Religion and birth control
Religious adherents vary widely in their views on birth control. This can be true even between different branches of one faith, as in the case of Judaism. 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.
Among Christian denominations today there are a large variety of positions towards contraception. The Roman Catholic Church has disallowed artificial contraception for as far back as one can historically trace. Contraception was also officially disallowed by non-Catholic Christians until 1930 when the Anglican Communion changed its policy. Soon after, according to Flann Campbell, most Protestant groups came to accept the use of modern contraceptives as a matter of what they considered Biblically allowable freedom of conscience.
The Catholic Church is opposed to artificial contraception and all sexual acts outside of the context of marital intercourse. This belief dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. Such acts are considered intrinsically disordered because of the belief that all licit sexual acts must be both unitive (express love), and procreative (open to procreation). The only form of birth control permitted is abstinence. Modern scientific methods of "periodic abstinence" such as natural family planning (NFP) were counted as a form of abstinence by Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. The following is the condemnation of contraception:
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 attempted to express reasons the Catholic Church could change its teaching on contraception, and a "minority report" which explains the reasons for upholding the traditional Catholic view on contraception. 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." Furthermore, many Church Fathers condemned the use of contraception.
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. Among them, dissident theologian Charles Curran criticized the stance of Humanae vitae on artificial birth control. 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). Additionally, in 1969, they reasserted the Catholic principle of primacy of conscience, 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". 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.
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.
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.
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.
There is no ban on birth control in Hinduism.
Some Hindu scriptures include advice on what a couple should do to promote conception—thus providing contraceptive advice to those who want it. The Mahabharata mentions that killing an embryo is a sin. It also mentions in the story of King Yayati that a man solicited by a woman who is fertile and doesn't grant her wishes is regarded as a killer of the embryo. From this one could infer that contraception is also equivalent to killing an embryo and would be regarded as sin. However, most Hindus accept that there is a duty to have a family during the householder stage of life, and so are unlikely to use contraception to avoid having children altogether. The Dharma (doctrine of the religious and moral codes of Hindus) emphasizes 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).
Because India has such a large and dense population, much of the discussion of birth control has focused on the environmental issue of overpopulation rather than more personal ethics, and birth control is not a major ethical issue.
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".
- As offspring are the right of both the husband and the wife, the birth control method should be used with both parties' consent.
- The method should not cause permanent sterility.
- The method should not otherwise harm the body.
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. It should be noted 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. It should also be noted that Jews who follow halakha based on the Talmudic tradition of law will not have sex during the 11–14 days after a women 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 fertilised. That is why some birth control methods, such as the IUD, which act by killing the fertilised egg and preventing implantation are unacceptable since they harm the consciousness which has already become embodied.
Bahá'ís do not "condemn the practice of birth control or...confirm it," although they see procreation as an essential part of marriage and oppose contraception which violates the spirit of that provision.
- Muslim population growth
- Abstinence-only sex education
- Catholic teachings on sexual morality
- Catholic theology of the body
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