

When the controversy was at its height in 1921, Father Vincent McNabb wrote, "It is a grievous disorder, and, therefore, a grievous sin to desire satisfaction in such sexual intercourse as could not result in the begetting of offspring." He added this further instruction:

Any Catholic who willfully adopts this practice violates the law of God in a serious matter, and is therefore guilty of mortal sin, an outrageous and deliberate insult offered by a human creature to the Infinite Majesty.

In Birth Control, Dr. Sutherland, who converted to Catholicism after World War I, presents Father McNabb’s statement as the unchangeable Catholic doctrine. In the face of enormous pressure from Catholic dissidents, this very same teaching would be expressed again in Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (1968). From this Father James Morrow would draw his inspiration for his heroic pro-life mission at Humanae Vitae House.




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