Among Christian denominations there is a large variety of positions toward birth control.


  • On the surface, Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists might seem unlikely bedfellows in opposing mandated coverage of contraceptives under Obamacare, but observers say it points to ongoing reconsideration of the morality of birth control among the Southern Baptist Convention’s leading thinkers.
    “Evangelical leaders are tripping over themselves in the rush to stand with Roman Catholic bishops against this perceived governmental overreach,” Jacob Lupfer, a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University, said in a Religion News Service commentary in December. “At the same time, a growing number of white evangelical leaders are attempting to sow seeds of doubt about the morality of birth control itself.”
    Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., responded that on that point, Lupfer “understates his own case.”
    “A good many evangelicals hope to do far more than sow seeds of doubt about the morality of birth control,” Mohler replied. “Our concern is to raise an alarm about the entire edifice of modern sexual morality and to acknowledge that millions of evangelicals have unwittingly aided and abetted that moral revolution by an unreflective and unfaithful embrace of the contraceptive revolution.”
    In a 2012 column for the Christian Post, Mohler said most evangelical Protestants welcomed the development of artificial birth control as a medical advance just as they celebrated the discovery of penicillin. A shift occurred in the 1980s, with the rise of the Religious Right and opposition to abortion on demand.
  • Adding to their passionate opposition to the rule that employees of religiously affiliated institutions must receive insurance coverage for birth control, Roman Catholic bishops and some evangelical groups have asserted that it also requires coverage of some forms of abortion.
    They contend that methods of contraception including morning-after pills and IUDs can be considered “Abortabortifacients” because, these advocates say, they can act to prevent pregnancy after a man’s sperm has fertilized a woman’s egg.
    “We object to the use of drugs and procedures used to take the lives of unborn children,” the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, said Thursday at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
    Their reasoning is that life begins the moment an egg is fertilized, and that if a contraceptive has the potential to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, it is aborting a life.
    “They can and do prevent implantation or can cause ejection even after implantation,” said Richard Land, the head of the public policy arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, referring to morning-after pills and citing medical advisers to his group. “IUDs emphatically do allow conception and do not allow implantation,” he added.
    Several scientists and doctors said in interviews that this view did not reflect the way the birth control methods actually work. “There’s so much evidence for how the-se things work prior to fertilization,” said Diana L. Blithe, director of contraceptive development for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “And there’s no evidence that they work beyond fertilization.”
  • Christian ideas about contraception come from church teachings rather than scripture, as the Bible has little to say about the subject. As a result, their teachings on birth control are often based on different Christian interpretations of the meaning of marriage, sex and the family.
    Christian acceptance of contraception is relatively new; all churches disapproved of artificial contraception until the start of the 20th century.
    In modern times different Christian churches hold different views about the rightness and wrongness of using birth control.
  • For most of the last 2000 years all Christian churches have been against artificial birth control.
    In the first centuries of Christianity, contraception (and abortion) were regarded as wrong because they were associated with paganism or with heretics such as the Gnostics, the Manichees and, in the middle ages, the Cathars.
    Protestant attitudes to birth control began to change in the 19th century as theologians became more willing to accept that morality should come from the conscience of each individ-ual rather than from outside teachings.
  • [A]s late as 1908 the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church stated that birth control "cannot be spoken of without repugnance," and denounced it as "demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare."
    But the Anglicans were the first church to issue a statement in favour of contraception, which they did at the Lambeth Conference in 1930 by a majority of 193 to 67. A group of American Protestants followed in 1931.
  • The Church of England does not regard contraception as a sin or a contravention of God's pur-pose. It is interesting to see how the thinking of the Church on this subject developed through the 20th century. In 1908 the Bishops of the Anglican Communion meeting at the Lambeth Conference declared that:-
    'the Conference records with alarm the growing practice of the artificial restriction of the family and earnestly calls upon all Christian people to discountenance the use of all artificial means of restriction as demoralising to character and hostile to national welfare.'
