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The Bible and Birth Control (Part 2)
March 05, 2012
This is now the second of two articles I am writing on the subject of birth control. In the last article I first said that the Bible neither allows nor forbids birth control, I offered two thoughts on what God forbids when it comes to birth control (abortion and abstinence) and then went looking for a series of principles that would be helpful in guiding a discussion on the subject.
We need to begin the second part of this discussion with what I see as an inescapable conclusion. If it is true that the Bible neither forbids nor explicitly commands birth control, this places it within the realm of Christian freedom. This is not to say we are just free to do whatever we want. Rather, we are use the resources God gives us in Scripture, in conscience, in wisdom, in Christian community, and come to what we then trust is a God-honoring conclusion. As we do this we must acknowledge that other Christians may come to different conclusions and we must be prepared not to attack them or do battle with them.
If birth control does fall into the area of Christian freedom, it means that even while the Bible states that children are a blessing and while it tells us to be fruitful and multiply, it does not demand that we are all to be exactly as fruitful as we possibly could be or that we are to all have as many children as we can possibly have. There are good reasons and bad reasons both to limit the size of your family and to choose not to. Both extremes can be a means to pursue idolatries or to give in to those who would overstep their boundaries and bind another person’s conscience. If you do not want children because you just plain don’t like children or because you are a selfish person who wants to pursue your own dreams of a life of ease, you ought to examine your heart and repent and consider that children are a blessing of the Lord. If you want to have twenty children because that is just what people do in your community or because you have made family size into a kind of idol, you also need to examine your heart and repent. The human heart truly is tricky and deceptive and wicked and it will often latch on to good things and raise them into ultimate things.
Bad Methods of Birth Control
As there are bad reasons to use birth control, there are also bad methods. Two of these bad methods of birth control have already been mentioned: abortion and abstinence. I will add a third: abortifacients.
There are some contraceptive devices that do not block or prevent conception, but rather destroy or disrupt a pregnancy. If we believe that life begins at conception, then we must conclude that such methods of birth control do not prevent pregnancy but actually destroy human life.
While there are many contraceptive methods available, most fall into one of two camps: those that prevent pregnancy by blocking contraception (condoms and other blockade devices) and those that prevent ovulation (pills, patches, and so on). If you agree with me that Christians have freedom to choose whether or not they will use birth control, you will likely agree that the first group, the blockade devices, are acceptable choices for the Christian. The second group introduces a greater level of difficulty. I will spend a bit of time on this issue because I know it is of great concern to many Christians.
There are several reasons that make the birth control pill (and similar methods) an attractive method of birth control: It is simple, as a woman need only take a pill once a day to have near-perfect protection against pregnancy; it is highly effective so that when used perfectly, the changes of becoming pregnant are minuscule; it is also convenient, promoting spontaneity and ease-of-use. Compared to other forms of birth control, the pill is highly desirable and it is easy to understand why it has come into such widespread use, even among Christians.
The pill prevents pregnancy by essentially fooling a woman’s body into thinking it is pregnant. There are two main types of birth control pills. The first is a combined oral contraceptive that contains two hormones: estrogen and progestin. Estrogen helps prevent ovulation by suppressing the hormones that would cause the ovary to release an egg. Progestin thickens the cervical mucus which hinders the ability of the sperm to travel through the fallopian tubes. It may also prevent the lining of the uterus from developing normally which means that if an egg is fertilized, it will be unable to implant. The second type of pill contains no estrogen, so while it does not prevent ovulation, it does inhibit the ability of the sperm to fertilize the egg (both by thickening mucus and by suppressing its ability to unite with the egg) and, should fertilization take place, the likelihood of implantation.
A search of resources geared mainly towards women’s health shows that most doctors agree that birth control does not cause abortions. However, many of these doctors would deny that life begins at conception. If life does, indeed, begin at conception, then preventing implantation is already causing an abortion.
Many Christians who have medical knowledge and who affirm that life is inherently precious from the moment of conception have tackled this issue. Interestingly, many of these experts seem to be backing the claims of their colleagues, saying that there is no hard evidence that the birth control pill can cause abortions.
For example, Dr. Michael Frields is a medical expert who attends John MacArthur’s Grace Community Church and he insists that the birth control pill is in no way an abortive method of birth control. Similarly, the majority of the experts James Dobson spoke to “feel that the pill does not have an abortifacient effect. A minority of the doctors feel that when conception occurs on the pill, there is enough of a possibility for an abortifacient effect, however remote, to warrant informing women about it.” It seems that while the evidence increasingly indicates there is little likelihood of causing an abortion by taking the pill, the jury is still out. This leaves Christians having to weigh the evidence on their own and attempting to sort out the facts. My conviction is that because nothing less than human life is at stake, couples should avoid the birth control pill until medical research has advanced to the point that no doubt remains. This is where my conscience leads.
Of course there is much more that could be said on this topic, but I will close there. To recap: Because the Bible does not command or forbid birth control, we have freedom to choose, provided that we first avail ourselves of the resources God gives us. Given this freedom, blockade methods of birth control pose no ethical difficulty but oral contraceptives may. We do well to get the facts and choose wisely.
Like everything else in the Christian life, the issue of birth control is a heart issue and one that exposes our attitudes toward children, toward God’s providence, toward all kinds of things. I am convinced that men and women on both sides of this debate can love and value children, can live in full assurance of God’s providence and can trust and obey God. I am convinced that God gives us freedom to use birth control or to decide not to use birth control. I am convinced that what matters most is motives and a desire to live for his glory.