Religious opposition to birth control

Religious opposition to contraception
Religious opposition to abortion
Religious opposition to family planning
Theological justification of population growth
Interruption of the human generative process
Religious opposition to population control in practice mainly takes the form of opposition to family planning and artificial contraceptive methods based on interpretations of scriptures and religious teachings.
Its effect tends to encourage elitism in development since statistics show that even where religious taboos on contraception exist, it is nevertheless widely practised in developed countries and among the rich in developing countries, and birth rates are on a par with those of societies where there is no religious taboo. Those who follow religious doctrine on this point are mainly the poor and uneducated. Religious opposition to population control may be encouraged or discouraged by government policy depending on control and depending on how strong the religious influence is in politics. Religious opposition may already be built into the law, not only regarding birth control but also into family and marriage law, age of majority, education, status of women and other laws which affect the use of birth control.

Vatican diplomacy has been remarkably successful in blocking any official international endorsement of "unnatural" methods of birth control especially in the form of family planning programmes. The Pope's recent concern has been over the secularization of Poland where, in 1991, at least at least 81% of Poles did not believe the Catholic Church had the right to demand submission to its contraception policies, and 71% rejected its authority on the matter of abortion. In 1992, the Vatican was instrumental in ensuring that population control and family planning were removed from the agenda of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (Rio de Janeiro). At the 1994 Cairo Population Conference the Papal delegation kept the abortion issue at the centre of the negotiations; however at the end only it and a few Catholic countries from Latin America maintained objection. The diplomatic initiatives of the Vatican have been assisted by the World Muslim League which is apparently concerned at unacceptable changes to the role of women in Muslim societies brought about by family planning and the implications of a woman's freedom of choice in a male-dominated society.

The Catholic Church has one of the best-run lobbies in the USA. Its opposition to U.S. funding of international family planning has been palpable. Thus in 1984, in deference to the Vatican position, the Reagan administration announced at the World Conference on Population (Mexico City), that the USA was withdrawing funding from the world's two largest family planning organizations: the United Nations Fund for Population Activities and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. In 1995, the pope issued an encyclical threatening to remove Church sponsorship of those Catholic healthcare organizations that failed to strictly obey church doctrine on matters like sterilizations and contraception. In the USA, there has been the outright elimination of reproductive health services when Catholic hospitals join or take over non-Catholic institutions. The Catholic organizations are forming networks, extending their influence and fortifying their leverage for future negotiations. Fifteen percent of the nation's nonfederal hospital beds are now in the hands of close to 600 Catholic hospitals. Often, the only hospital in a community is Catholic-run.

1. In conformity with these landmarks in the human and Christian vision of marriage, we must once again declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun, and, above all, directly willed and procured abortion, even if for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as licit means of regulating birth.

Equally to be excluded, as the teaching authority of the Church has frequently declared, is direct sterilization, whether perpetual or temporary, whether of the man or of the woman. Similarly excluded is every action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible.

To justify conjugal acts made intentionally infecund, one cannot invoke as valid reasons the lesser evil, or the fact that such acts would constitute a whole together with the fecund acts already performed or to follow later, and hence would share in one and the same moral goodness. In truth, if it is sometimes licit to tolerate a lesser evil in order to avoid a greater evil or to promote a greater good, it is not licit, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil so that good may follow therefrom; that is, to make into the object of a positive act of the will something which is intrinsically disorder, and hence unworthy of the human person, even when the intention is to safeguard or promote individual, family or social well-being. Consequently it is an error to think that a conjugal act which is deliberately made infecund and so is intrinsically dishonest could be made honest and right by the ensemble of a fecund conjugal life. (Papal Encyclical, Humanae Vitae, 1968).

2. It is frequently asserted that contraception, if made safe and available to all, is the most effective remedy against abortion. The Catholic Church is then accused of actually promoting abortion, because it obstinately continues to teach the moral unlawfulness of contraception. When looked at carefully, this objection is clearly unfounded. It may be that many people use contraception with a view to excluding the subsequent temptation of abortion. But the negative values inherent in the "contraceptive mentality" - which is very different from responsible parenthood, lived in respect for the full truth of the conjugal act - are such that they in fact strengthen this temptation when an unwanted life is conceived. Indeed, the pro- abortion culture is especially strong precisely where the Church's teaching on contraception is rejected. Certainly, from the moral point of view contraception and abortion are specifically different evils: the former contradicts the full truth of the sexual act as the proper expression of conjugal love, while the latter destroys the life of a human being; the former is opposed to the virtue of chastity in marriage, the latter is opposed to the virtue of justice and directly violates the divine commandment "You shall not kill". But despite their differences of nature and moral gravity, contraception and abortion are often closely connected, as fruits of the same tree. It is true that in many cases contraception and even abortion are practised under the pressure of real-life difficulties, which nonetheless can never exonerate from striving to observe God's law fully. Still, in very many other instances such practices are rooted in a hedonistic mentality unwilling to accept responsibility in matters of sexuality, and they imply a self-centered concept of freedom, which regards procreation as an obstacle to personal fulfilment. The life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception. The close connection which exists, in mentality, between the practice of contraception and that of abortion is becoming increasingly obvious. It is being demonstrated in an alarming way by the development of chemical products, intrauterine devices and vaccines which, distributed with the same ease as contraceptives, really act as abortifacients in the very early stages of the development of the life of the new human being. (Papal Encyclical, Evangelium Vitae, 25 March 1995).

1. There is no religious opposition to family planning or population control and certainly no opposition to contraception in the sense of preventing pregnancies. Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and Protestantism all agree with the use of total or temporary abstinence to prevent pregnancy. All also agree that one or, in some cases, the function of marriage is to procreate. Religious traditions concerned with family planning are opposed to the use of artificial contraceptive methods, and particularly for the convenience of the adults.

2. Religious groups recognize that the world faces demographic problems. But current family planning proposals are not the best solutions. Very often they are immoral, because they lead to greater control by the 20% of the world who live in industrialized society over the 80% who live in non-industrial society. Population pressure is caused by social problems, but rather than addressing such problems of social justice, industrialized countries seek to reduce the number of people in developing countries.

3. Too frequently an accelerated demographic increase adds its own difficulties to the problems of development: the size of the population increases more rapidly than available resources, and things are found to have reached apparently an impasse. From that moment the temptation is great to check the demographic increase by means of radical measures. It is certain that public authorities can intervene, within the limit of their competence, by favoring the availability of appropriate information and by adopting suitable measures, provided that these be in conformity with the moral law and that they respect the rightful freedom of married couples. Where the inalienable right to marriage and procreation is lacking, human dignity has ceased to exist. Finally, it is for the parents to decide, with full knowledge of the matter, on the number of their children, taking into account their responsibilities towards God, themselves, the children they have already brought into the world, and the community to which they belong. In all this they must follow the demands of their own conscience enlightened by God's law authentically interpreted, and sustained by confidence in Him. (Papal Encyclical, Populorum Progressio, 26 Mar 1967).

4. The Vatican has already lost the battle to prevent people from choosing how and whether to reproduce. Roman Catholics in many countries now use contraceptives at the same rate as the rest of the population; governments in most predominantly Roman Catholic countries support family planning, and most Catholics believe that a woman can be a faithful Catholic even if she has had an abortion. Today's faithful give more weight to the responsibility of parenthood than to the revealed wisdom of Rome.

(F) Fuzzy exceptional problems