On Contraception

2399 The regulation of births represents one of the aspects of responsible fatherhood and motherhood. Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception). (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd Ed., (C) 1994/1997, USCC)

The Question: Are natural means of birth control the only moral method of birth control available to a Christian? Why or why not?

The Response: The answer to this question is not a simple one, and I believe that Mama Church holds to a flawed opnion in the matter. In the first place, one must address the issue of morality. It is fact that societies determine what is or is not moral behavior and societal definitions vary over time. Only a few hundred years ago, women dressed in clothing that displayed their breasts as prominently as possible. Then, in the Victorian age, morality dictated that women wear clothing that covered them completely, from foot to throat. There was a time when men paraded around in pointy-toed shoes and ridiculously exaggerated codpieces to advertise, honestly or otherwise, their manly attributes. Even in today's liberal times, such behavior would be frowned upon.

It has not been that long ago that some societies considered cannibalism to be morally acceptable. In certain segments of India's society, until recently, public morality expected a widow to join her husband in death by the ritual of suttee. Among Mormons, it was not only morally acceptable, but expected that a man would be husband to more than one wife. The morality of the greater national society has suppressed this Mormon morality, at least for a time. The morality of Islam sees nothing wrong in a man having more than one wife, so long as he can properly support them all.

Given the foregoing; let us turn aside from assigning a man-made 'moral' quality to birth control methodology. The Catholic Church is big on addressing the morality of various methods of birth control. I find this interesting, given the morally unacceptable  behavior, in today's American society in general, of so many Catholic priests and religious--a situation in which wolves are set in judgment over the conduct of other creatures.

Let us instead look to what is Scriptural. Certainly, God commanded Noah and his sons to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth (Genesis 9:1), but I am aware of no place in the Scriptures wherein the Lord expresses a position concerning birth control, artificial or natural. I make this statement based upon careful examination of the pet passages of both the Catholic Church and the pro-life movement.

I know of no place in the Bible where the Lord expresses a prohibition against the use of barriers such as condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, etc.

I know of no place in the Bible where the Lord expresses a prohibition against the use of spermicides, intrauterine devices, hysterectomies, tubal ligations, vasectomies, etc.

I know of no place in the Bible where the Lord expresses a prohibition against abstinence, celibacy, early withdrawal, etc.

Some might challenge the above statement by pointing to “the sin of Onan.” (Genesis 38:1-10) Read the passage again. God did not slay Onan because he practiced contraception (early withdrawal), but because the man disobeyed His command to father children with the wife of his dead brother.

I know of no place in the Bible where the Lord expresses a prohibition against the use of birth control pills, morning after pills, hormone implants, etc.

I DO know of places in the Bible where the Lord expresses a prohibition against murder, maiming, etc. One such place is in Exodus 20:13, where one might read:

You shall not murder (NASB)

In the New Testament, Jesus spoke these words in His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21):

"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' (NASB)

In that light, let us re-visit the various anti-conceptive methods mentioned above:

Abstinence, celibacy, vasectomy, tubal ligation, hysterectomy, etc., are completely effective in preventing conception. I cannot imagine that the application of any of these methods would contravene God's ordinances.

Early withdrawal, spermicides, barriers, intrauterine devices, etc., are generally effective, though all are known to have a less-than-perfect record of preventing conception.

Oral contraceptives, including the so-called morning after pill, and hormone implants appear to have the highest rate of failure to prevent conception of the methods listed above.

When anti-conceptive methods or hormones fail to prevent conception, I believe that a new life results. I believe that God breathes life into this new creature at the moment of conception and endows it with a spirit created in His image. This new creature is spiritually dead, a consequence of Adam's sin, but nevertheless it has the potential to be saved by God's grace and the gift of saving faith.

When the anti-conceptive action of a birth control method fails and new human life results, the birth control activity of the hormone or device often is not ended. What happens is that the anti-conceptive now becomes an abortifacient; that is, it facilitates the abortion of the new microscopic human being. Abortion is most often effected by the mechanism of endometric atrophy, or thinning of the endometrium.

Under normal conditions, the fertilized ovum implants itself into the endometrium, or lining of the uterus, on the sixth day following fertilization. When endometric atrophy is present, it is difficult to impossible for the fertilized ovum to implant itself into the endometrium, where it normally would be nourished and protected until the new little person is large enough to detach itself and float freely in the uterus. Unable to attach itself to the endometrium, the human embryo is deprived of nourishment and is literally starving as it flows out of the uterus with other uterine material. The new little human baby dies as a result of starvation and/or exposure.

In that the death of the 'tiniest human' is a consequence of a willful act by one or both of its parents, I believe it a distinct possibility that the conduct of one or both of its parents will be in evidence when the Lord Jesus sits in judgment over the lost at the Great White Throne or when He judges the works of the saved.

I hope that is helpful.


Suggested reading:

Understanding "Birth Control;" What Every Christian Counselor Should Know

B. Krämer, Mechanism of Action of Mifepristone and Levonorgestrel for Emergency Contraception; Geneva Foundation for Medication Education and Research

IUD Mechanism Affects Sperm; Network: 2000, Vol. 20, No. 1

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