Religion and birth control

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Religious adherents vary widely in their views on birth control (also known as contraception). This can be true even between different branches of one faith, as in the case of Judaism and Christianity. Some religious believers find that their own opinions of the use of birth control differ from the beliefs espoused by the leaders of their faith, and many grapple with the ethical dilemma of what is conceived as "correct action" according to their faith, versus personal circumstance, reason, and choice.[1] This article will discuss various views on birth control of the major world religions Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Baha'i.

The question of whether contraception is a viable option for participants has a range of different beliefs and arguments, which depend on the religion's views on when life begins, and questions of a God or deity's will for human reproduction.


Among Christian denominations today there are a large variety of positions towards contraception that range from the acceptance of birth control to only allowing natural family planning to teaching Quiverfull doctrine, which holds that Christians should have large families.[2][3] The Catholic Church has historically taught against artificial contraception. The Orthodox Church does permit their use. Contraception was taught against by non-Catholic Christians until 1930 when the Anglican Communion changed its policy. Soon after, according to Flann Campbell, mainline Protestant groups came to accept the use of modern contraceptives as a matter of what they considered Biblically allowable freedom of conscience.[4] Conservative Protestants hold any one of the three aforementioned positions (acceptance of birth control, natural family planning, or Quiverfull) dependening on the denomination.[5][3]

Roman Catholicism[edit]

The Catholic Church is opposed to artificial contraception but supports the use of natural cycles to regulate births.[6][7] This belief dates back to the first centuries of Christianity.[8][9] Artificial contraception is taught to not fulfill the ideal of married love. Methods such as natural family planning (NFP) are in full accordance with Christian doctrine by Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae.[10] The following explains:

Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

A number of other documents provide more insight into the Church's position on contraception. The commission appointed to study the question in the years leading up to Humanae Vitae issued two unofficial reports, a so-called "majority report" which described reasons the Catholic Church should change its teaching on contraception, signed by 61 of 64 scholars assigned to the pontifical commission, and a "minority report" which reiterated the reasons for upholding the traditional Catholic view on contraception.[11] In 1997, the Vatican released a document entitled "Vademecum for Confessors" (2:4) which states "[t]he Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception."[12] Furthermore, many Church Fathers condemned the use of contraception.[9][13]

Pope Francis in his apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia repeats Catholic teaching and gives guidance in its interpretation. "The complexity of the issues that arose revealed the need for continued open discussion of a number of doctrinal, moral, spiritual, and pastoral questions."[14] He also continues with a warning against "an attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules or deriving undue conclusions from particular theological considerations."[15] The Pope finishes this with "Since 'time is greater than space', I would make it clear that not all discussions of doctrinal, moral or pastoral issues need to be settled by interventions of the magisterium. Unity of teaching and practice is certainly necessary in the Church, but this does not preclude various ways of interpreting some aspects of that teaching or drawing certain consequences from it. This will always be the case as the Spirit guides us towards the entire truth."[16]

The 1987 document Donum Vitae opposes in-vitro fertilization on grounds that it is harmful to embryos and separates procreation from union of the spouses. Later on, the 2008 instruction Dignitas Personae denounces embryonic manipulations and new methods of contraception.

Roderick Hindery reported that a number of Western Catholics have voiced significant disagreement with the Church's stance on contraception.[17] Among them, dissident theologian Charles Curran criticized the stance of Humanae vitae on artificial birth control.[18] 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).[19] Additionally, in 1969, they reasserted the Catholic principle of primacy of conscience,[19] 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 (i.e., Pope) in an encyclical letter".[20] According to the American Enterprise Institute, 78% of American Catholics say they believe the Church should allow Catholics to use birth control, though other polls reflect different numbers.[21]

According to Stephen D. Mumford, the Vatican's opposition towards birth control continues to this day and has been a major influence on United States policies concerning the problem of population growth and unrestricted access to birth control.[22][23]

However, in December 2018, in a responsum (a reply by a Curial department that is intended to settle a question or dispute, but that is not a papal document), the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), under its Prefect, Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, S.J., stated that if the uterus can be found, with moral certainty, to not be able to ever carry a fertilized ovum to the point of viability, that a hysterectomy could be performed, because under that very narrow circumstance it is considered the removal of a failed organ and not per se a sterilization, since viability is not possible.[24] If a hysterectomy is only done under this circumstance, it does not represent a shift in church teaching.

