SEX, ABORTION, BIRTH CONTROL, AND CHRISTIANITY
by Monnica Terwilliger
The following article is excerpted from the Journal of he Feminism and Nonviolence Studies Association. * It is written from an Evangelical Christian perspective and is intended for such audiences, as it gives ethical deliberation to the words of the Christian Bible and to the example and teachings of Christ. This article does not intend to give advice or religious instruction to those of differing faiths.
Sex as a Part of Marriage
Sexual intercourse is intended as a mutual expression of love.
Hand in hand with the gift of marriage is God's gift of sex. It doesn't take an anthropologist to appreciate the profound effect this activity has had on every civilization that ever existed. It is inexorably linked with love, babies, religion, and the legal system. For any woman who has ever been sexually harassed, raped, molested, or abandoned while pregnant, the idea of sex as God's gift probably seems like a cruel joke. But with all great gifts comes great responsibility, and sex is no exception. God didn't just say, "here's sex, have fun and good luck." He gave us guidelines. Sex is an expression of love through physical, emotional and spiritual oneness. It is reserved for marriage only, in part because it is the adhesive that bonds two people together. By Biblical rule, husbands and wives are neither to force themselves on each other, nor are they to deprive each other of sex, except for a short time by mutual consent. (20) Sexual activity outside of marriage is strictly forbidden. The following passage from the Old Testament book of Proverbs illustrates several elements of the sexual covenant, including pleasure and exclusivity.
Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer--may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love. (21)
Interestingly, following God's plan for sex would eliminate virtually all rape, prostitution, adultery, sexually transmitted disease, most abortions, and countless failed marriages. The Old Testament book Song of Songs, which may have been authored by a woman, focuses further on the sensual elements of love, largely from a feminine perspective. (22) That a whole book of the Bible is dedicated to the description of a passionate relationship indicates that erotic love is intended to be a normal part of married Christian life. Sadly, many Christian sects throughout the ages have attempted to devalue the pleasure aspect of sex, leaving behind a legacy of shame in the hearts of many believers. (23)
But sex is not just to give married couples something fun to do at night or even to improve relationships; its dual and complementary purpose is to allow us to participate in the creative process. Like God Himself, we too can be parents. Every couple could experience the joys and sorrows of parenthood. We know love we could never otherwise imagine but also deep pain when our children fail in some way or do not meet our expectations. We would know exactly how God felt when Adam and Eve left the garden. Parenthood is a gift that draws us out of ourselves in a mysterious way. Children are, in fact, an even greater gift than sex. Although the pain we feel when giving birth is counted as part of the curse of the fall, bringing children into the world is truly redemptive. They are our most important natural resource and our hope for the future. When we die, they are the only part of us that continues on this earth. And like all humans, even the smallest child is created in the image of God.
Abortion harms women physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Given the understanding that human life begins at conception, taking the life of an unborn child is no different from the related atrocity of infanticide. As far back as the second century, both practices have been condemned by the Church. (24) Abortion was so unthinkable among Hebrews that no special mention of it was necessary in the Old Testament criminal code. (25) God said "You shall not murder," and that was enough. (26) Abortion makes the womb a place of death instead of life. The ability to give life should be celebrated as a gift, never to be taken for granted. It is the very thing that separates women from men. Christians believe it is also the gift God gave women to save humanity. When one generation has failed, the next has a chance to do better. And most importantly, all were given the opportunity for salvation through the birth of Christ--Mary's choice to give life in the face of adversity.
Over the past few decades, abortion rights have been the cornerstone of the feminist agenda, yet legalized abortion has never empowered women. Instead abortion has cheapened the value of life by dehumanizing the unborn child. We have had to use words like fetus, conceptus, or POC (products of conception) to feel better about the elective extermination of our unborn children. Some feminists argue that the unborn child is not a person because it cannot live apart from the mother. We find this reasoning particularly insulting. What gives us the right to take the life of another just because he or she is small, dependent, and defenseless--aren't we all so in the eyes of God? The weakest among us are the ones most in need of protection.
