There is a fundamental confusion between “finding a solution” and “eliminating a problem.” Complex issues go beyond superficial questions, making the task of accepting or rejecting parenthood a challenge. The topic of contraception is indeed “pregnant” with possibilities for positive discussion and vehement disagreement. While no specific biblical text will settle the birth control issue, for me as a theologian, moral imperatives and timeless principles from which one can then make specific applications to contemporary decisions and situations are certainly readily apparent in Scripture. God did not restrict His revelation only to cultural problems of the past. The Bible is adequate and relevant to every generation.
God started civilization with a family--not a village or a religious institution. Beginning with the order of creation, as recorded in the Bible (the founding document of civilization revered by Jews and Christians), clearly the family is God’s first institution, established at the heart of His creativity with the details of that creativity recorded in Genesis, the book of beginnings. The family is the cornerstone upon which communities and even nations rest. Children are not only a family treasure but also a community trust. Because the family is a natural institution, established by God who created human beings endowed with certain inalienable rights that cannot be denied by government, these human beings do not exist to serve the state, nor is the state assigned to rule the family. Government then should recognize and respect the natural family just as surely as they should recognize and respect basic human rights.
One man and one woman were created by God for the purpose of linking their lives in an exclusive, monogamous relationship with each other. The opening chapter of Genesis contains a mandate for the first man and woman “to be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” (Gen. 1:28). If the human race ceases to be fruitful and to multiply, there will be no replenishing and the race will disappear in a generation.
Life is a continuous tapestry, beginning in utero and ending in death. Within those bounds are such designations as zygote, embryo, fetus, infant, child, adolescent, and adult. Modern embryological knowledge seems to push creationist theologians more and more toward an understanding that the soul is given by God at conception, at which time the DNA molecular pattern fixing the new individual’s identity occurs. “ . . . One can hardly look for the origin-point of personhood anywhere other than at the moment when all potentialities necessary for its functioning enter the picture: namely, at conception.”(1)
Subsequent human acts do not create personhood but simply illustrate the unique identity that was already begun at conception. The baby in the womb is alive, or it would not be growing. The Bible regards personal identity as beginning with conception (Ps. 139:13-16).
There are many “authorities” (physicians, scientists, theologians, judges, and, of course, the self-appointed authorities, i.e., the bearers of rights) who are quick to address any matter with absolute certitude, but with a myriad of answers concerning conception ranging from no life to potential life to some life to developing life to full personhood. The discussion is just as broad on who ultimately controls that life. Theology addresses the nature of the human soul; medical science studies the nature of the “fetus”; philosophy debates the nature of personhood; and ultimately ethics examines the moral and societal problem of whether or not abortion in any form--early or late--ought to be allowed. (2) These issues all come to the table in discussions of life and death.
Because conception and fertilization have been understood as being virtually synonymous, both are used interchangeably to refer to the beginning of human life. A contraceptive (i.e., a device to contradict conception) prevented fertilization. Before 1976, a contraceptive was understood as that which prevented the union of a man’s sperm and woman’s ovum. However, a new political agenda calls for revising this definition to mean anything that prevents implantation of the blastocyst, which occurs six or seven days after fertilization. Conception then becomes “the onset of pregnancy marked by implantation of the blastocyst,” blurring the distinction between what would prevent fertilization and what would prevent an already fashioned week-old embryo. In this paper, I will return to the classical definition of “conception” as a synonym for fertilization as the point at which the new human life begins. Contraceptives are then chemicals or devices that prevent conception or fertilization. Although a birth control method may function as a contraceptive some or most of the time, when whatever the contraceptive may be kills an already conceived human being or embryo, that device is also an abortifacient. In other words, some forms of contraception not only prevent conception but also prevent implantation of an already fertilized ovum (i.e., resulting in what is actually an early abortion).