    Some of the Church oppo-sition at this time reflected a national concern about falling birth rates. By the 1920s, certain sections of the Church were beginning to develop a richer understanding of sexuality. Sexual love can be seen as good not just because it enabled the human race to reproduce itself. Sexual love was good in itself, and it provided an essential way for a husband and wife to express and strengthen their love for each other. In the Garden of Eden God had said, 'It is not good that the man (Adam) should be alone' (Genesis 2:18). It was also argued that people were limiting their families in order to give children a better chance of success. The debate makes fascinating reading and went on through the 1920s until the Lam-beth Conference (meeting of all Bishops of the Anglican Communion - the Anglican Church worldwide - which takes place every ten years) of 1930. The 1930 resolution was greeted with mixed reactions and reads as follows:
    'Where there is a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, complete abstinence is the primary and obvious method.' but if there was morally sound reasoning for avoiding abstinence 'the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles.'
    By the 1958 Lambeth Conference, contraception was a way of life among most Anglicans, and a resolution was passed to the effect that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children was laid by God upon the consciences of parents 'in such ways as are acceptable to husband and wife'.
    In 1968, the Lambeth Conference considered the Papal Encyclical Humanae Vitae and while recording their appreciation of the Pope's deep concern for the institution of marriage and family life, the Bishops disagreed with his idea that methods of contraception other than abstinence and the rhythm method are contrary to the will of God.
  • [T]he Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of Christian principles.
    • Lambeth Conference, 1930
  • Conservative Protestants have adopted Catholic positions on other sex-related issues. Perhaps it was only a matter of time until evangelical elites began pushing back against birth control. If they think they can convince the rank and file, they should take a good, hard look at the Catholic hierarchy’s absolute failure on that score.
    Baptist clergy and lay-people will be pleased that Moore is mostly a stylistic improvement over Land. Their policy positions do not differ significantly. But the anti-contraception movement has gained some steam, especially in the wake of the HHS mandate.
    Is the new ERLC going to be part of it? Baptist churches whose offering plate dollars fund the ERLC have a right to know if they will soon be financing a war against birth control.
  • Lutheran Church in America
    Adopted by its Second Biennial Convention in 1964 as part of its statement on marriage and family:
    “1. Marriage is that order of relation given by God in love which binds one man and one woman in a lifelong union of the most initiate fellowship of body and life. This one-flesh relation, when properly based on fidelity and love, serves as a witness to god’s grace and leads husband and wife into service one of the other. In their marriage, husband and wife are responsible to god for keeping their vows and must depend upon his love and mercy to fulfill them.
    “2. God has established the sexual relation for the purpose of bringing husband and wife into full unity so that they may enrich and be a blessing to each other. Such oneness, depending upon lifelong fidelity between the marriage partners and loving service one of the other, is the essential characteristic of marriage. Marriage should be consummated in love with the intention of maintaining a permanent and responsible relation. Continence outside of marriage and fidelity within marriage are binging on all.
    “3. Procreation is a gift inherent in the sex relation. In children the one flesh idea finds embodiment. Children bring great joy to marriage and reveal how God permits men to share in his continuing creation. Married couples should seek to fulfill their responsibilities in marriage by conceiving and nurturing their children in the light of Christian faith.
    4. Husband and wife are called to exercise the power of procreation responsibly before God. This implies planning their parenthood in accordance with their ability to provide for their children and carefully nurture them in fullness of Christian faith and life. The health and welfare of the mother-wife should be a major concern in such decisions. Irresponsible conception of children up to the limit of biological capacity and selfish limitation of the number of children up to the limit of biological capacity and selfish limitation of the number of children are equally detrimental. Choice as to means of conception control should be made upon professional medical advice.”
  • The commission on Research and Social Action has authorized official use of a statement which reads in part:
    “4. To enable them the more thankfully to receive God’s blessing and reward, a married couple may so plan and govern their sexual relations that any child born to their union will be desired both for itself and in relation to the time of its birth.