In reality abortion has acted like a bandaid to hide the fallout of our society's failed value system--a system whereby a pregnant woman is seen as a problem to be fixed instead of a participant in the miracle of life. We were told that women need abortion as a way to compete in today's world. If we have to kill our children to make a living, what kind of living is that? The notion that a woman cannot have a baby and go to college, or cannot have a baby and be a CEO, or cannot have a baby and be the person she is supposed to be--is untrue and should not be entertained. True freedom is about having choices--real choices that do not force a person to choose between her baby and God's plan for her life. How much more empowered are we when we reject abortion as a shortcut to career goals and insist our children are not disposable?
Hunter Tylo, an actress and a Christian, recently waged this battle when she was fired from the popular television show Melrose Place for becoming pregnant.(27) According to one news report:
Defense attorneys say Spelling had the right to fire Tylo because the actress could not convincingly play the planned role of a "vixen" and "seductress" on the show while pregnant. During Friday's testimony, Tylo wiped tears from her eyes as she told jurors she sued Spelling because she was so distraught over her dismissal that she thought of ending the pregnancy. "For a brief moment I'm ashamed of, I considered having an abortion," she said. "I considered it, and I'm ashamed because I don't believe in it. I look at my daughter walking now and I'm ashamed. I don't ever want to see a woman put in that position again," she added. Tylo, 34, said she also felt the need to sue because her family had been treated "like a piece of dirt on the bottom of a shoe" by the producers. Asked by her attorney if she worried about the repercussions of suing Spelling-one of the most powerful men in Hollywood-Tylo answered that she did. (28)
A producer of the show was quoted as saying, "Why doesn't she just go out and get an abortion? Then she can work"--underscoring the callousness of thought regarding Tylo's unborn baby as compared to her "proper" career aspirations. (29) In the court room, the defense lawyer questioned Tylo's motives, accused her of faking tears, and berated her for calling herself a Christian. Because she dared to stand up for her faith and her rights under California state law, Tylo paved the way for all working women in similar circumstances. She was awarded $4.9 million dollars for pregnancy discrimination, almost double the amount originally requested. She later said, "I know a lot of actresses who are afraid to announce that they are thinking about having children because they are afraid of being written out or written down, or whatever... I hope [this case] gives other actresses confidence to know producers are not going to have that ground to stand on anymore." (30)
This case also provides a clear example of how abortion on demand has actually served men rather than women. Employers do not want to pay for maternity leave just as Hollywood does not want to bother working around a female star's bulging belly, regardless of legal obligation. Organizations like Playboy have always been big supporters of abortion rights. The man of yesteryear escaped to the army if he sowed a few too many wild oats; nowadays he pays for an abortion and pats himself on the back for being so responsible. It's the woman who is left with a scarred uterus, breast cancer, and post-traumatic stress disorder. (31,32)
Another example comes from a student at a Christian college, who writes the following about her struggle:
I wasn't planning on becoming pregnant. I was [pregnant] before and had an abortion, the biggest mistake. It haunts me constantly. I don't want to repeat the past this time, but I am so scared of how my mother will react. I know I can work through it, I am just really scared and unsure of the future. If I go through with it, adoption is out of the question; I want to keep it. My ex-boyfriend doesn't want to have it, he says we don't have the money or responsibility to care for it. At the moment, I think an abortion would be the best route, but when I think of how it is a living thing and how I would be murdering innocence I cry. I am really depressed. I need help in this. My ex doesn't seem to want to see any other point of view, and I want to make a good decision. I need possible ways I could still go to school and keep the child without the help of my ex. [Do you have] any info regarding an abortion at my time? How to tell my mother, should I tell her I was raped?(33)
How pitiful is our society still when the prospect of being pregnant is so frightening that a woman feels the need to lie about being raped or to take the life of her child, whom she wants very much. I have been a crisis pregnancy counselor more than five years, and recently I have started counseling women, such as the one above, over the Internet. I have spoken to more women than I can count about their reproductive histories. Never have I heard a woman talk about how terrific her abortion was. The occasional woman is strangely detached, but usually she talks about pressure from her boyfriend, fear of her family, depression and nightmares, and how she does not want to go that route again. I have met with several women who almost bled to death after their supposedly safe, legal abortions. I have spoken to a few who were so distressed about choosing abortion they had become suicidal. A woman knows what science has known for decades, even if she can't admit it to herself-that at the moment of conception a new life has been entrusted to her care. She may have a million justifications for an abortion, but inside she knows she has killed a living being. One woman wrote the following:
I am 18 years old and had an abortion when I was eight weeks pregnant. I had no one to turn to, no one to talk to. I wanted to have that baby badly, but my family and my boyfriend's family didn't. In my mind, I struggled with the thought that even if this baby is not yet born, nobody wanted it... But to me, it is not the baby's fault. It is innocent. Still, I went through with the abortion and now I cannot seem to forgive myself for what I have done. I wish I just died with that child. I am seeing a psychiatrist right now, and am hoping to feel better about myself, though I know it would take a long time. I would carry this guilt for the rest of my life, wishing I could undo what had been done. (34)
Post-abortion depression, drug use, and relationship problems are all too common. Every abortion is coupled with profound spiritual repercussions, such as a sense of separation from God. Years ago, we had been told that legalized abortion would eliminate single parenthood, poverty, and child abuse; instead, all of these problems have increased over the past twenty-five years. Any woman who has had one knows that abortion is no solution. The founders of feminism in our country recognized this and vigorously opposed abortion, seeing it as a form of infanticide. Susan B. Anthony's own words seem to resonate with the lament of the young woman above.
