Christian views on birth control

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Prior to the 20th century, three major branches of Christianity (Catholicism, Orthodoxy and Protestantism[1]) generally held a critical perspective of birth control, including the leading Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin.[2] Among Christian denominations today, however, there is a large variety of positions towards birth control.



The Catholic Church has been opposed to contraception since at least the second century.[3][4] Many early Church Fathers made statements condemning the use of contraception including John Chrysostom, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome, Augustine of Hippo and various others.[4][5][6] Among the condemnations is one by Jerome which refers to an apparent oral form of contraception: "Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception."[7] Augustine, in On Marriage and Concupiscence, states that whoever merely involving lust in intercourse without intending procreation, "although they be called husband and wife, are not; nor do they retain any reality of marriage, but use the respectable name [of marriage] to cover a shame. ... Sometimes this lustful cruelty, or cruel lust, comes to this, that they even use sterilizing drugs." The phrase "sterilizing drugs" (sterilitatis venena) was widely used in theological and ecclesiastical literatures to condemn any contraceptive acts and birth control. Augustine utilized the biblical story of Onan as a supporting text to denounce contraception.[8]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies that all sex acts must be both unitive and procreative.[9] In addition to condemning use of artificial birth control as intrinsically evil,[10] non-procreative sex acts such as mutual masturbation and anal sex are ruled out as ways to avoid pregnancy.[11] Casti connubii explains the secondary, unitive, purpose of intercourse.[12] Because of this secondary purpose, married couples have a right to engage in intercourse even when pregnancy is not a possible result:

Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.[13]

John and Sheila Kippley from the Couple to Couple League say that the statement of Pope Pius XI not only permitted sex between married couples during pregnancy and menopause, but also during the infertile times of the menstrual cycle.[14] Raymond J. Devettere says that the statement is a permit to undertake intercourse during the infertile times when there is "a good reason for it".[8] The mathematical formula for the rhythm method had been formalized in 1930,[15] and in 1932 a Catholic physician published a book titled The Rhythm of Sterility and Fertility in Women promoting the method to Catholics.[12] The 1930s also saw the first U.S. Rhythm Clinic (founded by John Rock) to teach the method to Catholic couples.[16] However, use of the rhythm method in certain circumstances was not formally accepted until 1951, in two speeches by Pope Pius XII.[12][17]

Current view[edit]

A Catholic family from Virginia, 1959

The Catholic position on contraception was formally explained and expressed by Pope Paul VI's Humanae vitae in 1968. Artificial contraception is considered intrinsically evil,[18] but methods of natural family planning may be used, as they do not usurp the natural way of conception.[19]

In justification of this position, Pope Paul VI said:

Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control. Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards. Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law. Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.[19]

Pope John Paul II clarified Catholic teachings on contraception.

In issuing Humanae vitae, Pope Paul VI relied on the Minority Papal Commission Report of the Pontifical Commission on Birth Control. The minority report argued that:

One can find no period of history, no document of the church, no theological school, scarcely one Catholic theologian, who ever denied that contraception was always seriously evil. The teaching of the Church in this matter is absolutely constant. Until the present century this teaching was peacefully possessed by all other Christians, whether Orthodox or Anglican or Protestant. The Orthodox retain this as common teaching today.

On July 17, 1994, John Paul II clarified the church's position during a meditation said prior to an angelus recitation:

Unfortunately, Catholic thought is often misunderstood ... as if the Church supported an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future. But one need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to know that this is not so. Truly, in begetting life the spouses fulfill one of the highest dimensions of their calling: they are God's co-workers. Precisely for this reason they must have an extremely responsible attitude. In deciding whether or not to have a child, they must not be motivated by selfishness or carelessness, but by a prudent, conscious generosity that weighs the possibilities and circumstances, and especially gives priority to the welfare of the unborn child. Therefore, when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary. However, there remains the duty of carrying it out with criteria and methods that respect the total truth of the marital act in its unitive and procreative dimension, as wisely regulated by nature itself in its biological rhythms. One can comply with them and use them to advantage, but they cannot be "violated" by artificial interference.[20]

