Science in Christian Perspective
AN EVANGELICAL POSITION ON BIRTH CONTROL
Earl J. Reeves
Department of Political Science
University of Missouri St. Louis, Missouri
Reprinted Irons Birth Control and the Christian, W. 0. Spitser and C. L. Saylor, Editors, Tyndale House, Wheaton. Illinois (1969) Pp. 192-194.
From: JASA 22 (June 1970): 50-51.
In seeking to formulate an evangelical position on birth control it may he helpful to group the various methods into three basic categories-abstention, prevention, and abortion. Abstention, which includes late marriage, periodic abstention (or rhythm), and celibacy, has traditionally been regarded as an acceptable method for Roman Catholics. But in general, abstention is a highly unreliable method for restraining the population explosion. Late marriage may limit the number of child-bearing opportunities if it is accompanied by pre-marital abstinence. But given the strength of the sex drive, it may simply increase the temptation for pre-marital intercourse and result in an increase in illegitimate children. Likewise, celibacy if accompanied by sexual abstinence removes some units from the population production line. But the number of such persons is far too small to make any significant change in the rate of population increase.
Within the marriage relationship complete abstention from intercourse is not only unnatural but contrary to Paul's warning in I Corinthians 7:5 that husbands and wives should be careful not to deny one another the sexual rights of marriage lest they he tempted into unfaithfulness. And even the practice of periodic abstention, while perhaps better than no family planning at all, is both unreliable and for many people unpleasant. The precise counting of days and keeping of charts that is required to give any hope of success would seem to most observers, including many Roman Catholics, to he so cumbersome and mechanical as to destroy much of the normal enjoyment of the sexual act.
Therefore, the evangelical Christian would probably not regard abstinence as a very realistic or even particularly desirable method of birth control. This is especially true in view of the improvements which have been made in mechanical and chemical contraception. If one accepts the general Protestant viewpoint that the creation of one flesh through the sexual relationship is both natural and desirable even when procreation is not the basic purpose, then there would appear to be no particular moral or religious basis to prevent the evangelical Christian from using any of the generally accepted means of preventing conception. Even coitus interruptus, though it may be rejected on aesthetic grounds or regarded as an unpleasant interruption of a natural process, would not seem to be morally objectionable. In contrast to Roman Catholic teaching, for example, the sin of Onan is best understood as resulting not from the use of coitus interruptus but from his disobedience to Cod's direct commandment to raise up seed in his brother's name. And the sin would have been just as great if he had abstained from the sex relationship completely.
In general there would appear to be no Scriptural reason to deny a married couple the right to use any of the standard mechanical or chemical methods of preventing pregnancy. Even the question of the possibility of destroying life by destroying a fertilized egg through an IUD or a pill seems likely to he dismissed by most evangelicals as a highly theoretical and legalistic controversy.
Even the development of a "morning after" pill would seem to be a real boon for mankind and therefore, should he welcomed rather than condemned. The fact that it could be taken after intercourse would permit a tailoring of the use of the pill to the requirements of specific individual patterns, especially for those who have intercourse rarely or irregularly. It would eliminate the necessity for taking a regular cycle of pills and might provide a method that could be exported most easily to the underdeveloped areas where population control is most desperately needed. It would also be a far more acceptable solution to the problem of pregnancies resulting from rape than that provided by abortion.
It is in fact this last category of population control through abortion (defined as destruction of the embryo or fetus after conception has occurred) that represents the most difficult moral challenge. There is a strong movement both internationally and in the United States toward legalized abortion for certain cases, particularly where the mother's life is endangered by the pregnancy or for victims of rape. The American Medical Women's Association, for example, in their convention in November 1966 joined with the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Law Institute in urging limited legalized abortion. They note that there are an estimated one million abortions performed in the United States each year and few of them are performed under sanitary medical conditions. Therefore, they recommend that licensed hospitals be permitted to provide abortions in cases where there is substantial danger to the mother's mental or physical health, where there is strong probability that the child will be born with severe mental or physical abnormality, or where the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest. The State of Colorado has adopted a law which permits abortion, and serious consideration is currently being given to similar moves in several other state legislatures. Where they are designed to provide careful medical and legal controls, such laws may be desirable if they are used only in extreme emergencies. In general, however, abortion should not be considered as a significant device for limiting population and its widespread use for that purpose represents a very callous disregard for human life.