    “5. In God’s providence, and as a result of the power He gave men to subdue the earth and have dominion over it (Gen. 1:28), man has developed various means by which a married couple may control the number and the spacing of the births of their children. The means which the married pair uses to determine the number and the spacing of the births of their children are a matter for them to decide with their own consciences, on the basis of competent medical advice, and in a sense of accountability to God.
    “6. So long as it causes no harm to those involved, either immediately or over an extended period, none of the methods for controlling the number and spacing of the births of children has any special moral merit or demerit. It is the spirit in which the means is used, rather than whether it is ‘natural’ or ‘artificial’, which defines its ‘rightness’ or ‘wrongness’. ‘What ever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor 10:31) is a principle pertinent to the use of the God-given reproductive power.
  • (The following statement was adopted by the Lutheran Churches of the Reformation)
    God is the Creator of all human life (Gen. 30:2; 1 Sam. 2:5f; 2 Kgs. 5:7; Acts 17:25,28) and desires to create spiritual life in all sinful human beings, that everyone come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Married couples1 should reproduce in observance of the following Biblical principles:
    1. The command of God to be "fruitful and multiply" (Gen. 1:28; 9:1,17; 35:11; 1 Tim. 5:10,14; AC XXIII, #5 & 8, Triglot p. 612; AP XXIII, #7-8, Trigl. p. 365-73; LC 6th Comm., # 207, Trigl., p. 6394).
    2. Children are a blessing from the Lord (Gen. 1:28; 15:2-5; 17:5f.; 24:60; 33:5; 48:9; 49:25; Lev. 26:9; Deut. 28:4; Josh. 24:3; Ruth 4:11f.; Psalm 107:38; 127:3-5; 128:3-6; 147:13; Prov. 5:18; 17:6; LC 4th Comm., # 105, Trigl. p. 6115).
    3. It is God who opens or closes the womb (Gen 16:1-2; 17:15-19; 20:18; 21:1-2; 25:21; 29:31; 30:2-6, 23f; Deut. 32:18; Lev. 20:20f; Judg. 13:3; Ruth 4:13; 1 Sam. l:19f; 2:21; Job 10:8-12; Psalm 22:9-10; 113:9; 139:13-16; Eccles. 11:5; Isa. 8:18; 43:1,7; 44:2,24; 49:1,5; 66:9; Jer. 1:5; Lk. 1:36f, 57f; Heb. 11:11).
    4. Having children is a good work for Christians (1 Tim. 2:15; AP XXIII, #32, Trigl. p. 3736).
    5. Christians are to be mindful that they are not only to be fruitful and populate the earth, but they are to bring up their children as Christians and thus populate heaven (Prov. 3:21f.; 4:3f., 20-22; Mk. 10:13-16; Acts 2:38f.; Eph. 6:1,4; Heb. 2:10).
    6. In Scripture barrenness is regarded as an affliction (Gen. 11:30; 15:2; 16:2; 18:11f.; 25:21; 30:1,22f.; 1 Sam. 1:2,5-7,l0f.; Prov. 30:15f; Luke 1:7,24f.,58).
    7. There are many examples in Scripture of fruitful parents among the godly (Gen. 3:20; 4:1,25; 5:4; 24:60; 30:1-24; Judg. 13:2f; Job 1:2; 42:13-16).
    8. The Word of God prohibits us to "put asunder" marriage (Matt. 19:4-6), including its purposes (1 Cor. 7:2,5; Gen. 2:24).
    9. The Bible exhibits the wrath of God upon those who defy His will (Gen. 38:8-10; Exod. 21:22; Rom. 1:18).
    10. God desires that we put our trust in Him in all matters, also in His will and ability to provide for the children that He gives us (Exod. 23:20,26; Psalm 30:7; 37:25f.; Phil 4:13; 1 Pet. 5:7).