In 1997, the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family stated:

The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life.[21]

A summary of the Scriptural support used by Catholics against contraception can be found in Rome Sweet Home, an autobiography by the Catholic apologetics Scott and Kimberly Hahn, both of whom are converts to the Catholic Church from Protestantism.[22] They illustrate the results of the research on contraception conducted by Kimberly Hahn as having a pivotal effect on their lives, notably the fact that the Catholic Church is one of the last few Christian groups to take a clear stance on the issue. Among the Scripture included in the book are the following lines from Psalm 127:3-5:

Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the gate.

Catholic scholar Cormac Burke has written an anthropological (non-religious) evaluation of the effect of contraception on marital love, "Married Love and Contraception", to argue that "contraception does in fact denaturalize the conjugal act, to the extent that, far from uniting the spouses and expressing and confirming the love between them in a unique way, it tends to undermine their love by radically contradicting the full mutual self-giving that this most intimate act of the marital relationship should signify."[23]

The 2008 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith's instruction Dignitas Personae reiterates church opposition to contraception, mentioning new methods of interception and contragestion, notably female condoms and morning-after pills, which are also "fall within the sin of abortion and are gravely immoral".[24]

However, Father Tad Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania stated in March 2016 that contraceptives are permissible if the sex is non-consensual, such as events of rape and sexual assault.[25]

Condom controversy[edit]

In 2003, the BBC's Panorama stated that church officials have taught that HIV can pass through the membrane of the latex rubber from which condoms were made. It was considered not true according to the World Health Organization.[26]

In an interview on Dutch television in 2004, Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels argued that the use of condoms should be supported to prevent AIDS if sex with a person infected with HIV should take place, though it is to be avoided. According to Danneels, "the person must use a condom in order not to disobey the commandment condemning murder, in addition to breaking the commandment which forbids adultery. ... Protecting oneself against sickness or death is an act of prevention. Morally, it cannot be judged on the same level as when a condom is used to reduce the number of births."[27] In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI asserted that handing out condoms is not the solution to combating AIDS and might make the problem worse. He proposed "spiritual and human awakening" and "friendship for those who suffer" as solutions.[28] In 2010, Benedict in an interview which was published in the book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church and the Signs of the Times, when asked whether the Catholic Church were not opposed in principle to the use of condoms, stated:

She [the Catholic Church] of course does not regard it as a real or moral solution, but, in this or that case, there can be nonetheless, in the intention of reducing the risk of infection, a first step in a movement toward a different way, a more human way, of living sexuality.

Benedict cited the example of the use of condoms by male prostitutes as "a first step towards moralisation", even though condoms are "not really the way to deal with the evil of HIV infection". In a statement to explain his saying, the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith reaffirmed that the church considered prostitution "gravely immoral":

However, those involved in prostitution who are HIV positive and who seek to diminish the risk of contagion by the use of a condom may be taking the first step in respecting the life of another even if the evil of prostitution remains in all its gravity.[29]


Roderick Hindery reported that a number of Western Catholics have voiced significant disagreement with the church's stance on contraception.[30] Among them, dissident theologian Charles Curran criticized the stance of Humanae vitae on artificial birth control.[31] In 1968, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued what many interpreted as a dissenting document, the Winnipeg Statement, in which the bishops recognized that a number of Canadian Catholics found it "either extremely difficult or even impossible to make their own all elements of this doctrine" (that of Humanae vitae).[32] Additionally, in 1969, they reasserted the Catholic principle of primacy of conscience,[32] a principle that they said should be properly interpreted. They insisted that "a Catholic Christian is not free to form his conscience without consideration of the teaching of the magisterium, in the particular instance exercised by the Holy Father in an encyclical letter".[33]