Despite the Church's teaching on contraception, spacing out births by natural means is a behavior that remains in full communion with the Church. Many married couples employ natural family planning (NFP) [25] in order to bolster the unitive aspect of the marital union without compromising the oppenness to life. [26] Studies show a correlation between the practice of NFP and healthy spousal relationships in married couples who utilize this practice.[27]

Mainline Protestantism[edit]

Author and FamilyLife Today radio host Dennis Rainey suggests four categories as useful in understanding current Protestant attitudes concerning birth control. These are the "children in abundance" group, such as Quiverfull adherents who view all birth control and natural family planning as wrong; the "children in managed abundance" group, which accept only natural family planning; the "children in moderation" group which accepts prudent use of a wide range of contraceptives; and, the "no children" group which sees itself as within their Biblical rights to define their lives around non-natal concerns.[28]

Meanwhile, some Protestant movements, such as Focus on the Family, view contraception use outside of marriage as encouragement to promiscuity.

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.[29]

Anglican/ Episcopalian Views[edit]

The Anglican Church in 1930 at the Lambeth conference said contraception is acceptable in certain cases.

Eastern Orthodoxy and Oriental Orthodoxy[edit]

The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America "permits the use of certain contraceptive practices within marriage for the purpose of spacing children, enhancing the expression of marital love, and protecting health."[30]

The Russian Orthodox Church allows for the use of birth control as long as it does not fall under the class of abortifacients.[31]


In the largest denomination of Mormonism the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), teachings on birth control have changed over the course of its history going from condemning it as sinful to allowing it.[32]: 16, 30, 33  The current church stance as of 2023 is that "decisions about birth control and the consequences of those decisions rest solely with each married couple" and that they should consider "the physical and mental health of the mother and father and their capacity to provide the basic necessities of life for their children" when planning a family.[33]


Some Hindu scriptures include advice on what a couple should do to promote conception—thus providing contraceptive advice to those who want it. Rishi Charaka, the father of Ayurveda, has advised various methods of contraceptives based on the physiology of reproduction. Methods like Safe Period, Anti-implantation agents, Inhibition of Ovulation or Spermatogenesis, Intra uterine contraceptive device, Antizygotic drugs, etc. are hinted in the scripture.[34] The Mahabharata mentions that killing an embryo is a sin. From this one could infer that though contraceptives are advised abortion is considered as a primal sin. Most Hindus accept that there is a duty to have a family during the householder stage of life, as debt to family lineage called Pitra Rin(Father's Debt) and so are unlikely to avoid having children altogether. The Dharma (doctrine of the religious and moral codes of Hindus) emphasises the need to act for the sake of the good of the world. Some Hindus, therefore, believe that producing more children than the environment can support goes against this Hindu code. Although fertility is important, conceiving more children than can be supported is treated as violating the Ahimsa (nonviolent rule of conduct).[35]

Because India has such a large and dense population, for Hindus, the Dharma still echoes with the ongoing discussion of birth control. This discussion has focused on the environmental issue of overpopulation rather than more personal/religious ethics, and birth control is not a major ethical issue, in Modern India.[36]


The Qur'an does not make any explicit statements about the morality of contraception, but contains statements encouraging procreation. The Islamic prophet Muhammad also is reported to have said "marry and procreate".[37] In many Muslim-majority countries, birth control (and family planning in general) is readily accessible.[38] Since early Islamic history, Muslim scholars approved of the use of birth control if the two spouses both agreed to it.[39]

Coitus interruptus, a primitive form of birth control, was a known practice at the time of Muhammad, and his companions engaged in it. Muhammad knew about this, but never advised or preached against it.[37][40]

Muslim scholars have extended the example of coitus interruptus, by analogy, to declaring permissible other forms of contraception, subject to three conditions.[37]

  1. As offspring are the right of both the husband and the wife, the birth control method should be used with both parties' consent.
  2. The method should not cause permanent sterility.[37]
  3. The method should not otherwise harm the body.