Beware of hearing words that are welcome and excluding teachings that are unwelcome. The various kinds of birth control affect a complex network of human relationships. The question of life itself and how life manifests itself in various stages of human development as well as how physical actions hold spiritual meaning--these are hot issues. Not unimportant is the extent to which a biblical worldview should direct a non-Christian world and how human endeavor should relate to divine will. The lack of sexual morality prevalent in the modern world does not relieve one from responsibility for Old Testament foundations and New Testament practice with the strong emphasis upon the family and procreation within marriage as the divine means for extending the generations and producing godly seed. Fruitfulness of the womb remains a sign of great blessing. However great are biological and genetic advances, creation and control of life and death have not been passed over from the Creator God to scientific and impersonal means at the hand of those who have been created. Being free from religious legalism does not mean removal of biblical boundaries in all of life.
Despite the fact that replacing the natural with the artificial has a history of consequences that are anything but beneficial--monstrosities, deformities, deficiencies, modern medicine and science--the world shows an unwillingness to learn from the past.(3) To suggest that any woman (or man) is master of her own destiny is alien to a biblical worldview. Every individual is responsible, of course, and cause and effect do enter the sphere of human conduct. Despite sowing what you reap, you are not the center of the universe. God alone is sovereign in creation, exercises His providence and judgment according to His own will and redeems His creation according to His plan. Knowing that God is ultimately in control assures His creation that the future ultimately rests with Him.(4)
To be God-centered is to be family-sensitive and other-conscious. The desperation and tragedy that characterize modern families is not limited to a certain ethnic background, particular geographical region, select economic bracket, or common religious commitment. The problems that exist are not stereotyped to exclude or pinpoint a particular set of circumstances. The breakdown continues unabated and seemingly worldwide, and all must work together to seek solutions.
Totalitarian governments have entered the bedroom with policies demanding birth control, which without compliance would be followed by abortion and even infanticide. Schools have become managers of childrearing and education, and teachers and educational administrators have assumed a position of dictating to parents how a child’s life is to be molded, including the kind of home environment he is to have. Health requirements, mealtime nutrition, moral standards are all set by educators who demand more money from parents to pay for their demands. Some employers (even some religious agencies) have been bold enough to dictate to employees how many children they can have and when those children are “convenient” to company plans!
Both mothers and fathers have been drawn away from the family and into the workplace. A woman no longer devotes herself exclusively to family, i.e., nurturing and supervising children and maintaining the home. In fact, no one is charged with rearing the children and keeping the home. Is it any wonder that parents want to use virtually any means to limit the size of their families and thus lessen responsibilities at home.
God’s reasons for marriage certainly go beyond procreation (Gen. 1:28; Ps. 127:3-5) to include companionship and mutual fellowship (Gen. 2:18), to create unity (Gen. 2:24); to bring pleasure and satisfaction and enjoyment (Eccl. 9:9), and to produce godly seed. Sexual union is the means for continuously uniting husband and wife in the deepest and most realistic way, a unique way in which they are “known” to each other in the fullest expression of mutual love unlike any other demonstration.
Contraception in many ways is uniquely a woman’s issue. There are profound and persistent biological differences between the sexes, and these differences mandate different and unique responsibilities. How can a woman be free from her own nature of maternity and still be herself? The central position of the woman in her own family and in all of civilized society is derived from her necessary and exclusive role in procreation and from her most primary and inviolable human tie, i.e., with her offspring. To refuse to accept life in the womb is to violate God’s very purpose for the womb, i.e., receiving, nourishing, and protecting fetal life.
The basic moral question is not whether or not a baby is wanted but whether or not the baby was willed. The choice or consent to have intercourse is the implicit consent to bear children by divine fiat (i.e., God’s way of continuing the generations). The woman is not a baby-making machine, but she has by nature a baby-making body. Only one woman can bear a particular child, and her tie to that child is personal and her bonding virtually unbreakable. In the rearing of that child, she has the opportunity to impart within the privacy of her family circle her own values to the child.(5) To refuse that procreative role and to throw upon society that nurturing responsibility is to abdicate her highest calling and greatest usefulness to the Creator and to His created order. Women are called upon to make sacrifices; they are challenged to live selflessly. These sacrifices and a selfless life are essential for the continuation of the generations. Women cannot shun this greatest responsibility of maternity without endangering all of civilization.
Unfortunately, individualism, springing out of a postmodern culture, has driven parents inward to seek only personal goals and to be manipulated by selfish whims. Materialism has captured their hearts so that things are more important than children. This self-centered ideology allows many socially approved and legitimate right ways of doing things, and the right way is to be determined merely by personal choice or community consensus.