    Pastors should counsel families both publicly and privately to observe these principles. The churches and ministers should not take it upon themselves to investigate the private practices of their members (Eighth Commandment). Refusal to reproduce should be treated first by patient instruction and counsel. Nevertheless, when a situation becomes a public scandal then evangelical discipline is in order (Matt. 18:17).
    While we allow for exegetical differences and exceptional cases (casuistry), we must also maintain and teach the principles relating to this issue (Matt. 28:20; Acts 20:27). Such was the united teach¬ing of Dr. Martin Luther and the "Old Missouri" fathers (C.F.W. Walther, F. Pieper, A.L. Graebner, C.M. Zorn, W.H.T. Dau, J.T. Mueller, W. Dallman, F. Bente, E.W.A. Koehler, L. Fuerbringer, T. Engelder, Th. Laetsch, G. Luecke, W.A. Maier, M.J. Naumann, et al.) and LCR leaders such as P.E. Kretzmann and W.H. McLaughlin.
    The reasons given to justify the prevention of conception are often based upon myths, selfishness, materialism, hedonism (love of pleasure), convenience, usurpation of God's prerogative, or humanis¬tic reasoning and generally indicate a distrust of the Almighty God and His Word.
  • "The prevention of pregnancy when feasible by birth control with pre-fertilization methods is acceptable."
    • David I. Miller, General Secretary of Conservative Mennonite Conference, "What We Believe". Conservative Mennonite Conference. 1997. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2006-10-01.
  • The LCMS does not have an official position on "voluntary contraception" or voluntary childlessness. However, in its 1981 report on Human Sexuality: A Theological Perspective (which has been "commended to the Synod for study and guidance"--1983 Res. 3-15), the Synod's Commission on Theology and Church Relations makes the following statement: In view of the Biblical command and the blessing to "be fruitful and multiply," it is to be expected that marriage will not ordinarily be voluntarily childless. But, in the absence of Scriptural prohibition, there need be no objection to contraception within a marital union which is, as a whole, fruitful. Moreover, once we grant the appropriateness of contraception, we will also recognize that sterilization may under some circumstances be an acceptable form of contraception. Because of its relatively permanent nature, sterilization is perhaps less desirable than less-far reaching forms of contraception. However, there should be no moral objection to it, especially for couples who already have children and who now seek to devote themselves to the rearing of those children, for those who have been advised by a physician that the birth of another child would be hazardous to the health of the mother, or for those who for reasons of age, physical disability, or illness are not able to care for additional children. Indeed, there may be special circumstances which would persuade a Christian husband and wife that it would be more responsible and helpful to all concerned, under God, not to have children. Whatever the particular circumstances, Christians dare not take lightly decisions in this area of their life together. They should examine their motives thoroughly and honestly and take care lest their decisions be informed by a desire merely to satisfy selfish interests.
    With respect to voluntary childlessness in general, we should say that while there may be special reasons which would persuade a Christian husband and wife to limit the size of their family, they should re-member at all times how easy it is for them simply to permit their union to turn inward and refuse to take up the task of sharing in God's creative activity. Certainly Christians will not give as a reason for childlessness the sorry state of the world and the fear of bringing a child into such a world. We are not to forget the natural promise embedded in the fruitfulness of marriage. To bear and rear children can be done, finally, as an act of faith and hope in God who has promised to supply us with all that we "need to support this body and life."
  • The methods of conception control are not governed by moral law. The advice of a medical doctor is helpful in reaching decisions. The ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ of preventing conception depends on decisions made as Christians acting in response to God’s new life in Christ.
    Parents are responsible to plan their vocation of marriage and parenthood. As intelligent human beings, they will want to acquaint themselves with the best information available. The parish pastor is a helpful counselor to searching couples. In prayerful response to God who has reclaimed us as His own by the Spirit through the work of Christ Jesus, responsible decisions can be made.
    “This is God’s plan for parenthood. When the selfish desire of man dominates, God’s plan can be denied. Knowledge of conception control is abused and becomes sinful when employed for promiscuous relationships outside marriage. Conception control may also be misused within marriage, for selfish reason or to avoid the responsibilities of parenthood. But the possibilities of miscue do not make conception control itself improper.”
