Religious Views on Contraception
29 SEP 2017
Birth control received significant media attention in the early 2000s, and sometimes people looked to their religion to better understand the moral issues involved. In reality, however, no major religious tradition holds a single view of contraception, and most faiths actually represent a number of varied stances. Kathleen O’Grady, writing in The Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion, suggests that many religious conservatives are concerned that support of contraceptive use will encourage immorality and extramarital sex, and some non-Western faiths may fear that contraceptive use will destroy traditional family structures and values. According to Eleni Towns of the Center for American Progress, however, almost all of America’s major religious denominations support contraception.
1 Roman Catholic
The Roman Catholic Church prohibits all methods of contraception except for abstinence and natural family planning, but many Catholics disobey the restriction, signifying a large breach between church leaders and members. O’Grady says that the Roman Catholic prohibition of artificial birth control is largely based on leaders’ understanding of natural law -- sex is ultimately seen as a means for procreation, and to interrupt the natural function by artificial means is wrong.
Christian ideas about contraception largely come from church scholarship and reasoning, rather than scripture; in reality, the Bible says very little about the morality of birth control. The BBC notes that almost all Protestant churches took a stance against contraception until the early 1900s, but today most agree that it is permissible, especially within the confines of a marriage relationship. O’Grady writes that the National Council of Churches widely permitted the use of artificial birth control by consenting couples in 1961, and most Protestant denominations and theologians permit, or even advocate, contraception as an important moral good. The Southern Baptist Convention, which represents the United States’ largest Protestant denomination, leaves the moral choice to each married couple.
The BBC suggests that Jewish views of contraception are somewhat complex, with liberal Jewish traditions allowing its use for a wide range of reasons, and Orthodox Jews taking a much more restrictive stance aimed primarily to protect and promote the health and well-being of couples. Orthodox Jews limit the permissibility of contraception to use by females, and only when their health is at stake.
Although the Quran does not specifically mention birth control, Muslim scholars have largely agreed that birth control is permissible when both individuals consent, the method does not lead to permanent sterility and the method does not harm the body. The BBC says that eight of the nine classic schools of Islamic law permit contraception, primarily with the aim of protecting the health of mothers and the well-being of families.
According to the BBC, birth control is not a major issue in Hinduism. Many modern Hindus recognize that personal choices can negatively affect families or societies, and large families that exceed the available resources represent a form of greed, so contraception is seen as an appropriate choice when not used by couples to prevent childbearing altogether. Contraceptives have been used by many Hindus in India to limit overpopulation.
While Buddhist teachings historically emphasized fecundity over family planning, some teachings, including The Middle Way suggest that birth control is often appropriate when additional children would place a burden on couples or their environment. The BBC points out that Buddhism views life as sacred, and so while contraception that prevents fertilization is acceptable, once an egg is fertilized, stopping the process is not permissible.