In Scripture, godly women were not concerned with whether or not they would receive discrimination in the marketplace but rather with whether or not their wombs were barren. Childlessness was looked upon as an affliction, an indication of worthlessness and insignificance (Gen. 29:32; 30:1). Women were not pining away, pleading with the Almighty that they might be priests or prophets. They were praying for the privilege of bearing a child. In Israel every Jewish mother hoped to become the mother of the Messiah, whose coming had been promised to Eve, the first mother (Gen. 3:15). Children were considered a direct gift from God (Gen. 4:1; 16:2; 17:19; 29:31; 30:22; Ruth 4:13). God has always been actively involved in fashioning the child in the womb (Ps. 139:13-18).
Hannah was brokenhearted over her childlessness (1 Sam. 1:1--2:1). Feeling forsaken of God, she was prompted by her maternal instinct to agonizing prayer for a child, with her heart’s burning intent to give the boy back to God. Hannah deemed nurturing a child the highest service. This motivation was not borne out of slavery to procreative responsibility. Hannah was a brilliant and spiritually sensitive woman, as is shown in her poetic psalm (1 Sam. 2:1-10). In conversations with her husband and Eli the priest, she was treated as an equal (1 Sam. 1:21-23). The decision of when to go to Shiloh was left entirely with Hannah (1 Sam. 1:23), and she was given the privilege of naming her son (1 Sam. 1:20, 22). Hannah was her own woman, but for her this meant committing herself to the purposes of God, and she knew no higher purpose than being a wife and mother.
Hannah went from brokenhearted barrenness to extraordinarily privileged maternity. Although Hannah’s psalm of thanksgiving marked her as a poetess and prophetess with a spiritual lyric equal to any psalm and full of a theological truth, and although her words became the basis for Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Hannah did not reckon her literary acclaim equal to the task of nurturing her child. Her greatest reward was not the birth of a son, however, but the joy she experienced through giving her son, who perhaps beyond all men had power with and from God, back to God(1 Sam. 1:27; 3:19-20). For mothers, moments of unequaled joy are coupled with difficulty and time-consuming work. Children are not things to be acquired, used according to your time and schedule, showcased for your personal satisfaction, and then put aside to facilitate personal convenience and personal ambition. That the woman who bears and nurses the baby should care for the young and for the dwelling in which the young live is both practical and consistent with the basic qualities that nature has given male and female.
Limiting families was not a theme of the Old Testament. A married man and woman in the Old Testament world could limit their reproductive capacity. Abortion, sterilization, and infanticide were strictly forbidden (Lev. 18:21; 20:2). Continence (self-restraint from yielding to impulse or desire, i.e., sexual intercourse) and contraception by withdrawal (coitus interruptus) are mentioned.(6) The Old Testament forbade infanticide (Lev. 18:21; 20:2). Continence was appropriate during ritual uncleanness that came with menstruation (Lev. 15:19-28; 18:19; 20:18) and childbirth (Lev. 12:1-8). Whether or not this ceremonial law contributed in some way to spacing children is a subject that needs more research.
The contraceptive method of withdrawal is mentioned in the Bible, as in the case of Onan (Gen. 38:8-10). The context clearly indicates that Onan sinned because he refused to honor his levirate duty to provide for his brother’s widow and more importantly to preserve the name of his deceased and childless brother (Deut. 25:5-10). The emission of semen apart from coitus was not regarded in itself as a sinful act. Although the Old Testament prohibits infanticide and sterilization as means of avoiding pregnancy, the example of Onan would suggest that contraception (i.e., withdrawal) is not absolutely prohibited since the condemnation of Onan was based on the attitude of his heart rather than the act itself. Nevertheless, nowhere in the Old Testament does God regard children with contempt or treat the bearing of children as a common thing; nor is contraception mandated or encouraged.
The emergence of inexpensive, effective birth-control measures, not to mention widespread abortion, has cut the size of average families. Women have always been considered as carrying the primary responsibility for childbearing and rearing, or as some would say, for human reproduction. Some feel that this role has been thrust on women not only because of their biological makeup but also because of cultural conditioning.