No matter what the motive, love of ease, or a desire to save from suffering the unborn innocent, the woman is awfully guilty who commits the deed. It will burden her conscience in life, it will burden her soul in death; but oh, thrice guilty is he who drove her to the desperation which impelled her to the crime! (35)
Some feel that Christians are cruel in their opposition to abortion, unsympathetic to the pregnant woman caught in a difficult situation, but nothing could be further from the truth. For being apparently unfaithful, the Virgin Mary, probably a poor 16 year-old girl when impregnated, could have been rejected by her fianc», shamed by her family, or even killed. Nevertheless, when given the opportunity to bear and raise the Messiah, she said simply, "I am the Lord's servant."(36) It should be understood that Mary was not passive; rather, for a higher good, she actively chose to carry, bear, and raise a child that was not biologically her husband's. It was a difficult situation in which Mary's life, and later her baby's life, were both endangered. When King Herod heard news of the Messiah's birth, he ordered a mass execution of infants in an attempt to kill Christ before he could become a rival. But Mary had a powerful faith that God would make a way, and He did. The family, once poor, came into wealth by gifts of gold and spices from unexpected wise men; then the Holy Family escaped safely to Egypt, out of King Herod's reach. We encourage others in such a predicament to likewise put their trust in God that He will make a way, even though the road may be hard at times. As Mary's unplanned pregnancy redeemed all of humanity, the same can happen of an unplanned pregnancy today. I've seen it many times--a child seen as a horrible mistake suddenly becomes the most wonderful gift from God once abortion is ruled out.
But Christians are not merely saying, "Just have faith." James, the brother of Christ, rejects this type of hypocrisy, stating that "faith without deeds is dead."(37) Rather, Christians are aiding women through both independent and church-based crisis-pregnancy centers across the globe. These centers, staffed primarily by caring women on a volunteer basis, offer free pregnancy tests, support and friendship, education, post-abortion workshops, local resource listings, and sometimes even medical care. In the United States alone, over 3,500 organizations are actively helping women choose life.(38) These include crisis pregnancy centers, maternity homes, non-profit adoption services, hotlines, and post-abortion help centers. Anyone interested in providing women with real choices is encouraged to support abortion-alternative ministries. Many of those involved have had abortions and want to help provide other women with better options.(39) One woman writes the following about our crisis pregnancy center:
I am so happy to see a place like yours that helps women. I had a painful experience, an abortion at age 18 that I am still very sad about. My life is very different now--I have a 22-month old child, am married with another due in October. As I watch my daughter sleep, I hope she never goes through that experience [when she grows up]. I never realized how precious a tiny life is until I had her. I feel horrible for every woman that is alone and scared and wish I could reach out to all of them. My first pregnancy I had no support from the father-in fact I began to hate him. When I was pregnant with my daughter, every day I marveled at the tiny life inside, like I do now. My husband has felt both our daughter and this baby kicking, and it is such a special moment, one we treasure. I hope the women walking through your doors have the support of the father or boyfriend or husband. It makes such a big difference! I wish I had made a better choice-the choice of abstinence until I met him. I will always regret that abortion, and I love children more than ever. I will hopefully spend the rest of my life doing things that benefit children. Only if I make a difference in one hundred lives will I ever forgive myself for the loss of the one. God bless all the frightened women out there. We punish ourselves enough-we don't need to be punished by others. May we all find peace, and be good parents to the babies we keep. (40)
In the Bible, the first command ever given to woman and man was to "be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth." (41) A nation that grew, as did the Hebrews in the Old Testament, was termed blessed, while one that shrank was considered cursed. The mandate to be fruitful is still in effect among Christians. Christ's last command, as recorded in the book of Matthew, parallels the Lord's first command. Jesus says, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey in everything I have commanded you." (42)
Whether married or single, we are called to bear good fruit, creating disciples and passing on our faith to the next generation. Being fruitful and multiplying may mean adopting children with special needs and raising them well, being a foster parent to a teen in need, being a pastor and teaching the congregation, or being a missionary to people in remote places. The most common means of multiplying is still the old-fashioned way of giving birth, but the desire to space out children, or "family planning," has resulted in some misunderstanding of the duty of Christian couples.
