Recently, I had the unique opportunity to give a brief talk on the work of FLI to a group of Protestants. So I decided to focus on the topic of contraception since this is what makes FLI unique and is also something not often spoken of in Protestant circles. I posed a series of questions to the audience, asking them to go away and spend some time thinking and praying about God’s plan for marriage.
What does God really think about contraception?
How different would our pro-life efforts be if Christians stopped contracepting?
Can we selfish human beings be trusted to decide how many children God wants us to have?
Although not everyone agreed with my sentiments, quite a few women came up to me afterwards to thank me for my talk and encouraged me to keep sharing this message. Interestingly, Paul Hanrahan had a similar experience when speaking on contraception to Protestants at a Festival of Light event. So why aren’t more Christians vocal about married couples being open to life?
It wasn’t always this way
Something that seems lost on many contemporary Protestants is the disdain for contraception shown by their ancestors historically. In fact, until less than a hundred years ago, all Christians believed that contraception was immoral: Luther, Wesley and at least some Calvinists are on record as condemning contraception. The event that changed this united front was the 1930 Lambeth Conference, held by the Anglican Church in Lambeth, England. It was this Council that for the first time allowed Anglican couples to ‘follow their consciences’ and decide how many children to have.
But only ten years earlier, the Anglican bishops conference had completely rejected birth control, emphatically warning “against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception” and predicting the “grave dangers – physical, moral and religious” of contraception, as well as “the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race.”
Around forty bishops abstained from voting on the infamous Resolution 15 of the 1930 Conference. This resolution, which gave permission for the use of contraception within marriage, albeit subject to a few limitations, passed by 193 votes to 67. One dissenting bishop, Charles Gore, Bishop of Oxford, issued a strong statement which included the following powerful words:
“But what I wish to say emphatically is that for one who is living a life surrendered to Christ and in the power of His risen life, I am absolutely convinced that no question of using contraceptives will ever arise. He gives one the power of abstinence and self-control, and other methods do indeed appear as a deadly sin and a hateful offence to His purity and that of His Mother; and I cannot believe that a life guided by the Holy Spirit will ever be led to find a ‘grave moral reason’ for using appliances.”
Even other faiths, such as Moslems, Orthodox Jews, Tao Buddhists and some Hindus also formally condemn contraception, with Gandhi promoting abstinence instead of birth control.
Natural law arguments also support this stance, as this article says so beautifully:
The conjugal union of husband and wife—marriage—is one bedrock human good, one basic form of love. By its nature, it is deepened by the bearing and rearing of new people. But to thwart what so crowns a marriage is to choose against this good itself, against marital love. And choosing against a basic good or form of love is a sin.
Contraception and Abortion
So it stands to reason that the mentality which causes couples to frustrate God’s plan for children is just a step away from the mentality which leads couples to kill babies. Both positions are on a continuum which seeks to reject children who come along at the wrong time.
But it would seem that the whole issue of contraception is swept under the carpet by most pro-life organisations. When campaigning in an age of slogans, memes and tribal loyalties, it can be far easier to condemn the act of abortion than to be challenged to change ones’ own lifestyle.
FLI has always made the connection between contraception and abortion, something which makes it quite different from most other pro-life organisations. In fact, it was over this very issue that our organisation under its original name, Australian Catholic Pro-Life Association parted ways with Right to Life many years ago: Right to Life did not and still does not broach the subject of contraception. Although RTL obviously does good work in many areas, their failure and that of many other organisations to address the problem of contraception needlessly undermine our position. This can be shown by considering how large swathes of pro-lifers repeat exactly the same mantras as the pro-abortion lobby.
Here are some common excuses couples make for committing an abortion:
“We can’t handle any more children.”
“We can’t afford another child.”
“We aren’t ready for children; we have our studies to complete.”
“We want to be able to give our small family the best things in life. They’ll miss out if we have more children.”
They are exactly the same reasons why many Christians contracept!
By contrast, what do we say to a woman contemplating abortion?
“Children are a blessing from the Lord.”
“You can always reduce your expenses to accommodate this child.”
“A baby doesn’t have to stop you from studying.”
“Children always bring joy – that is much more important than material possessions.”
Why is it that Christians who contracept fail to apply these questions to themselves?
The Bible says …?
Some claim that because the Bible doesn’t specifically mention contraception, then it must be acceptable to God. They say that although Scripture tells us that we may not kill, there is no Scripture verse which clearly condemns contraception. Apparently God killing Onan for ‘spilling his seed’ [Gen 38:9] is not quite clear enough for those who are committed to contracepting!
But in reality, a dearth of Scriptural evidence shows the profound respect which the Israelites and early Christians had for human life. The countless references to the great value of children and purity within marriage attest to God’s desire for couples to be open to life at all times.
So given the suspicion that Christians should obviously have for contraception, it always shocks anew to consider how many pro-life Protestants are completely on board with birth control. (This is, of course, in addition to the shame of our roughly 80% of Catholics who contracept.)
Ask the experts: the abortion giants
If there is any doubt left about the morality or otherwise of artificial birth control, the sceptical Christian can always look back to the origins of two of the largest abortion operations in the world, Marie Stopes International and Planned Parenthood. Both organisations were founded by women who pioneered the use of birth control.
Margaret Sanger opened America’s first birth control clinic in 1916 and created the American Birth Control League in 1921. She concentrated on providing contraception to poor black women, and provided therapeutic abortions from the 1930’s. In her book, Women and the New Race, under the chapter, The Wickedness of Creating Large Families, Sanger wrote that “The most merciful thing that the large family does to one of its infant members is to kill it.”
Her organisations eventually became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The Family Planning Association of Australia was established as an affiliate organisation of International Planned Parenthood with the original name being “The Racial Hygiene Society” – a clearly eugenic organisation which changed its name in 1963 to its current designation.
What Sanger did for the US, Marie Stopes did for Britain. Stopes opened the first birth control clinic there and wrote and lectured extensively about contraception, especially targeting the working class ‘reckless breeders’. Stopes even managed to influence the Anglican bishops and took credit for persuading them to reverse their stance on contraception at the Lambeth Council.
Given their distaste for the poor, it may come as no surprise to learn that both Stopes and Sanger were eugenicists.Their legacy to the world is two extremely successful baby-killing franchises backed by legal, taxpayer-funded abortion.
Once someone learns the truth about abortion, usually through the use of abortion victim imagery, ultrasound or medical diagrams, it is quite easy for them to accept that this procedure is immoral, since it obviously involves the killing of a baby. However, it is far more difficult to convince people that avoiding babies through the use of artificial contraception is also immoral. With so many pro-life organisations either ignoring contraception or actually endorsing it, this might be the right time for committed Catholics to renew the campaign against contraception as we play our part in the war on nascent human life.
This article first appeared at Family Life International