Women in this generation are giving less and less of their time to childbearing and rearing; marriage is being delayed to allow career preparation and pursuit. Motherhood has become as mechanical and insignificant as any other household task and is just as quickly farmed out to othersâ€”even the carrying of the child in the womb is assigned to a surrogate womb through in vitro fertilization. Some women consider an embryo in the womb as personal property to be accepted or rejected according to personal preference. Women who insist on personal sexual freedom will also want to choose whether or not they assume the responsibility of motherhood.
Women are infertile most of the time during the reproductive years of their lives. Conception can occur only during a few days of the menstrual cycle.(7) Natural Family Planning is a general term referring to a thoughtful and scientific approach based on the fact that during each menstrual cycle a woman becomes fertile and then naturally infertile and that there are physical signs to indicate these fertile and infertile times. It is not a reference to the old calendar “rhythm” method based on biological averages.
Various methods have been developed to help women and men determine in a highly accurate and reliable way the fertile and infertile times of a woman’s menstrual cycle. This information can be used to achieve or avoid pregnancy. A woman learns to work with her body, its natural ebbs and flows of fertility and infertility. Then a man and woman learn to appreciate their fertility as a gift from God to them as a couple. NFP is safe and healthy. No foreign substances are introduced into the body. A couple must increase their communication and learn to better understand their own bodies. In the process they develop greater intimacy, sharing, and spiritual bonding in their relationship. Although 40% of the couples practicing NFP achieve pregnancy within one year through teaching and charting the body’s flow, at the same time evidence also shows that NFP, when correctly understood and applied, is 97-98% effective in avoiding pregnancy when that is a couple’s choice.
Someone has suggested that a couple must weigh the increased “risk” of having a child--a gift God calls a blessing--against the possibility of killing a childâ€”an act God calls an abomination, whether in or out of the womb. God’s gifts are not always timed according to your preferences and convenience. Some short-sighted mothers and fathers decide that the family or baby or the world would be better off if conception or birth does not occur. They refuse the grace God offers to fulfill His challenges and validate His promises (Mk. 10:27).
Perhaps the “worst case” scenario for a couple not taking the Pill would be conceiving and giving birth to an unplanned child. Can a couple be blessed through an unplanned child? Is an unplanned child an “accident” or a “precious gift from God”? If a child is unplanned by parents, does that mean the child is not part of God’s plan? Although husbands and wives may think they “have accidents” or “make mistakes,” God does not make a mistake. Not only does God create a new human being by design, but He offers to parents the opportunity to love selflessly and to live in genuine obedience to Him by accepting their procreative responsibilities.
A Marquette University brochure quotes some couples who have used NFP effectively and experienced satisfaction in their marriages as a result:
The latter testimony is a reminder of the creativity often lost or ignored by a couple in developing their intimacy during a woman’s period of fertility. Experts are clear that Fertility Awareness, without chemicals or devices, works as a contraceptive only if, during a wife’s fertile phase, she chooses either to postpone intercourse or use a barrier method (all of which methods do have a failure rate). Statistically Fertility Awareness is most effective if a couple chooses to abstain during the fertile phase. The length of a woman’s fertility is totally dependent on the man’s fertility, which emphasizes again that this process is a couple journey. Fertility is dependent upon the viability of both sperm and egg. The only reason a woman is fertile for longer than 24-48 hours is because the man’s sperm can live up to five days. When Fertility Awareness is used for birth control, typically abstinence or a barrier method of contraception is required for 9-10 days, which includes a significant safety margin on both sides of the woman’s fertile phrase.(8)
The success of sexual intimacy should not be based on sexual performance but on the quality of genuine affection that permeates the union. Relieving oneself of responsibility for sexual behavior pushes this beautiful intimacy to mere self-gratification and destroys the pleasure for which coitus was designed. There is most decidedly more to marriage than sex, and there is more to sex than procreation and personal pleasure.(9) True intimacy cannot be achieved by an individual on his own. By nature of definition intimacy depends completely on interaction with another. Any time of jointly appointed abstinence by husband and wife presupposes mutual love and trust of, as well as confidence in, one another. Nowhere is a couple challenged as much to look beyond themselves, rising above personal desires, to consider another and ultimately to be faithful to the Creator’s design and mandate (Gen. 1:28). Husband and wife should be wrapped up in one another rather than each respectively wrapped up in himself.