  • The world is stricken with reform madness. To the reformers of our time nothing is so sacred that it must not be tampered with. Institutions that have grown old with the world and are of divine origin must needs submit to the activity of the “reformer”; nor an God expect anything else: where He Himself has been “reformed” out of existence. His institutions can hardly expect to be spared. One of the reformers of to-day makes the following statement: “It now seems to many people that the time has come to take childbirth out of the realm of chance, that the birth of human beings is too important to be left to irresponsible nature.” How wide-spread the reform movement referred to have become may be understood when the reformers assert: “Today men of high standing scientists of international reputation, physicians, psychologists, political economists, sociologists, and literati advocate birth control as a counter-move against poverty and disease.””
    Every Christian will readily perceive that this “reform” is a curse to the individual and the state. Dwelling on this point, a Roman Catholic writer says: “Duty and conscientiousness are to throw their mantle of protection over practices that tamper with the very fountains of life and defy the will of the Creator to the destruction of individual, family, and State as exemplified in the fall of pagan Rome.”
    Church people are, however, not the only ones who are becoming alarmed at the activity of those reformers. The subject was discussed before a gathering of club-women at Chicago recently, and, addressing the club, Mr. Leonora ZZ. Meder said the following:
    Birth control is making us a retrogressive people returning to the days of Sodom and Gomorrah.” “Birth control is immoral, degrading, and tupid. It is a perversion of a natural faculty: it logically and inevitably leads to deliberate childless marriages; it does not attain its purpose of uman welfare, and leads to luxurious vice, compared to which the suffering involved in reading children is a blessing, indeed.
    “It is better to improve the economic conditions of the poor than to attempt to remedy matters by decreasing the numbers.
    “Statistics compiled in Chicago show that in almost every case where divorces were sought the applicants were either childless or had only one child.
    “Theodore Roosevelt complied these facts, showing that fertility and genius are compatible: Horace Walpole, one of nineteen children; Benjamin Franklin, one of seventeen; Peter the Great, one of fourteen; Napoleon Bonaparte, one of thirteen; Walter Scott, one of twelve; Cooper, one of twelve; Tennyson, one of twelve; Washington, one of ten; Webster, one of ten; Cleveland, one of nine; Dickens, one of eight; Longfellow, one of eight; Milton and Emmerson, one of six.
    “Genius is rarely found where there is one child. You have only to visit the asylums at Elgin, Kankakee, and Dunning to see the appalling ruins of mind and body brought on by the heinous practice of birth control. Eighty-five percent, of the women in Chicago hospitals are ill as a direct or indirect result of the same practice.
    • Northwestern Lutheran, “Birth Control a Curse”, Lutheran Witness (Missouri), volume 36, p. 196; reprint of a Northwestern Lutheran (Wisconsin) article.
  • Pope Paul VI pointed out four bad consequences for humanity that would result if artificial contraception were permitted.
    Immorality: Artificial contraception would encourage "conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality."
    Many people, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, now accept that the Pope was right and that the wide use of artificial contraception has weakened sexual morality in Western society
    But this could be seen as the result of the abuse rather than the use of artificial contraception, and that if human beings had limited contraception to the context of loving relationships no harm would have been done
    Disrespect for women: It would lead a man to lose respect for his partner: "a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires."
    Some peo-ple have criticised this argument and pointed out that if a couple can only have sex during the infertile period, this too may disregard the sexual needs of a woman and so actually be bad for her physical and emotional equilibrium
    Eugenics: Artificial contraception could be used by governments to im-plement eugenic policies - i.e. as a weapon of social engineering to remove elements of society
    This is true
    But once again could be regarded as a misuse of contraception, and not an inevitable consequence
    One example is the way developed countries have sent contraceptives to the third world to limit their population
    Disrespect for the body: Using artificial contraception could mis-lead human beings into thinking they were entitled to unlimited power over their own bodies
    But most people do now believe that they have the right to do what they want with their bodies, and that they are not wrong to believe they have this right.
