Speaking in Africa today, Pope Benedict XVI said that the distribution of condoms is not the answer in the fight against AIDS in Africa. "You can't resolve it with the distribution of condoms. On the contrary, it increases the problem."
This is factually incorrect. Condoms may not entirely eliminate the problem of AIDS, but the fact is that unprotected sex is the major vector for the disease and condoms almost entirely shut down that vector (except that they can break or be used incorrectly).
What if the Pope were to say, "You cannot resolve the problem of germs with antiseptics. On the contrary, it increases the problem." Would you then insist that surgeons stop scrubbing before operations? that hospitals stop using alcohol, iodine and betadine?
The Catholic church has made a fetish of opposition to contraception. I will grant that human life begins at conception. That is a scientific fact. It does not follow that all conceptions must be protected against safe abortion, but it is impossible to argue that once sperm hits the egg it is anything other than a human being. I am sympathetic to those who wish to protect such innocent lives, even though I do not entirely agree with the position.
But to argue against preventing such human life is a step too far. It makes no sense, especially if one believes that human life should be protected from the moment of conception. The fact is that preventing conception also prevents the subsequent abortion of that human being. To the hypothetical person in question, the matter is moot whether she is conceived and killed or never conceived at all. But to most of us on this side of the womb, the distinction is considerable. Most of the eggs that erupt from a woman's ovaries are shed without conception. What is true for women's eggs is many orders of magnitude truer of sperm.
It is hard to argue the value of any of them until they are united -- not brought within close reach of one another -- united as one genetic whole. Nature does not value them. Nature does not even value fertilized eggs unless they manage to implant themselves in a receptive womb. Many fertilized eggs are spontaneously aborted. What value then do they have before they even come into being?
Leave aside that argument and assign some value to potential, preconceived human life for the sake of argument. Does such life then take priority over adult human beings? That is what the Pope is arguing -- that the use of condoms is worse than protected sex. He says, despite the obvious scientific contradiction, that they make the problem of AIDS worse. This is completely irresponsible.
Yet because of this fetish against contraception, the Pope is unwittingly (or perhaps disingenuously) encouraging unprotected sex. One cannot dispute that abstinence is the perfect contraception and prophylactic, when practiced without failure. But to suppose that abstinence is going to be successfully practiced in a majority of cases, much less 100% of the time, is to ignore the fact that human copulation has been popular for millions of years prior to the Christian Era -- popular since the species first emerged, in point of fact. To argue in favor of abstinence only is to guarantee conception will occur and disease will be spread. This, in turn, leads to at least some abortions, some unwanted births and some very unfortunate deaths from AIDS.
Just as environmentalists who oppose a dam must take responsibility for any deaths that result from a subsequent uncontrolled flood, the Pope and his fellow fetishists must take responsibility for the abortions and AIDS deaths that result from the unprotected sex that will inevitably occur amongst those they teach to avoid condoms.