Natural methods of birth control require the willingness to accept responsibility mutually and demand good communication between husband and wife. It goes without saying that natural family planning methods are only successful for couples who are married and in a committed relationship. Sharing the responsibility and coping with abstinence together helps each partner to be other-oriented. Maturity and stability is essential on the part of both spouses. Wives and husbands must have a capacity to postpone gratification and to delay the satisfaction of impulses. Yet it is also important to note that more affection, not less, is needed during abstinence. Certainly some of the finest qualities of character are introduced, i.e., self-restraint, discipline, and a sense of responsibility. (10)
Artificial Birth Control
Birth control pills use synthetic hormones to fool a woman’s body into thinking things are normal. Then a normal menstrual period is produced by withdrawing those hormones at just the right time but without producing an egg. However, if by chance an egg develops, even though it may be fertilized, there aren’t enough hormones present to prepare the uterus for the egg’s implantation.(11) Implantation always involves an already conceived human being and thus a contraceptive that prevents implantation is by definition an abortifacient. Essentially manufacturers of the Pill in its various forms ultimately admit that although the primary mechanism of the oral contraceptive is to inhibit ovulation, if that does not happen for whatever reasons, other alterations include changes in the cervical mucus. The latter action increases the difficulty of sperm entry into the uterus and thus produces “changes in the endometrium which reduce the likelihood of implantation.”(12)
Of the three mechanisms of birth control (inhibiting ovulation, thickening the cervical mucus to make it more difficult for sperm to travel to the egg, and shriveling the lining of the uterus so that it is unable or at least less able to facilitate the implantation of a fertilized egg), the first two are preventive and the third is abortive. In the latter case, the Pill prevents a woman’s body from creating the most hospitable environment for a child since the endometrium is deficient in both food (or glycogen) and oxygen, which means the new life may die because the child lacks nutrition and oxygen. If implantation is unsuccessful, the child is flushed out of the womb in a miscarriage.
The consumer advice from the manufacturers of the Pill do caution that pregnancy should be avoided in the first three months after stopping the use of oral contraceptives because the prolonged effect on the endometrium and the cervix can make a woman more susceptible to miscarriage. Her womb may need time to return to normal. Nearly all birth control devices, except the diaphragm and condom, operate between the time of conception and implantation. No evidence is forthcoming that would link the diaphragm and condom to abortion, although a woman should certainly investigate possible side-effects of anything she puts into her body.(13)
Undoubtedly there has been a conspiracy of silence on the part of the manufacturers of the oral contraceptive about its abortive effect. Christian physicians certainly do not want to believe that this simple-to-use and convenient contraceptive causes early abortions, and they may therefore resist the evidence. Instant gratification will often blind eyes to eternal consequences. For a physician to refuse to prescribe the Pill may mean he will lose patients to other doctors. Oral contraceptives are a multi-billion dollar world-wide industry. Evidence must be examined even when it goes against the grain of what you believe; rather than reading your position into the evidence, you must allow the evidence to determine your position, especially when that evidence is the Word of God.
Unfortunately, often political ideology is given greater importance than the health and safety of American women. For example, the Food and Drug Administration in December of 2003 recommended allowing “emergency contraceptives,” which could be used within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, to be sold over the counter without physician oversight or prescription. These pills would contain higher doses than what is prescribed for a woman on a long-term basis after a medical exam and under the supervision of a physician. Even smaller doses have risks: blurred vision, cramping, irregular menstrual bleeding, heart attack, stroke, high blood pressure, increased incidence of blood clots, pelvic inflammatory disease, ectopic pregnancy, infertility, and even breast and cervical cancer. As is true with other oral contraceptives, this drug can cause an abortion once fertilization has occurred.(14)
The hormones usually trick a woman’s body into believing that it is pregnant and thus come the expected side effects associated with the pill. However, if ovulation occurs despite this defensive action, secondary post-fertilization mechanisms then determine that the changed lining of the uterus will prevent the egg from being implanted and thus prevent clinically recognized pregnancy by inducing early “miscarriage” or abortion. This task is accomplished by simply thinning the uterine lining. Pharmaceutical companies tend to minimize this mechanism prompted by oral contraceptives or “hormonal methods” to keep pro-life women of conscience from rejecting their products as these women did with the IUD.(15)
A Student’s Story
The old adage goes, “A teacher by her pupils will be taught.” One of my pupils brought this issue to my attention. Before their marriage in 1999, this student and her husband studied and discussed the issue of birth control in general and prayed about what their personal practice should be. They became convinced that birth control was appropriate if two circumstances obtained:
This young couple read about different forms of birth control, including oral contraceptives (OCs), also known as the Pill, noting its two types: progesterone-only and progesterone/estrogen. They determined that the progesterone-only pill primarily functions as an abortificant, but the dual-hormone pill worked only to prevent conception. During her pre-wedding gynecological visit, the student requested a dual-hormone pill because of her belief in the sanctity of human life. Her doctor declared with confidence that this variation of the Pill would not endanger the baby, if pregnancy should occur unexpectedly.
