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Prior to the 20th century, contraception was generally condemned by all the major branches of Christianity , including the major reformers like Martin Luther and John Calvin. This unified front no longer exists, however. Among Christian denominations today there are a large variety of positions towards contraception.

Roman Catholicism


The Roman Catholic Church has been morally opposed to contraception for as far back as one can historically trace. The Catechism of the Catholic Church specifies that all sex acts must be both unitive and procreative. In addition to condemning use of artificial birth control as intrinsically evil, non-procreative sex acts such as mutual masturbation and anal sex are ruled out as ways to avoid pregnancy.

For much of its existence, the church heavily emphasized procreation as the primary purpose of sex—some Catholics even believed that intercourse at times where pregnancy was not a possible result (such as current pregnancy and menopause) was sinful. Pope Pius XI's 1930 encyclical entitled Casti Connubii was written in response to the Anglican Communion's Seventh Lambeth Conference, which approved contraceptive use in limited circumstances. Casti Connubii confirmed the Church's position opposing birth control:
Since, therefore, openly departing from the uninterrupted Christian tradition some recently have judged it possible solemnly to declare another doctrine regarding this question, the Catholic Church, ... in order that she may preserve the chastity of the nuptial union from being defiled by this foul stain, ... proclaims anew: any use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature, and those who indulge in such are branded with the guilt of a grave sin.

However, this encyclical acknowledged for the first time a secondary, unitive, purpose of intercourse. Because of this secondary purpose, married couples have a right to engage in intercourse even when pregnancy is not a possible result:
Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved.

Some interpreted this statement as not only permitting sex between married couples during pregnancy and menopause, but also during the infertile times of the menstrual cycle. The mathematical formula for the rhythm method had been formalized in 1930, and in 1932 a Catholic physician published a book titled The Rhythm of Sterility and Fertility in Women promoting the method to Catholics. The 1930s also saw the first U.S. Rhythm Clinic (founded by John Rock) to teach the method to Catholic couples. However, use of the Rhythm Method in certain circumstances was not formally accepted until 1951, in two speeches by Pope Pius XII.

Many early Church Fathers have made statements condemning the use of contraception including John Chrysostom, Jerome, Clement of Alexandria, Hippolytus of Rome, Augustine of Hippo and various others. Among the condemnations is one by Jerome which refers to an apparent oral form of contraception: "Some go so far as to take potions, that they may insure barrenness, and thus murder human beings almost before their conception."

Current view

The Roman Catholic Church's modern position on contraception was first expressed in Humanae Vitae, the 1968 encyclical by Pope Paul VI. Artificial contraception is considered a mortal sin, but methods of natural family planning, including modern forms that are highly effective, are morally permissible in some circumstances. These methods are known as periodic abstinence and are argued to be morally different from positively modifying the couple's fertility. This stance is explained further in a series of lectures given by Pope John Paul II, later entitled Theology of the Body. From Humanae Vitae:

"The Church, nevertheless, in urging men to the observance of the precepts of the natural law, which it interprets by its constant doctrine, teaches that each and every marital act must of necessity retain its intrinsic relationship to the procreation of human life."

In further justification of this position, Pope Paul VI claimed
"Responsible men can become more deeply convinced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods and plans for artificial birth control.
Let them first consider how easily this course of action could open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.
Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that human beings—and especially the young, who are so exposed to temptation—need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.
Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that 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, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection."

In the same year as the release of Humanae Vitae the Minority Papal Commission Report, who upheld the traditional Catholic prohibition of contraception stated:
"One can find no period of history, no document of the church, no theological school, scarcely one Catholic theologian, who ever denied that contraception was always seriously evil. The teaching of the Church in this matter is absolutely constant. Until the present century this teaching was peacefully possessed by all other Christians, whether Orthodox or Anglican or Protestant. The Orthodox retain this as common teaching today."
On July 17, 1994, John Paul II clarified the Church's position during a meditation said prior to an angelus recitation.