Ahmadiyya Muslims believe birth control is prohibited if resorted to for fear of financial strain.[41]


The Jewish view on birth control currently varies between the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform branches of Judaism. Among Orthodox Judaism, use of birth control has been considered only acceptable for use in certain circumstances, for example, when the couple already has two children or if they are both in school. However, it is more complex than that. The biblical law of being "fruitful" and "multiplying" is viewed as one that applies only to men, and women have no commandment to have children. This is the reason why women are the ones to choose a form of contraception that they wish to use (i.e. spermicide, oral contraception, intrauterine device, etc.), while males don't. Generally speaking, when Orthodox Jewish couples contemplate the use of contraceptives, they generally consult a rabbi who evaluates the need for the intervention and which method is preferable from a halachic point of view. Including the previously mentioned reasons (already having children, student status, etc.) there are many other reasons for a rabbi to grant a couple permission to use contraception. In many modern Orthodox communities, it is recommended for young newlywed couples to wait a year before having a child so as to strengthen their marital foundation and their relationship before bringing children into the home. This is because children generally require a strong parental unit, and bring challenges and difficult decisions which can be a heavier burden on the marriage itself if the parents are not functioning together well. Since marriage is a sacred relationship of the highest importance in Judaism, couples are always counseled to behave and live in a manner that constantly works to uphold a happy and loving home; this may include planning to slightly delay having children when the couple has had a speedy dating and marriage timeline (as is common in Orthodoxy when many couples abstain from premarital sex).

Conservative Judaism, while generally encouraging its members to follow the traditional Jewish views on birth control has been more willing to allow greater exceptions regarding its use to fit better within modern society. Reform Judaism has generally been the most liberal with regard to birth control allowing individual followers to use their own judgment in what, if any, birth control methods they might wish to employ.[42] Jews who follow halakha based on the Talmudic tradition of law will not have sex during the 11–14 days after a woman begins menstruating. This precludes them from utilizing some forms of "natural birth control" such as the "Calendar-based contraceptive methods" which are relatively unobjectionable to other religious groups.

The introduction of oral contraception, or "the pill," in the 1960s and the intrauterine device did not cause a big uprising in the Jewish community as it did in other religious communities due to the understanding of their great benefit and no strict association with their availability and greater promiscuity, as has been the fear in other religions.


Buddhist attitudes to contraception are based on the idea that it is wrong to kill for any reason. The most common Buddhist view on birth control is that contraception is acceptable if it prevents conception, but that contraceptives that work by stopping the development of a fertilized egg are wrong and should not be used.

Buddhists believe that life begins (or more technically: a consciousness arises) when the egg is fertilized.

Baháʼí Faith[edit]