During theological graduate studies, an ethics professor mentioned that all birth control pills functioned as abortificants. Although not agreeing with the professor’s argument concerning contraception in general, this couple was concerned about even the possibility that the professor could be right about the Pill. They carefully studied all of the fine print regarding its medicinal functions on the birth control packaging. The pill’s function was explained completely in terms of preventing conception and even stated that the Pill would not cause harm to fetal life. They trusted the information.
Six months later, an information-sheet arrived unexpectedly with the oral contraceptives from the mail-order pharmaceutical company. The sheet explained that the Pill works to prevent pregnancy three ways:
This third function had not been mentioned in any of the literature provided by the company that manufactured the Pill. The implications were that the Pill not only worked to prevent conception but also worked to terminate any conception that might occur.
This young wife began researching, a little skeptical at first. She studiously avoided information sources that seemed fanatical or lacking in medical basis. However, after research on the internet, in pharmaceutical textbooks (drug functions/indications), etc., she confirmed that the information provided by the pharmaceutical company was correct. While progesterone-only pills primarily function to prevent implantation after conception, the dual-hormone pills secondarily function in this way.
Are Oral Contraceptives Abortificants?
There seems to be little question, medically, about whether or not oral contraceptives cause a thinning of the endometrium or uterine lining. Most women who use the pill notice the visible results of this as their menstrual period lessens in volume, shortens in length, or disappears altogether. Few physicians would question whether or not a thinned or absent endometrium would discourage or prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. Hormonal changes that take place immediately after conception do cause the endometrium to thicken. However, regardless of post-conception changes, the condition of the endometrium before conception will effect implantation, which is why a thinned uterine lining is considered to be a “contraceptive” benefit of the birth control pill.
Dual-hormone oral contraceptives primarily function to prevent conception. Secondarily, however, they do work to prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg that breaks through in the ovulation process. Birth control pills are considered to be 99% effective, including the prevention of ovulation, the prevention of fertilization, and the prevention of the implantation of a fertilized egg. Little research has been done to determine what percentage of the time ovulation and conception are prevented and what percentage of time implantation, i.e., medically-induced miscarriage or abortion, is prevented. Even women who are consistent and regular in their pill-taking ovulate a small percentage of the time. A woman who uses dual-hormone oral contraceptives very consistently could experience a “medically-induced miscarriage” at least once every 2-3 years.
While taking an oral contraceptive is certainly not equal to purposely getting an abortion, the ethical considerations are similar. One function of oral contraceptives is to help prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. If life begins at conception, this function of the Pill is not contraceptive but abortive. Although the percentage of times the Pill actually function this way may be comparatively low (1 - 10 %), it is one of the designed functions. Many women who take oral contraceptives do not desire to have an abortion. However, a woman’s choice to use the Pill does introduce the possibility of this occurrence.
Need for Informed Decision-Making
Information concerning the post-conception function of the pill is often not provided to women by their doctors or by the manufacturers or distributors of birth control pills. This issue has also been largely overlooked by the mainstream Christian community and popular Christian ethicists. One cannot know the reasons for this disinformation. However, one can be certain that each woman should have the right to be fully informed concerning any medication she is advised to take, especially those involving such ethical considerations. If a woman chooses to use oral contraceptives, she should have full knowledge of each medical function of the Pill.