Unfortunately, Catholic thought is often misunderstood ... as if the Church supported an ideology of fertility at all costs, urging married couples to procreate indiscriminately and without thought for the future.
But one need only study the pronouncements of the Magisterium to know that this is not so.Truly, in begetting life the spouses fulfill one of the highest dimensions of their calling: they are God's co-workers.
Precisely for this reason they must have an extremely responsible attitude.
In deciding whether or not to have a child, they must not be motivated by selfishness or carelessness, but by a prudent, conscious generosity that weighs the possibilities and circumstances, and especially gives priority to the welfare of the unborn child.Therefore, when there is a reason not to procreate, this choice is permissible and may even be necessary.
However, there remains the duty of carrying it out with criteria and methods that respect the total truth of the marital act in its unitive and procreative dimension, as wisely regulated by nature itself in its biological rhythms.
One can comply with them and use them to advantage, but they cannot be "violated" by artificial interference.

In 1997, the Vatican's Pontifical Council for the Family stated:
"The Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception, that is, of every marital act intentionally rendered unfruitful. This teaching is to be held as definitive and irreformable. Contraception is gravely opposed to marital chastity; it is contrary to the good of the transmission of life (the procreative aspect of matrimony), and to the reciprocal self-giving of the spouses (the unitive aspect of matrimony); it harms true love and denies the sovereign role of God in the transmission of human life."

A summary of the Scriptural support used by Catholics against contraception can be found in Rome Sweet Home, an autobiography by the Catholic apologetics Scott and Kimberly Hahn. They illustrate the results of the research on contraception conducted by Kimberly Hahn as having a pivotal effect on their lives, notably the fact that the Catholic Church is one of the few Christian denominations to take a clear stance on the issue. Among the Scripture included in the book are the following lines from Psalm 127:
"Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons of one's youth. Happy is the man who has his quiver full of them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the gate."
For an anthropological (non-religious) evaluation of the effect of contraception on marital love, see Cormac Burke: "Married Love and Contraception" Osservatore Romano, Oct. 10, 1988.

The 2008 instruction Dignitas Personae reiterates Church opposition to contraception, mentioning new methods of interception and contragestion, notably female condoms and morning-after pills.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI asserted that handing out condoms is not the solution to combatting AIDS and actually makes the problem worse.


Many Catholics have voiced significant disagreement with the Church's stance on contraception. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued probably the most heavily dissenting document, the Winnipeg Statement. In it, the bishops argued that many Catholics found it very difficult, if not sometimes impossible, to obey Humanae Vitae. Additionally, they reasserted—too strongly, conservatives say

—the Catholic principle of primacy of conscience. Theologians such as Charles Curran have also criticized the stance of Vitae on artificial birth control.

Catholics for a Free Choice claimed in 1998 that 96% of Catholic women had used contraceptives at some point in their lives and that 72% of Catholics believed that one could be a good Catholic without obeying the Church's teaching on birth control. According to a nationwide poll of 2,242 U.S. adults surveyed online in September 2005 by Harris Interactive, 90% of Catholics supported the use of birth control/contraceptives.

Use of natural family planning methods among Catholics is low. In 2002, 24% of the U.S. population identified as Catholic. But of sexually active Americans avoiding pregnancy, only 1.5% were using NFP.

Condoms and STIs

Use of condoms for the primary purpose of preventing pregnancy is condemned, along with all other forms of artificial birth control. However, the use of condoms to combat sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is not specifically addressed by Catholic doctrine, and is currently a topic of debate among high-ranking Catholic authorities. A few, such as Belgian Cardinal Godfried Danneels, believe the Catholic Church should actively support condoms used to prevent disease, especially serious diseases such as AIDS.

To date, statements from the Vatican have argued not that use of condoms to prevent disease is immoral, but rather that condom-promotion programs are simply bad policy. The Vatican's current position is that such programs encourage promiscuity, thereby actually increasing STI transmission. Papal study of the issue is ongoing, and in 2006 a study on the use of condoms to combat AIDS was prepared for review by Pope Benedict XVI.

Eastern Orthodoxy

Current views

An official document of the Russian Orthodox Church states that while abortifacient methods of contraception are completely unacceptable, other methods can be used with spiritual counsel, taking into account "the concrete living conditions of the couple, their age, health, degree of spiritual maturity and many other circumstances". However, if a couple does not want to have a child (on a side note, only "non-egoistic" grounds are a valid reason for it), abstaining from sexual relation is to be preferred.

Many people, on all sides, believe that the Orthodox change in thinking on contraception has not received adequate examination, and that any examination has too often become tied up in identity politics, with various groups accusing the other of western influence. Still, the "new consensus" has not gone unchallenged.