When contraceptive devices first gained wide popularity in our country in the late nineteenth century, most Christian groups opposed them as "immoral" and "impure." But over time birth control gained widespread acceptance, and by the 1950s Protestant denominations made it a point of policy to leave the choice of contraception to the couple. (43) The Catholic Church, however, continues to prohibit all forms of contraception, except for natural methods under certain circumstances, and abstinence. (44) Practicing Catholics maintain it is wrong to thwart the attempt of our Creator at blessing a couple with an additional child.
The Scriptures state that "the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding" and in fact "my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge." (45) Therefore the Christian should be a technophile, embracing the knowledge provided by God to make our existence on this earth that much more bearable. Contraceptive science is no exception; like all technologies it can be used for good or evil. Ask any woman who has recently given birth--the limited ability we are afforded to plan our families is truly a blessing. On the other hand, forced sterilization of the poor or mandatory birth control is an abuse.
A small minority of Christians believe all applications of birth control, including natural methods, are wrong because they are an implicit rejection of children. But wanting two children as opposed to twenty simply means we want to allocate our time, money and energy productively. Having as many children as humanly possible is not usually realistic or even healthy. Some also blame the existence of birth control for increased promiscuity. Although there is probably a correlation, widespread misuse of birth control does not mean it is inherently evil. People have misused many good things--including airplanes, telephones, and even the Bible-and will continue to do so.
On the whole I do not see any moral difference between natural and artificial methods of contraception, and I believe Protestant churches made the correct decision when they allowed birth control methods which truly prevent conception. However, new technologies mean new responsibilities. The couple must choose a contraceptive method that works for both parties, especially the wife, who usually has the burden of any potential side effects as well as the physical consequences of contraceptive failure. Couples must include God in their decision of how and when to contracept. For the feminist this may seem strictly an issue of autonomy, but there are additional factors the Christian must consider. Our bodies are not our own-they belong to Christ-so God's will must be our primary consideration. (46) God might instruct a couple who did not plan on having any children to have them. A couple that planned on a big family may be infertile. If birth control fails, as it often does, the couple must accept the child as a gift from God, not a burden or mistake. It behooves all couples to have a good understanding of their bodies and birth control, even if they choose not to use it.
No methods are perfect, and some should not be used by Christians. While most Christian couples are interested in controlling fertility, many have concerns about certain birth-control methods, and with good reason. As Christians we maintain that life begins at conception, yet many of the chemicals we use to prevent pregnancy are also known to interrupt life in its earliest stages. Combined oral contraceptives (the pill), estrogen-free pills (the mini-pill), Depo-Provera (the shot), Norplant, and the IUD all prevent the implantation of an embryo after fertilization as one of several major mechanisms of action. (47) Expulsion of a developing human being is quite different from simply keeping sperm and egg apart (by inhibiting ovulation, for example).