Catholics for Choice stated in 1998 that 96% of U.S. Catholic women had used contraceptives at some point in their lives and that 72% of U.S. Catholics believed that one could be a good Catholic without obeying the church's teaching on birth control.[34] According to a nationwide poll of 2,242 U.S. adults surveyed online in September 2005 by Harris Interactive (they stated that the magnitude of errors cannot be estimated due to sampling errors, non-response,etc.), 90% of U.S. Catholics supported the use of birth control/contraceptives.[35] A survey conducted in 2015 by the Pew Research Center among 5,122 U.S. adults (including 1,016 self-identified Catholics) stated 76% of U.S. Catholics thought that the church should allow Catholics to use birth control.[36] However all polls make no distinction between faithful practicing Catholics and baptised Catholics.

Eastern Orthodoxy[edit]

An official document of the Russian Orthodox Church prohibits contraception except when it is specifically approved by a confessor, does not involve the possibility of aborting a conceived child, is for reasons of inability to raise a child, and is done with spousal consent.[37] Additionally, the Russian Orthodox Church prohibits the use of contraceptives if they are used in an attempt to improve fertility.[37]

Eastern Orthodox believers, on all sides of the issue, tend to believe that contraceptive acceptance is not adequately examined, and that any examination has too often become tied up in identity politics, the more accepting group accusing the categorically opposed group of Roman Catholic influence.[38][39]

Many Orthodox hierarchs and theologians from around the world lauded Humanae vitae when it was issued. Among these Orthodox leaders, some teach that marital intercourse should be for procreation only, while others do not go as far and hold a view similar to the Roman Catholic position, which allows Natural Family Planning on principle while at the same time opposing artificial contraception.[38][39]

Other Orthodox Church leaders maintain this interpretation is too narrowly focused on the procreative function of sex, not enough on its unitive function, and thus allow more freedom for contraceptive use among married couples.[38][39]

Some Orthodox Christians, like Roman Catholics, consider using contraceptives not only a sin, but also a "mortal sin"[40] in the manner of "unnatural carnal sins", along with homosexuality, bestiality, masturbation, etc.[41][42]

Oriental Orthodoxy[edit]


As part of the Protestant Reformation, Reformers began to more strongly emphasize the unitive pleasures of marriage.[43] Still, all major early Protestant Reformers, and indeed Protestants in general until the twentieth century, condemned birth control as a contravention of God's procreative purpose for marriage.[44][45] As scientists advanced birth control methods during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, some Protestants continued to reject them, while other Nonconformists welcomed these advances.[44][46][47]



The Mennonite Church USA, the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the Conservative Mennonite Conference have adopted statements indicating approval of modern methods of contraception. For example, while also teaching and encouraging love and acceptance of children, the Conservative Mennonite Conference maintains, "The prevention of pregnancy when feasible by birth control with pre-fertilization methods is acceptable."[48] A study published in 1975 found that only 11% of Mennonites believed use of birth control was "always wrong".[49] Old Colony Mennonites, like the Amish, do not officially allow birth control practices.


Not only are all types of artificial birth control forbidden in Old-Order Amish communities, but any varieties of natural family planning, such as calendar-based methods, are also condemned.[50][49] However, especially in recent years, more Amish women have begun using contraception. This trend is more pronounced in communities where few of the men earn their living through farming.[51]


The Hutterite Brethren use contraception only if it is recommended by a physician.[52]


The Anglican Communion, including the Church of England, condemned artificial contraception at the 1908 and 1920 Lambeth Conferences.[8] Later, the Anglican Communion gave approval for birth control in some circumstances at the 1930 Lambeth Conference. At the 1958 Lambeth Conference it was stated that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children was laid by God upon the consciences of parents "in such ways as are acceptable to husband and wife".[53][54]


The Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Baptist denomination in the world and largest Protestant denomination in the United States, initially welcomed the invention of birth control and legalization of abortion, but religious morality among its faithful shifted beginning in the 1980s with the Moral Majority and resulted in condemnation of legal abortion and religious freedom from government promotion of contraception in schools; subsequently, after the contraceptive mandate was passed, attitudes shifted further, and as of 2014, there appears to have been a shift towards outright moral disapproval of contraception.[55]