Many Orthodox hierarchs and theologians from around the world lauded Humanae Vitae when it was issued. Among these Orthodox leaders, some teach that marital intercourse should be for procreation only, while others do not go as far and hold a view similar to the Roman Catholic position, which allows Natural Family Planning on principle while at the same time opposing artificial contraception.

More lenient Orthodox leaders maintain that the new consensus position is too conservative, and thus allow more freedom for contraceptive use.

Some devout Orthodox Christians do not just consider using contraceptives a sin, but a mortal sin in the group of "unnatural carnal sins" along with homosexuality, bestiality, masturbation, etc.

Alternate views

Until about 1970, the Eastern Orthodox Church generally opposed the use of contraception. Since that time a "new consensus" was said to have emerged. This new view holds that contraception is acceptable within a Christian marriage if 1), the means of contraception is not abortifacient, 2) it is used with the blessing of one's spiritual father and 3), children are not completely excluded from the marriage, which is found in a chapter called "The foundation of chastity", by Germogenos of Shimanovo.

Protestant and Anglican churches


The Church of England has stated it "does not regard contraception as a sin or a contravention of God's purpose".


The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America allows for contraception in the event the potential parents do not intend to care for a child. Other Lutheran churches or synods take other positions, or do not take any position at all. For example, in 1990 the Lutheran Churches of the Reformation passed a resolution titled "Procreation" stating that birth control, in all forms, is sin, although they "allow for exegetical differences and exceptional cases (casuistry)", for example, when the woman's life is at risk.See .

The LCR also notes,
Such was the united teach­ing 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.
Likewise, the Hausvater Project (not an LCR organization) states,
We therefore find ourselves sympathetic to the long-standing consensus of Lutheran church fathers from the Reformation through the mid twentieth century that neither abortion, abortifacient birth control, nor barrier contraception should be practiced.
Neither the Missouri nor Wisconsin synods have an official position on contraception. Christian News, a weekly paper edited by a pastor of a Missouri Synod congregation, opposes contraception."Christian News is one of the few religious publications which still defends the position most of Christendom took opposing birth control until the resolution of the Anglican’s Lambeth Conference in 1930." Otten, Herman, Larry Marquardt: Founder—Christian Life Resources. Christian News Vol. 46., No.47. p.5 (December 8, 2008)


The United Methodist Church, holds that "each couple has the right and the duty prayerfully and responsibly to control conception according to their circumstances." Its Resolution on Responsible Parenthood states that in order to "support the sacred dimensions of personhood, all possible efforts should be made by parents and the community to ensure that each child enters the world with a healthy body, and is born into an environment conducive to realization of his or her potential." To this end, the United Methodist Church supports "adequate public funding and increased participation in family planning services by public and private agencies."


The Presbyterian Church supports “full and equal access to contraceptive methods.” In a recent resolution endorsing insurance coverage for contraceptives, the church affirmed that “contraceptive services are part of basic health care” and cautioned that “unintended pregnancies lead to higher rates of infant mortality, low birth weight, and maternal morbidity, and threaten the economic viability of families.”Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. 2006. Religious Support For Family Planning (retrieved 16 May 2007).


The Mennonite Church USA, the General Conference Mennonite Church, and the Conservative Mennonite Conference have adopted statements indicating approval of modern methods of contraception. For example, while also teaching and encouraging love and acceptance of children, the Conservative Mennonite Conference maintains, "The prevention of pregnancy when feasible by birth control with pre-fertilization methods is acceptable." A study published in 1975 found that only 11% of Mennonites believed use of birth control was "always wrong". Old Colony Mennonites, like the Amish, do not officially allow birth control practices.


All types of birth control, including forms of natural family planning such as calendar-based methods, are forbidden in Old Order Amish communities. However, especially in recent years, more Amish women have begun using contraception. This trend is more pronounced in communities where few of the men earn their living through farming.


The Hutterite Brethren use contraception only if it is recommended by a physician.


Along with these general acceptances, many movements view contraception use outside of marriage as encouragement to promiscuity. For example, Focus on the Familymarker states,
Sex is a powerful drive, and for most of human history it was firmly linked to marriage and childbearing.
Only relatively recently has the act of sex commonly been divorced from marriage and procreation.
Modern contraceptive inventions have given many an exaggerated sense of safety and prompted more people than ever before to move sexual expression outside the marriage boundary.