    But although contraception may have contrib-uted to this view, so have many other medical developments that the Church does not object to.
    The commission that reported to Pope Paul VI on contraception remarked that "it is natural to man to use his skill in order to put under human control what is given by physical nature."
  • No reason, however grave, may be put forward by which anything which is intrinsically against nature may become comfortable with nature and morally good.
    Since, therefore, the conjugal act is de-signed primarily by nature for the begetting of children, those who in exercising it deliberately frustrate its natural power and purposely sin against nature and commit a deed which is shameful and intrinsically vicious.
  • Regular access to effective contraception, as in the developed world, is the best way to reduce unplanned pregnancies and the need for abortion. Unfortunately, current U.S. policies restrict family planning assistance to foreign non-governmental clinics and agencies that per-form or even discuss abortion or advocate liberalizing abortion laws. The result has been a loss of family planning services and less access to condoms in many developing countries — services that would help reduce the need for abortion.
  • Across the country, a disturbing trend is emerging that, if unchecked, will deny women access to legal, doctor-prescribed birth control. Women are being confronted with “pro-life pharmacists” who say they will not dispense birth control and/or emergency contraception because it violates their religious beliefs. Some even refuse to transfer prescriptions to another pharmacy or ask a pharmacist in their own store to serve the customer. Several women have reported that the pharmacist would not return the written prescription, forcing them to return to their doctor for another prescription. The refusing pharmacists claim they are acting because of their convictions that birth control pills are tantamount to abortion, a notion that is disputed by every major medical association and the U.S. Food and Drug Ad-ministration. These unethical refusals jeopardize women’s health and safety by placing them at risk for unintended pregnancy.
  • We affirm the principle of responsible parenthood. The family, in its varying forms, constitutes the primary focus of love, acceptance, and nurture, bringing fulfillment to parents and child. Healthful and whole personhood develops as one is loved, responds to love, and in that relationship comes to wholeness as a child of God.
    Each couple has the right and the duty prayerfully and responsibly to control conception according to their circumstances. They are, in our view, free to use those means of birth control considered medically safe. As developing technologies have moved conception and reproduction more and more out of the category of a chance happening and more closely to the realm of responsible choice, the decision whether or not to give birth to children must include acceptance of the responsibility to provide for their mental, physical, and spiritual growth, as well as consideration of the possible effect on quality of life for family and society.
  • In our teaching we emphasize that children are a blessing from God and couples should beware of false materialistic standards of measuring the quality of their lives.
    Forms of birth control that are really methods of inducing a very early abortion must not be used.
    WELS, however, does not maintain that there is a clear scriptural prohibition against all forms of contraception. Such factors as the mother's health may be a valid concern of couples, which may lead them to consider limiting the number of their children.

Daniel K. Williams, “Defenders of the Unborn: The Pro Life Movement Before Roe v. Wade”, (2016)

  • Since the 1930s, the Catholic Church had been the leading-indeed the only-force working to preserve state laws against birth control in the face of a concerted campaign to repeal them. Two events that occurred in 1965-the conclusion of Vatican II and the Supreme Court's ruling in Griswold v. Connecticut- brought their efforts to an immediate halt.
    Catholics were astonished when, in 1959, [[Pope John XXIII] convened the Second Vatican Council, which no one had expected. Some were even more surprised by the dramatic changes the council wrought. In the political realm, that meant prodding Catholics to fight for social justice while prohibiting them from restricting the religious freedom of others. The Church, which had long sought to enforce personal morality through politics, now faced constraints. At the same time, Catholics who favored campaigns for social justice now had more than ever to engage in them. Campaigns for tougher obscenity laws, an area of traditional interest for the American Catholic Church, gave way to liberal priests' protests against the Vietnam War. Anti-vice campaigns were out civil rights were in.