For a Christian woman, this decision should be well-informed because of its importance concerning the sanctity of human life. Is the use of oral contraceptives truly compatible with a pro-life stance? For this information to be hidden from a woman suggests a disrespect for her intelligence, indicates a disregard for her moral convictions, and inhibits her ability to weigh the evidence and make her own choice. A woman dare not excuse what is comfortable, convenient, natural, or widely accepted by simply saying that she “feels at peace.” Every woman must take responsibility before God for her own choices, and she would be wise to carefully weigh her decisions against the backdrop of Scripture, depending upon the Holy Spirit to guide her in light of what God has objectively said in His written Word rather than merely what she subjectively feels apart from the moorings of moral and spiritual certainties. There are times when medical decisions are very difficult, and human life may be jeopardized no matter what the choice. However, the decision of whether or not to use the Pill usually revolves around the issue of convenience. Is mere convenience a good enough reason to take a drug that may terminate human life, no matter how low the risk is?
The student and her husband decided to discontinue use of the pill. Although they had originally tried to make an informed decision and did not consciously choose to take a medication that might harm unborn life, this wife struggled for a time with guilt concerning three years of using the Pill. She also felt resentment toward the doctors, the pharmaceutical companies, and even leading Christian ethicists who did not make this information available.
I do not feel that it is my responsibility to convince people not to use the Pill. However, I do want to provide other women with the tools necessary to make an informed decision rather than one based on disinformation or ignorance. The moral issues surrounding use of the Pill are difficult and are noticeably more “gray” than many issues concerning the sanctity of human life. In matters of conscience, one must allow others grace to make their own decisions before God.
How does one reconcile liberty and license? Is genuine liberty merely doing what one wants to do and not doing what one doesn’t want to do? Some seem to think so. However, God has a completely different idea. His challenge is for you to do what you ought to doâ€”what He meant for you to do. Although I am created in God’s image, I am not God! His liberty is predicated upon my obedience; my freedom in His order must be sanctified by discipline according to His boundaries.
There has never been any question that one has the power to choose--even to choose to disobey. Everyone is capable of doing many things that he is not supposed to do. Yet one is clear that the ability to do a thing is not a command nor even a permission to do it.
At the heart of the whole issue of liberty is the matter of personal choice. You always have choices, and the right choice is not always the easy choice or the painless choice, but it should be the faithful choice. To go, do, see, and have what you want and reject what you do not want; to determine the timing of God’s blessings and the kind of blessings you would accept; to demand individual rights--selfishness rather than selflessness--the price of this freedom is too great. The one who chooses faithfully believes in a God who not only controls the big things but the little things as well.
Conclusion: A Point of Personal Privilege
I came face to face with the importance of life within the womb and more specifically to my own maternity when I was 20 years of age. My husband and I had been married a year, and we were ready to begin our senior year at the University. Our lives were planned. We intended to have a family--after our education was complete.
Despite careful planning and calculated precautions (including an oral contraceptive taken exactly as directed), I became pregnant as I began my senior year. I was frustrated and even annoyed at the inconvenience and the complications this unexpected pregnancy would mean, but abortion never entered my mind. I may have viewed my unwanted condition as my entry to martyrdom, but the taking or rejecting of a life in the womb was never an option!
Within several months, I began miscarrying. Suddenly, the unwanted life became a very-much-wanted baby. I willingly confined myself to bed, knowing that I could well lose my studies in Greek and jeopardize my gradepoint average. Several weeks passed, and one day while at home alone in great pain, I lost my baby--not a zygote, embryo, or fetus--but my baby--in the earliest stage of development but already bonded to my heart. That was my first lesson in the sanctity of life. In bitterness of soul, I vowed never again to reject--even in my thoughts--life offered by God!
More months passed, and graduation came. We prepared to move to New Orleans to attend seminary. In a check-up before moving, my doctor discovered a tumor. Because of my youth, he decided to wait a few months before performing surgery. On the eve of the surgery on my reproductive organs, I signed a paper giving up my fertility--again with bitterness of soul and great repentance for ever rejecting what once God had so graciously offered. The tumor was benign, but its location required the doctor to remove a portion of both ovaries. He indicated that there was very little chance I would ever conceive a child. My second lesson in the sanctity of life was complete!