Throughout the majority of its history the leaders of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) have publicly condemned artificial birth control. The only official public statement it has ever made on the subject discouraged contraception by saying, "it is contrary to the teachings of the Church artificially to curtail or prevent the birth of children. We believe that those who practice birth control will reap disappointment by and by."

However, more recent statements in a privately distributed manual for local LDS Church leaders have discouraged such leaders from judging other members based on their private intimate relationships:

"It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.

"Married couples also should understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a means of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife."

There is still some debate over whether this constitutes a change of doctrine as it relates to artificial birth control.

The LDS Church opposes elective abortion "for personal or social convenience" and "strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an elective form of birth control".


  1. Yalom, p.307
  2. Moral Questions Affecting Married Life: Addresses given October 29, 1951 to the Italian Catholic Union of midwives and November 26, 1951 to the National Congress of the Family Front and the Association of Large Families, National Catholic Welfare Conference, Washington, DC.
  3. Church Fathers on Contraception
  4. The Catholic Tradition on the Morality of Contraception by Fr Hardon, S.J.
  5. Contraception: Early Church Teaching (William Klimon)
  6. Jerome Letters 22:3 to Eustochium
  7. Vademecum for Confessors
  8. Scott Hahn, Kimberly Hahn. Rome Sweet Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993. ISBN 0-89870-478-2.
  9. Condoms 'not the answer to AIDS': Pope
  10. A summary and restatement of the debate is available in Roderick Hindery. "The Evolution of Freedom as Catholicity in Catholic Ethics." Anxiety, Guilt, and Freedom. Eds. Benjamin Hubbard and Brad Starr, UPA, 1990.
  11. Largest Religious Groups in the USA. Accessed November 13, 2005.
  12. See Table 56.
  13. The Basis of the Social Concept. XII. Problems of bioethics
  14. A Word on Death, chapter "Mortal sin", by saint Ignatius Brianchaninov
  15. Ascetical Trials, chapter "The eight main vices, with their divisions and branches", by saint Ignatius Briachaninov; Sexuality and chastity
  16. When a woman and man join their bodies sexually, both should be prepared to provide for a child, should conception occur. When that is not their intention, the responsible use of safe, effective contraceptives is expected of the male and the female.
  17. See and For the traditional view in both synods, see Birth Control a Curse, a Lutheran Witness (Missouri) reprint of a Northwestern Lutheran (Wisconsin) article. The Concordia Cyclopedia, a Missouri Synod reference book, condemns contraception, Fuerbringer, L., Concordia Cyclopedia Concordia Publishing House. 1927. p. 441
  18. (see p.10 in online version)
  19. See quotes from Brigham Young (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 197), John Taylor (The Government of God, Chapter 2), Wilford Woodruff (Wilford Woodruff and Joseph F. Smith to Job Pingree, Jan. 23, 1894), Joseph F. Smith (Gospel Doctrine, p. 276), Heber J. Grant (Gospel Standards, p. 154), George Albert Smith (Relief Society Magazine, Feb. 1917, p. 72), David O. McKay (Relief Society Magazine, v. 3, no. 7, July 1916), Joseph Fielding Smith, Jr. (Relief Society Magazine, v. 3, no. 7, July 1916), Harold B. Lee (Conference Report, October 1972, p. 63), Spencer W. Kimball (B.Y.U. Speeches of the Year, 1973, p. 263), Ezra Taft Benson (Conference Report, April 1969, p. 12) & Howard W. Hunter (Conference Report, Oct. 1994, p. 67)
  20. First Presidency statement (David O. McKay, Hugh B. Brown, N. Eldon Tanner), The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Office of the First Presidency, April 14, 1969
  21. LDS Church (2006). Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1: Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church) pp. 186–187.
  22. For instance, See this example
  23. LDS Church (2006). Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1: Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church) p. 185
  24. LDS Church (2006). Church Handbook of Instructions, Book 1: Stake Presidencies and Bishoprics (Salt Lake City, Utah: LDS Church) p. 188.

External links

Roman Catholic

Eastern Orthodox


Critique of Christian views on contraception

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