Calvinism and Presbyterianism[edit]

The Presbyterian Church (USA) supports "full and equal access to contraceptive methods". In a recent resolution endorsing insurance coverage for contraceptives, the church affirmed that "contraceptive services are part of basic health care" and cautioned that "unintended pregnancies lead to higher rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, and maternal morbidity, and threaten the economic viability of families".[56] Other Reformed groups, however, are at odds over the issue, as can be seen in recent works arguing that the practice of birth control has no legitimate Christian support. (See for instance "The Christian Case against Contraception: Making the Case from Historical, Biblical, Systematic, and Practical Theology & Ethics" by Bryan C. Hodge.)


The Cooperites do not permit the use of birth control.[57]


The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allows for contraception in the event the potential parents do not intend to care for a child.[58] Other Lutheran churches or synods take other positions, or do not take any position at all. For example, in 1990 the Lutheran Churches of the Reformation passed a resolution titled "Procreation" stating that birth control, in all forms, is sin, although they "allow for exegetical differences and exceptional cases (casuistry)", for example, when the woman's life is at risk.[59] Laestadian Lutheran Churches do not permit the use of birth control.[60] Neither the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod nor the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod has an official position on contraception.[61]


The United Methodist Church, holds that "each couple has the right and the duty prayerfully and responsibly to control conception according to their circumstances". Its Resolution on Responsible Parenthood states that in order to "support the sacred dimensions of personhood, all possible efforts should be made by parents and the community to ensure that each child enters the world with a healthy body, and is born into an environment conducive to realization of his or her potential". To this end, the United Methodist Church supports "adequate public funding and increased participation in family planning services by public and private agencies".[62][63]

Other denominations[edit]

Along with these general acceptances, many movements view contraception use outside of marriage as encouragement to promiscuity. For example, Focus on the Family states,

Sex is a powerful drive, and for most of human history it was firmly linked to marriage and childbearing. Only relatively recently has the act of sex commonly been divorced from marriage and procreation. Modern contraceptive inventions have given many an exaggerated sense of safety and prompted more people than ever before to move sexual expression outside the marriage boundary.[64]

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints[edit]

Until recently the leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) have publicly condemned artificial birth control.[65] The earliest official public statement the church made on the subject was given in 1969, and it discouraged contraception by saying, "it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by."[66]

However, more recent statements in the publicly available church handbook [67] for local LDS Church leaders have discouraged such leaders from judging other members based on their private intimate relationships:

It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.

Married couples should also understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a way of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife.[67]

Outside of the handbook, the most recent statement by a President of the Church on the issue of birth control is a statement made by Gordon B. Hinckley in 1983:

Much has been said ... about birth control. I like to think of the positive side of the equation, of the meaning and sanctity of life, of the purpose of this estate in our eternal journey, of the need for the experiences of mortal life under the great plan of God our Father, of the joy that is to be found only where there are children in the home, of the blessings that come of good posterity. When I think of these values and see them taught and observed, then I am willing to leave the question of numbers to the man and the woman and the Lord.[68]

The typical LDS approach is that this statement and the current handbook statement supersedes prior statements made by previous authorities.[citation needed]

The LDS Church opposes elective abortion "for personal or social convenience"[67] but states that abortion could be an acceptable option in cases of rape, incest, danger to the health or life of the mother, or where the fetus has been diagnosed with "severe defects that will not allow the baby to survive beyond birth".[67] The church "strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control".[67]

See also[edit]


