Is artificial birth control moral for protestants? If it’s moral, why oppose the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)? If artificial birth control is morally OK, isn’t the contraceptive mandate is just politics?
I’m a Christian OB/GYN doctor who has practiced now more than 30 years. OB/GYN doctors more than any other group, in my observation, view birth control as a “right.” By that, I mean birth control should not be just available, but should be available and free paid by insurance or the government. Pro-contraception OB/GYN’s and their allies along with liberal politicians fuel the contraceptive mandate debate promulgated by the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). Catholics generally oppose this mandate on moral, pro-life and religious freedom grounds and conservative Protestants generally on religious freedom, pro-life and anti-socialized medicine grounds.
90% of OB/GYN doctors are so-called “pro-choice” when it comes to abortion. I can’t give you a statistic on pro-birth control OB/GYN’s, but during my 30+ years as an OB/GYN doctor, I’ve seen near universal support for artificial birth control by OB/GYN doctors for any woman who is sexually active, including the unmarried and very young. That includes most Catholic OB/GYN doctors I’ve known as well.
I can count two hands the number of doctors I know who do not prescribe birth control and only three are OB/GYN physicians. (All three are Catholic.)
So, what’s the deal? Why oppose birth control morally? As a protestant Christian, the popes decrees against artificial birth control do not carry weight with me.
Historically, the church including Protestant churches after the Reformation opposed birth control especially after the decimation of Europe’s population by the plague in the 1400’s. Martin Luther said, “The purpose of marriage is not to have pleasure and to be idle but to procreate and bring up children, to support a household. Those who have no love for children are swine, stocks, and logs unworthy of being called men or women; for they despise the blessings of God, the Creator and Author of marriage.” Other Protestant leaders who opposed birth control included John Calvin, John Wesley, Charles Spurgeon, Cotton Mather, Matthew Henry, and John Machen.1 Religious objections continued until the Church of England (Anglican/Episcopal) approved artificial birth control at the Seventh Lambeth Conference in 1930.2
So, after 410 years of opposing birth control on moral grounds, Protestant churches followed the lead of the Anglicans embracing birth control the last 83 years. Eighty-three years is not very long. And what artificial birth control did they embrace? The birth control pill (BCP) wasn’t available until 1962. The intrauterine devise (IUD) was invented just before WW2, but was not in common use until the late 1950’s. So the birth control that was so controversial was…condoms. Condoms had been available for several centuries, but modern manufacturing made them more popular in the early 20th century.
Pope Pious XI, in response to the Anglicans, stated the Catholic Church’s position on the issue thusly:
“Since, therefore, the conjugal act is destined primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purpose sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.” 3
Pope John Paul VI in his treatise on The Theology of the Body, Humana Vitae, redefined this objection from “all” birth control, to “artificial” birth control, and required Catholics to uphold natural law and not thwart the procreative purpose of the act except by abstinence during fertile times of the cycle.
He also predicted what would happen if artificial birth control were universally available, stating in effect, that we would see an increase in “conjugal infidelity” and a “lowering of moral standards.” He further posited that “the man…may finally lose respect for the woman and…consider[ing] her as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment…” Finally, regarding government, he wrote, “Who will prevent public authorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which they consider more effective? Should they regard this as necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone.”4 His words were prophetic. I just hope his last prediction does not come true!
Protestant believers depend on the Bible as the arbiter of God’s design for man. The Bible speaks well of family and children, stating in Genesis 1:28a (ESV) “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it,” and in Psalm 127: 3-5a (ESV) “Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them!”
The Bible does not mention birth control, but gives the example of Onan. Onan did not wish to impregnate Tamar, the wife of his deceased brother as was required by the custom of the day and so, Genesis 38:9 (ESV) tells us, “…Onan knew that the offspring would not be his. So whenever he went in to his brother’s wife he would waste the semen on the ground, so as not to give offspring to his brother. And what he did was wicked in the sight of the Lord, and he put him to death also.”
Some protestant groups oppose birth control because they want to be open to however many children God would give them. They also generally do not practice natural family planning (NFP).5 Dr. John Piper, a Baptist preacher, author and theologian states, “We should make our decisions on Kingdom purposes. If—for Kingdom reasons, gospel reasons, advancement reasons, and radical service reasons—having another child would be unwise then I think we have the right and the freedom to regulate that. But such regulation must presuppose that we’re not doing anything like abortion to measure out when and how many children we have.”6
What about modern artificial birth control methods? Are they safe? Do they cause abortion?
Pro-contraception professionals are quick to point out that, when compared to the risks of childbirth, all the birth control methods are safe(r).
But not completely safe.
BCP’s have a risk of blood clots, strokes and heart attacks. A subgroup of young women who take the pill have a higher risk of breast cancer. Cervix cancer which is caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) is more prevalent in BCP users possibly because of the license it provides for sex with many partners without the risk of pregnancy. IUD’s can cause infections, pain, sterility, hysterectomy and death, although uncommonly. The implants and shots cause abnormal bleeding. Women ovulate and can conceive with the IUD in which case the hostile uterine environment created by the IUD causes abortion of an early embryo. The package insert states it like this: “It [the ParaGard® IUD] may also prevent the egg from attaching to the uterus.”7 (Huh? The egg?) Likewise, some women will ovulate while on hormone shots, implants or pills and may conceive with the hostile uterine environment causing the early embryo to abort. (Ovulation is quite infrequent on the BCP.) Plan B or “the morning-after pill” works primarily by creating a hostile uterine environment so that an early embryo will not implant and pass through, an early abortion.
Pro-contraception professionals state, “ An abortion happens when an early embryo that is implanted is removed from a woman. It is only AFTER [emphasis theirs] implantation, that a woman is considered to be pregnant.”8 I’ve been told just that by other OB/GYN’s with whom I’ve worked. That’s how they can say with a straight face these methods of birth control do not cause abortion, including the “morning after pill.”
Sorry, an embryo before implantation is a new human life for us pro-life folks. If an early embryo passes through the uterus without implanting because of a hostile uterine environment created by artificial birth control, then that is an abortion.
Every year I served as a member of the board of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, someone would propose the group take a stand against birth control as abortifacients. Every year, we concluded the data was not solid enough to make such a recommendation and that each doctor had to decide on his or her own whether or not to prescribe birth control.
I’ve searched out the history, the scripture and my own attitude toward birth control. Two years ago, I adopted a more historic protestant view of birth control and quit prescribing birth control to my patients. I believe not prescribing birth control for the above reasons is more honoring to God, will bring more glory to Him and is therefore the morally correct thing for me to do.
My decision has had consequences. I see fewer patients, make less money and have had trouble finding other doctors to cover my practice if I am gone. Also, I’m the only protestant OB/GYN I know not prescribing birth control which puts me in a confusing category for many of my patients as most (but not all) disagree with me.
I realize that committed Christians, both patients and doctors, can and do disagree with me. I pray that whatever decision about birth control a committed Christian makes, it will be serious, thoughtful, scriptural and intended to bring honor and glory to God.
Matt Anderson, MD
5. http://quiverfull.com/index.php, http://www.missionariestopreborn.com/