The Baháʼí Faith does not "condemn the practice of birth control or...confirm it," although Baháʼís see procreation as an essential part of marriage and oppose contraception which violates the spirit of that provision.[43]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Srikanthan, A; Reid, RL (February 2008). "Religious and cultural influences on contraception" (PDF). Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada. 30 (2): 129–37. doi:10.1016/s1701-2163(16)32736-0. PMID 18254994. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2013-10-04.
  2. ^ O'Reilly, Andrea (6 April 2010). Encyclopedia of Motherhood. SAGE Publications. p. 1056. ISBN 9781452266299. The Roman Catholic church and some Protestant denominations have approved only "natural family planning" methods--including the rhythm method and periodic abstinence.
  3. ^ a b Joyce, Kathryn (2009). Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement. Beacon Press. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-8070-1070-9.
  4. ^ Campbell, Flann (Nov 1960). "Birth Control and the Christian Churches". Population Studies. Population Investigation Committee. 14 (2): 131–147. doi:10.2307/2172010. JSTOR 2172010.
  5. ^ Green, Joel B. (1 November 2011). Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics. Baker Books. p. 303. ISBN 9781441239983. In 1968, Paul VI reiterated the traditional Catholic prohibition against all but "natural family planning" (abstinence during fertile periods), which many Catholics and some Protestants continue to practice.
  6. ^ "Gen 38:8-10 NIV - Then Judah said to Onan, "Sleep with - Bible Gateway". Bible Gateway. Retrieved 2016-02-14.
  7. ^ "Humanae vitae paragraph 16".
  8. ^ "Contraception and Sterilization". Archived from the original on 2013-11-24.
  9. ^ a b "Fr. Hardon Archives - The Catholic Tradition on the Morality of Contraception".
  10. ^ "Humanae Vitae: Encyclical of Pope Paul VI on the Regulation of Birth, July 25, 1968". The Vatican. Archived from the original on 2011-03-03. Retrieved 2006-10-01.
  11. ^ Minority Report[dead link]
  12. ^ Vademecum Archived October 27, 2014, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ ""This Rock" Magazine".
  14. ^ "Amoris laetitia paragraph 2" (PDF).
  15. ^ "Amoris laetitia paragraph 2" (PDF).
  16. ^ "Amoris laetitia paragraph 3" (PDF).
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Charles E. Curran (2006). Loyal Dissent: Memoir of a Catholic Theologian (Moral Traditions). Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. ISBN 1-58901-087-6.
  19. ^ a b "Canadian Bishops' Statement on the Encyclical "Humanae Vitae"". Archived from the original on 2006-08-29. Retrieved 2006-10-02.
  20. ^ Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops Plenary Assembly, 18 April 1969, Statement on Family Life and Related Matters
  21. ^ "American Enterprise Institute - AEI". AEI. Archived from the original on May 2, 2006.
  22. ^ Mumford, S.D. (1996) "The Catholic League and Suppression of The Press Today" in The Life and Death of National Security Study Memorandum 200: How the Destruction of Political Will Doomed a U.S. Population Policy (Research Triangle Park, North Carolina: Center for Research on Population and Security)
  23. ^ "The Vatican's Role in the World Population Crisis: the untold story by Stephen D. Mumford, DrPH Center for Research on Population and Security". Retrieved 2012-01-29.
  24. ^ "Analysis: What to make of the CDF's hysterectomy 'responsum?'".
  25. ^ "Natural Family Planning". Catholic Health.
  26. ^ "Natural Family Planning Program". United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.
  27. ^ Rhomburg, Walter; Rhomburg, Michaela; Weissenbach, Hubert. "Natural Family Planning as a Family Binding Tool: A Survey Report". Philosophy Documentation Center.
  28. ^ Dennis Rainey (11 July 2002). "The Value of Children". FamilyLife Today. Archived from the original (Transcript of radio broadcast) on October 1, 2005. Retrieved 2006-09-30.
  29. ^ "Abstinence Policy". Focus on the Family. 2005. Archived from the original on October 5, 2005. Retrieved 2006-10-01.
  30. ^ Harakas, Stanley S. (12 August 1985). "The Stand of the Orthodox Church on Controversial Issues - Society Articles - Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America". Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  31. ^ "The Russian Orthodox View on Contraception". St John's Orthodox Church, Colchester. 22 November 2010. Retrieved 5 September 2019. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, Chairman of the Synodal Department for Church and Society, in commentary on the statement of Pope Benedict XVI on the admissibility of the use of condoms, said that the Russian Orthodox Church permits the use of non-abortive contraception.
  32. ^ Bush Jr., Lester E. (Fall 1976). "Birth Control Among the Mormons: An Introduction to an Insistent Question" (PDF). Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. 10 (2). Retrieved 5 February 2017.
  33. ^ "Birth Control". LDS Church. Retrieved 31 Jan 2023.
  34. ^ P. V. Tewari, C. Chaturvedi, Institute of Medical Sciences, BHU (1981). "Method of Population Control in Ayurvedic Classics?". Ancient Science of Life. 1 (2): 72–79. PMC 3336663. PMID 22556466.{{cite journal}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  35. ^ Dawn Stacey M.Ed, LMHC. "What Are Religious Views on Birth Control?". Health.
  36. ^ [1] "BBC - Hindu beliefs about contraception"
  37. ^ a b c d "Contraception and Sexual and Reproductive Awareness Among Ghanaian Muslim Youth".[permanent dead link]
  38. ^ "Islam, Women and Family Planning: A Primer". Guttmacher Institute. 2004-09-22. Retrieved 2021-12-03.
  39. ^ Hessini, Leila (2007). "Abortion and Islam: Policies and Practice in the Middle East and North Africa". Reproductive Health Matters. 15 (29): 75–84. doi:10.1016/s0968-8080(06)29279-6. ISSN 0968-8080. PMID 17512379. S2CID 44503130.
  40. ^ Contraception: Permissible?," IslamOnline. Archived February 9, 2010, at the Wayback Machine
  41. ^ "Ahmadiyya Muslim Community".
  42. ^ "BBC - Religions - Judaism: Contraception". Retrieved 2019-02-15.
  43. ^ "Lights of Guidance/Birth Control". Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-03-23.

External links[edit]