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  25. ^ Pacholczyk, Tad (March 2016). "Catholics and Acceptable Uses of Contraceptives" (PDF). National Catholic Bioethic Center. Retrieved November 18, 2018.
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  28. ^ "Condoms \'not the answer to AIDS\': Pope". News.
  29. ^ BBC News: "Vatican: Pope did not back condom contraception use" December 20, 2010
  30. ^ A summary and restatement of the debate is available in Roderick Hindery. "The Evolution of Freedom as Catholicity in Catholic Ethics." Anxiety, Guilt, and Freedom. Eds. Benjamin Hubbard and Brad Starr, UPA, 1990.
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  37. ^ a b "The Basis of the Social Concept. XII. Problems of bioethics. Sec. 3". Русская Православная Церковь - Отдел внешних церковных связей.
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  39. ^ a b c Zion, William Basil (1992). Eros and Transformation: Sexuality and Marriage: An Eastern Orthodox Perspective. Lanham: University Press of America. p. Ch. 7. ISBN 978-0-8191-8647-8.
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  59. ^ See . The LCR also notes,

    Such was the united teaching of Dr. Martin Luther and the "Old Missouri" fathers (C.F.W. Walther, F. Pieper, A.L. Graebner, C.M. Zorn, W.H.T. Dau, J.T. Mueller, W. Dallman, F. Bente, E.W.A. Koehler, L. Fuerbringer, T. Engelder, Th. Laetsch, G. Luecke, W.A. Maier, M.J. Naumann, et al.) and LCR leaders such as P.E. Kretzmann and W.H. McLaughlin.

    Likewise, the Hausvater Project (not an LCR organization) states,

    We therefore find ourselves sympathetic to the long-standing consensus of Lutheran church fathers from the Reformation through the mid twentieth century that neither abortion, abortifacient birth control, nor barrier contraception should be practiced. See

  60. ^ Kivisto, Peter (16 October 2014). Religion and Immigration: Migrant Faiths in North America and Western Europe. Wiley. p. 110. ISBN 9780745686660.
  61. ^ See "Voluntary Contraception". Archived from the original on 2003-12-26. Retrieved 2003-12-26. and "CSC: WELS TOPICAL Q&A". Archived from the original on 2002-04-27. Retrieved 2008-01-02.. For the traditional view in both synods, see Birth Control a Curse, a Lutheran Witness (Missouri) reprint of a Northwestern Lutheran (Wisconsin) article. The Concordia Cyclopedia, a Missouri Synod reference book, condemns contraception, Fuerbringer, L., Concordia Cyclopedia Concordia Publishing House. 1927. p. 441
  62. ^ "Responsible Parenthood". The United Methodist General Board of Church and Society. Retrieved 2007-05-20.
  63. ^ "Perspectives: Pharmacy Refusals - A New Threat to Women's Health". Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. Archived from the original on October 7, 2007. Retrieved 2007-05-20.
  64. ^ "Abstinence Policy". Focus on the Family. 2005. Archived from the original on October 5, 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-01.
  65. ^ See quotes from Brigham Young (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 197), John Taylor (The Government of God, Chapter 2), Wilford Woodruff (Wilford Woodruff and Joseph F. Smith to Job Pingree, Jan. 23, 1894), Joseph F. Smith (Gospel Doctrine, p. 276), Heber J. Grant (Gospel Standards, p. 154), George Albert Smith (Relief Society Magazine, Feb. 1917, p. 72), David O. McKay (Relief Society Magazine, v. 3, no. 7, July 1916), Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr. (Relief Society Magazine, v. 3, no. 7, July 1916), Harold B. Lee (Conference Report, October 1972, p. 63), Spencer W. Kimball (B.Y.U. Speeches of the Year, 1973, p. 263), Ezra Taft Benson (Conference Report, April 1969 p. 12) & Howard W. Hunter (Conference Report, Oct. 1994, p. 67)
  66. ^ First Presidency statement (David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown, N. Eldon Tanner), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Office of the First Presidency, April 15, 1969
  67. ^ a b c d e Handbook 2: Administering the Church (2010).
  68. ^ Gordon B. Hinckley, "If I Were You, What Would I do?", BYU 1983-84 Fireside and Devotional Speeches, September 20, 1983, p.11.

External links[edit]

Roman Catholic
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Critique of Christian views on contraception