In this series we will evaluate the use of birth control in light of Scripture. Additionally, we will demonstrate that the unanimous position of the Church as a whole down through history has been one of opposition to birth control until very recently in the west. We will examine the dominion mandate, the purposes and duties of marriage, lawful and unlawful reasons for abstaining from sexual intercourse within marriage, and lastly the sin known as onanism. We will look at these things not just exegetically, but we will also consider how the Church has always understood these concepts.
We will start with the possibility of some forms of birth control to cause an abortion, as well as health risks associated with birth control, societal impacts of birth control, and a brief history of the ancient use of birth control.
At the outset, before we get into the biblical teaching and testimony of the Church on contraception, it is imperative to establish the fact that many forms of birth control are abortifacient. The Bible teaches that human life begins at conception (Jer. 1:5; Ps. 51:5; 139:13, 16) but many birth control methods prevent fertilized eggs from implanting on the uterine wall, effectively killing the conceived human being. Every hormonal birth control method has the possibility of causing an abortion because they thin the lining of the endometrium which will not allow a fertilized egg to implant. Pills can prevent conception, but they can also cause abortions.
When fertilization is not prevented, hormonal birth control methods commonly cause the expulsion of an embryo prior to implantation by changing the lining of the uterus so that it will not accept an embryo and by changing the way the fertilized ovum travels down the fallopian tube.
Post Fertilization Mechanisms
Some sources will claim that hormonal contraception can not cause abortions because they consider an abortion as occurring after implantation and any death from conception to implantation is not considered an abortion in their view. “By saying ‘conception,’ but meaning ‘implantation,’ it became possible to market hormonal birth control pills as contraceptives—as something that prevents ‘conception'” (Can Birth Control Cause an Abortion?). However, this is not an acceptable premise for Christians who believe the Bible and that life begins at conception. See this video illustrating the ovulation, fertilization, and implantation cycle and how birth control affects it: How the Pill Works as an Abortifacient.
Barriers, spermicides, and sterilization surgeries are not abortifacient but the other 11 of the 20 birth control methods are abortifacient, having the potential to destroy a conceived human being. The 11 listed by the FDA are oral contraceptives (3 kinds), patches, intrauterine devices (IUDs) (2 kinds), vaginal rings, injections, emergency contraceptive pills (2 kinds), and implantable rods. Therefore, no Christian should use that type of birth control regardless of one’s beliefs about preventing conception.
The rebuttal that many babies die naturally between fertilization and implantation is common, but not a legitimate argument. Many elderly people die naturally as well, but that does not support murdering them after a certain age.
Birth Control Creates a Larger Market for Abortion and Encourages Sexual Promiscuity
Planned Parenthood declares on its website that they “help prevent approximately 516,000 unintended pregnancies each year.” What causes “unintended pregnancies”? Why is it that children are sometimes spoken of as being conceived by “mistake”? Abortionists know that if people are given birth control and encouraged to be sexually promiscuous it will increase the number of unintended pregnancies which will then create a larger market for them to sell abortions.
In God’s design for marriage, in which procreation is one of the main purposes (see part 2 of this series), there is no such thing as an unintended pregnancy. “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb” (Ps. 139:13). “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee” (Jer. 1:5). Pregnancy is expected and even hoped for within marriage, according to God’s will and in His timing. But widespread birth control use has created the expectation that having sex will not likely cause pregnancy. This does not mean that everyone will then go get an abortion, in fact, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 40% of unintended pregnancies are aborted. There may be pro-life couples who would never think of getting an abortion, however, this is not the case for a large portion of birth control users. This is a tragedy. “Be wary when you hear the abortion industry suggesting ways to reduce abortion.“
Birth control has also taken the external pressure off of would-be promiscuous unmarried people. The fear of getting pregnant is much less of a concern, if a concern at all, to many people when planning to be promiscuous. This is not to say that people did not want to be promiscuous when birth control was illegal or otherwise unavailable, but in their minds a lot of the consequences and social pressure has been alleviated with easy access to birth control. While the inflation of the abortion market and the encouraging of sexual promiscuity may not be relevant to pro-life married couples, the societal impact of these two factors is astronomic and not to be ignored.
Hormonal birth control pills are Group One carcinogens and linked to blood clots as well as breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute there are three additional ways in which women can drastically reduce their risk of these cancers:
1) Early age at first full-term pregnancy
2) The more children they have
3) At least one year of breastfeeding per child (WHO suggests at least 2 years)
It is not a coincidence that medical science supports God’s created order for marriage, sexuality, and child bearing.
Now that we have briefly considered abortifacients and the health risks associated with birth control, and before we move on to the historical, natural, and biblical case against it, we should understand that birth control is not an historical anomaly in our modern age even though some of the techniques are more “sophisticated.”
Birth Control is Not New
Birth Control is not a new invention, the pagans have always used it since ancient times. “Kathleen O’Grady writes about Egyptian hieroglyphics that describe a tampon that was used for contraception at about 1550 B.C. (Contraception and Religion—A Short History)” (cited from Greg Price, Birth Control—The Biblical And Historic Protestant Position).
Most primitive cultures have practiced some form of contraception, often with high success. Iroquois squaws made diaphragms of birch bark; African slaves used pessaries [i.e. suppositories] of elephant dung to prevent pregnancy. European women employed beeswax disks, cabbage leaves, spermicides of lead, whitewash and tar. During the seventeenth and early eighteenth century, coitus interruptus [withdrawal and spilling the seed] and the use of sheep gut condoms became widespread in Europe.
David Fisher, Albion’s Seed, pg. 92
Another author gives examples of birth control use amongst the ancients:
Douching was used in ancient times but was not very effective. The Greek physician A‘tious knew the properties of vinegar but recommended it be applied to the penis rather than used as a douche….
A pessary is a vaginal suppository used to kill sperm and/or block their passage through the cervix. The pessary was the most effective contraceptive device used in ancient times and numerous recipes for pessaries from ancient times are known. Ingredients for pessaries included: a base of crocodile dung (dung was frequently a base), a mixture of honey and natural sodium carbonate forming a kind of gum. All were of a consistency which would melt at body temperature and form an impenetrable covering of the cervix. The use of oil was also suggested by Aristotle and advocated as late as 1931 by birth control advocate Marie Stopes.
Kathleen London, The History Of Birth Control
Abortion and infanticide were rampant in the first century, but so was birth control. Queen Anne’s Lace was chewed by women to make them infertile and “various ointments, honey, and pads of soft wool were inserted into the vagina to kill sperm or block the path of semen to the uterus. Unborn lamb stomachs and goat bladders served as condoms…” (Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, pg. 121).
Despite the common use of birth control amongst the pagans the Church fought against its use and unanimously decried it as sinful until the early to mid 20th century in the West. Many early church fathers spoke out against it including Augustine, Clement of Alexandria, Hyppolytus, John Chrysostom, Jerome, and many others whose quotes we will examine in a subsequent post.
A high view of marriage and procreation stemming from the dominion mandate along with the universally understood prohibition of coitus interruptus of Onan in Genesis 38 (see part 4 of this series) is one way that God grew His Church and she was able to take over the Roman Empire in such a short period of time. The Romans were using birth control, having abortions, dying of diseases from recreational sex and sodomy, etc. but our Christian forebears were having as many kids as God chose to give them and raising them to love the Lord (Stark, Ibid., pgs. 125-128). This could happen again if Christians followed the Bible regarding birth control and the value of children.
In our next post we will look at the dominion mandate and the purposes and duties of marriage.