    • p. 9
  • In 1947, 98 percent of American doctors approved of contraception for health reasons and 79 percent approved of it in cases when a family's economic situation required it. One Jesuit philosophy professor in Kansas lamented in the mid-1950s that it was almost impossible to find a non-Catholic doctor who would refuse to fit a patient with a birth control device in at least some circumstances. In less than a generation, a once-taboo (and often illegal) practice had become a positive good that was now used by most middle-class Protestant couples, prescribed by their doctor's and endorsed by their pastors. A few heavily Catholic states in the Northeast, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, continued to restrict the sale of birth control devices until the 1960s, but those states were in the minority. After the 1930s, the overwhelming body of Protestant opinion in the United States was in favor of birth control use, with 85 percent of Americans in 1943 believing that married women should have access to contraceptives, according to a Fortune magazine survey.
    • p. 14.
  • With the exception of some Protestant fundamentalists, Catholics stood almost alone in their refusal to countenance artificial birth control and sterilization under any circumstances. While a sizeable minority of Catholics (a minority that included 30 percent of married, white Catholic women of childbearing age, according to a 1955 survey) quietly violated official Catholic teaching by using forbidden means of birth control and then abstaining from communion until they received absolution for their "sin" from a priest, the majority of Catholics continued to follow their church's teaching on this issue, and some launched public efforts to oppose the rapid liberalization of public attitudes toward contraception and sterilization.
    They believed that birth control was equally wrong for both Catholics and non-Catholics, because the use of contraception not only violated nearly two thousand years of Church teaching but was also an offense against natural law which should have been accessible to anyone-whether or not they were Catholic-by reason alone. In their view, abortion, contraception, and sterilization were violations of the same natural law principles, so they were dismayed when Protestants, who for the most part still opposed abortion, nevertheless rejected natural law arguments against contraception and sterilization, thus jettisoning the philosophical principles on which, for Catholics, opposition to abortion rested. Protestants saw the matter differently of course. Though nineteenth-century Protestants had often conflated contraception and abortion, Protestants of the mid-twentieth century separated the two issues, approving of one as a beneficial social good while condemning the other as the taking of a human life that should be performed only in extreme circumstances. But Catholics were convinced that a compromise on contraception would inevitably lead to an acceptance of abortion, and they became increasingly vocal in their defense of the natural law principles that condemned both practices. Indeed, in their successful campaign against a referendum to legalize birth control in Massachusetts in 1948, they claimed that birth control was "like abortion" and against "God's law."
    • p. 15.
  • Catholic theologians argued that contraception contravened natural law in several ways. First, it separated sex from its natural purpose of procreation. Second, by attempting to prevent the formation of new human life, it challenged God's authority as the Creator. Finally, it treated human life as something to be prevented rather than valued. Contraception introduced a "deadly...cheapening of human life," the Jesuit magazine America charged in 1924. Those who promoted contraception "would destroy the law of God and the law of nature by interfering with human life at its inception. For they would teach the custodians of human life how to frustrate life before birth. In the views of Catholics, this was only a short step removed from abortion. "Does artificial prevention of life stand on any higher moral ground than the artificial taking of life?" Edward J. Heffron, executive secretary of the National Council of Catholic Men, asked in 1942.
    • pp. 15-16
  • The birth control campaigns created a religious divide in American's approach to reproductive issues. After the 1930s, few Protestants outside of fundamentalist circles preached against birth control, and many clerics from more progressive denominations joined campaigns to promote its use. By rejecting Catholic natural law-based arguments against birth control, Protestants made it more difficult to use those arguments against abortion. By the time that abortion policy became a matter of political controversy, most Protestant denominations had no consistent theological position on the subject.
    Catholics, by contrast, became more vocal in their denunciations of both birth control and abortion after the 1920s. American Catholic priest were preaching against birth control long before Casti Connubii, but the encyclical encouraged their efforts and gave renewed vigor to their campaign. Warnings against the use of contraception appeared in Catholic diocesan papers and Sunday homilies, and premarital counseling sessions for Catholic couples invariably included instruction on the subject. The discussions of birth control in the mid-twentieth century laid the natural law groundwork for later arguments against abortion. Some priests even preached directly about abortion as early as the 1930s.