The years passed, and I poured myself into the lives of young people in our church, especially one whom I took into our home to rear during her teen years. Finally, after I had given up the hope of having children of my own, I unexpectedly became pregnant, beginning another joyous lesson in the sanctity of life. I was quite ill during those months and distraught because of a distant and insensitive doctor. I made every effort to change physicians but to no avail. The time for delivery came; I went through a hard and lengthy labor. My doctor left the hospital briefly. When he returned and checked me, the baby had jerked his umbilical cord loose and, of course, was then without oxygen in a breech position. The doctor suggested to my husband that the baby was probably dead and at the very least brain-damaged. He suggested that they cautiously prep me for surgery and remove the baby, giving greater consideration for my condition. Fortunately, my husband was thinking quickly enough to tell the doctor to make every effort to save the baby. The doctor administered the spinal himself and in 14 minutes delivered our son alive and normal and a miracle of life--completing my third lesson on the sanctity of life.
Several years later I became unexpectedly pregnant a second time, conceiving shortly after I stopped breastfeeding my first child. This was an easy pregnancy with a carefully planned delivery date via C-section. All went well, my parents returned home, my husband went to our apartment to get some sleep. Before he could get back to the hospital the next morning, a nurse came in empty-handed at the appointed hour for me to nurse my baby. Upon my inquiry, she informed me that my baby was dying because of developing Hylane Membrane Disease during the hours following her delivery. Again the bitterness of soul came, and I anguished for some hours before releasing to the Heavenly Father the fate of my tiny daughter. On a Sunday evening with people praying all across the country, suddenly our baby daughter turned from the path of death to the way of life. This was my fourth lesson in the sanctity of life. I needed no other.
God had given two children and, in a sense, miraculously given each of them to me twice. My husband and I have never had nor ever will have a greater privilege than linking hands with the Creator God to create new life and then to nurture that life in the womb and in the world, rearing up a young man and a young woman who will be a part of the generation to come. And to think that I could have lost it all by falling prey to the expression of idolatry in this age. The interruption to education, the uncertainty of financial burden, the willful desire to control my own body and lifestyle and timing--all these factors weighed upon me as I sought to set my own timetable for conception.
The habits and practices of cultures or society are often based on convenience or personal whim or whatever is currently popular or even the best rationale of natural man. None of these is adequate for providing a secure foundation for ethical choices. The Bible records the beginning of the family; history had traced its pivotal role in society. God grant that we in this enlightened age do not “drop the ball” but rather hold to the ageless pattern of leaving life and death in the worthy hands of the Creator God.
(1) John Warwick Montgomery, “The Christian View of the Fetus,” in Birth Control and the Christian, ed. by Walter Spitzer and Carlyle Saylor (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1969), 81.
(2) Ibid., 70.
(3) Philip Edgcumbe Hughes, “Control of Human Life,” in Birth Control and the Christian, ed. by Walter Spitzer and Carlyle Saylor (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1969), 127.
(4) Ibid., 141.
(5) See George Gilder, Men and Marriage (Gretna, LA: Pelican Publishing Co., 1986).
(6) Bruce K. Waltke, “Old Testament Texts Bearing on the Problem of the Control of Human Reproduction,” in Birth Control and the Christian, ed. by Walter Spitzer and Carlyle Saylor (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, 1969), 9.
(7) Ingrid Trobisch and Elisabeth Roetzer, An Experience of Love: Understanding Natural Family Planning (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1981), 13.
(8) Toni Weschler, Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control and Pregnancy Achievement (New York: Perennial, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 1995), 111.
(9) Nona Aguilar, The New No-Pill, No-Risk Birth Control (New York: MacMillan, 1986), 186-187.
(10) Ibid., 180-186, 190.
(11) R. R. McGregor, Herbal Birth Control: A Brief History with Ancient and Modern Herbal Recipes (Weatherford, OK: Cloud Chief Publishing, 1993), 42-43.
(12) The Physician’s Desk Reference (1995), 1775.
(13) See information on non-abortive contraceptives at http://www.epigee.org/guide.
(14) Press Release from Focus on the Family, December 17, 2003.