    • p. 17-18
  • The Church's intense focus on issues of reproduction at a time when the medical community was becoming increasingly open to the idea of birth control forces Catholic doctors to make the difficult choice between the teachings of their Church and the views of their profession. In reaction to this crisis, Brooklyn physician Richard Rendich began to organize guilds of Catholic physicians who chose to remain faithful to Church teachings while carrying out their professional duties. In 1931, he consolidated these local societies into a national organization called the National Federation for Catholic Physician's Guilds, whose chief purpose, according to the organization's Jesuit moderator Fr. Ignatius Cox, was to "form a powerful barrier of both science and Catholicism, against the loose morals and sex liberalism of the day."
    Nowhere were these "loose morals" more evident than in the areas of birth control, the Federation's leaders believed. The Federation's organizational meeting featured a keynote address against birth control, and the organization's official journal the Linacre Quarterly, devoted much of its space to contraception and sterilization, publishing detailed natural law arguments about why artificial birth control was not only "intrinsically evil" but also a violation of the Fifth Commandment's prohibition against the taking of human life. Conscientious catholic physicians were aghast that their Protestant colleagues-including, as the Jesuit medical ethicist Fr. Gerald Kelly lamented, "even very competent and conscientious doctors, whose general attitude toward the child-beating function is both wholesome and reverent"-failed to view contraception as an assault on human life, and even gave contraceptive assistance to their patients who requested it.
    • p. 18
  • The Federation argued that American's willingness to use contraceptives signaled a dangerous disrespect for human life that could compromise the entire Western legal tradition of respect for human destiny. When the American Medical Association endorsed contraception in 1937, Fr. Ignatius Cox viewed the resolution as a setback for a much larger program of human rights. "This action is closely connected with a long denial of a truly living wage and of social justice in our present economic order," he declared. "Those who advocate contraception...have a philosophy which in its cynical disregard of the dignity of human life is equivalent to the philosophy which accounts for the massacred of history." If people began to view the formation of new human life an impediment to societal progress, economic prosperity, and social well-being-something that they should try to prevent if it inconvenience them in any way-then we should not be surprised, Catholics such as Fr. Cox thought, when they had little regard for the rights of workers, the poor, and other people whom they viewed as burdens on society.
    • pp. 18-19
  • The debate over birth control in the 1930s was thus a conflict between two factions of political progressives who both saw their stance on reproductive issues as a logical extension of their support for social reform and a welfare state. On the one side was an eclectic coalition of Protestant,Jewish and secular progressives who believed that they could use state resources and the power of technology to improve society by reducing the number of unwanted children and hungry mouths to feed, especially impoverished households. Some of these progressives were New Deal administrators who saw the promotion of birth control as an extension of government efforts to reduce poverty and advance human happiness through social reform. On the other side were Catholics who were also avid supporters of the New Deal, but who believed that the attempt to improve society through the artificial limitation of human reproduction signaled a dangerous disregard for human life. Their commitment to poverty relief equaled or exceeded that of many of the birth control promoters and political liberals; indeed, the pope, the National Catholic Welfare Conference, and politically progressive clerics such as Fr. John Ryan had been calling for the recognition of worker's rights and a living wage for years before Franklin D. Roosevelt's election in 1932. They believed that they were advancing the principles of the New Deal by protecting human life. Ryan, for instance, who had been campaigning for a living wage for decades and who served on Roosevelt's National Recovery Administration Appeals Board, was also an outspoken leader in the campaign against contraception. Because the politics of reproduction had not yet become a partisan issue, Catholic opponents of contraception in the 1930s could happily join with birth control advocates in supporting the New Deal, unaware that their disagreement on the politics of reproduction would eventually split apart the liberal coalition.
    • pp. 19-20
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