This unfortunate fact is de-emphasized by pharmaceutical companies, who tend to explain only the contraceptive aspects of these drugs to interested individuals. (48) Women have the right to know how their methods of birth control work; we are not too dim to understand these things. Thinking women everywhere are looking for answers but are consistently fed half-truths by those who profit financially from such products. I recently received the following letter from a Christian woman grappling with these very issues:
I always knew I would never use an IUD because I was morally and religiously opposed to the idea of it. It was only recently that I read that the pill and all other chemical methods of birth control are also abortifacients. I don't currently use any of these methods, but I was on the pill for one year when I first got married and had planned to never use it again because of the unpleasant effects it had on my body and my fertility. Since I learned about the ill effects of most forms of birth control, I have begun searching for what I feel I am 'supposed to' use. (49)
Another woman echoes her:
In my years of taking the mini-pill no doctor or health professional has ever told me about the abortive aspect of the drug-this makes me angry. I think women are still only told about the "benefits" of the contraception and not the side effects. With a lack of available and objective information it is no wonder that we put our faith in them. I won't be any longer. I have two friends who recently had the three-month Depo-Provera injection done. When I asked them how it works neither could tell me. They could only say it is popular in Europe and women don't really need to menstruate! I will tell them to look [for more information] in the interests of their own self-education and self-preservation. (50)
Failing to properly explain the mechanism of these drugs and devices infringes on our right to informed consent. Yet no women's-rights organizations have dared to tackle this aspect of the issue for fear of weakening their position on abortion rights and birth-control advocacy.
Beyond the disturbing mechanisms employed by birth-control chemicals is the catalog of side effects, drug interactions, and health hazards that, I maintain, no male would endure. I regularly receive letters like the one below from a young woman:
I have never had acne problems until these shots. Now, I have severe acne on my chin, back and shoulders. The dermatologist can only control the acne with medication until the shot is out of my system. I will be starting on Accutane as of tomorrow. But for the last six months I have experienced severe pain and embarrassment due to the acne. How long does this shot take to get out of your system? It looks like it's about to start healing when it flares up again. Have you heard of anybody else with this problem? (51)
In addition, hormonal methods routinely cause depression, weight gain, and menstrual-cycle disturbances--if not complete cessation of periods.
Back in February I had an abortion and then in March I went on the shot. It is now September and I am still bleeding. I don't think there has been a week or even a day since February that I have not been on my period. I have told my doctor and all he says it that it will stop-all the questions that I read from other women on the shot complain of not having their period. I am concerned and would like to know if maybe there was something done wrong during my abortion to cause this massive bleeding or if it is a common side effect that many women experience along with me. (52)
These are considered normal side effects and of little concern to the medical community. "Serious" health hazards include stroke, heart attack, cancer, and pregnancy-any of which can be fatal. (53) We are told to put these risks in perspective-that we are much less likely to have a serious medical problem from the Pill than from, say, pregnancy, as if we have no right to complain. (54) The implication is that our feminine physiology is more dangerous than the problematic drugs and devices that injure us. Safer birth-control methods, like the condom, diaphragm, and sponge, tend to be about as effective as withdrawal. Due to method failures and user error, a typical contracepting woman has in any given year about a 25 percent chance of getting pregnant while employing these methods. (55) And natural family planning is rarely mentioned because few doctors are educated in its use and because it requires strict compliance. Other methods can also present problems in terms of compliance; in any given month about half of oral-contraceptive users will forget to take a pill, making pregnancy not unlikely. (56)
Like the rest of us, Christians are often left trying to sort through a myriad of poor birth-control options, with the added constraint of moral standards. As mentioned previously, the method of choice for the Catholic Church is natural family planning (NFP), an improved form of the rhythm method. Unlike other methods, NFP has no health risks, is completely natural and mutual, and costs next to nothing. If properly adhered to, NFP is as effective as the Pill. It is based on the knowledge that with a little effort a woman can determine exactly when she is fertile and can avoid sex at that time should she so choose. Many feminists support the use of this method because, in addition to its safety, it gives a woman more insight into her own body and therefore more power. It's also an excellent method for couples who may not have access to other methods or good medical care. However, NFP is not the best choice for every couple at all times. Many nursing women and women with irregular cycles or recurrent yeast infections will have trouble identifying patterns of fertility. Attempting NFP in these situations can mean few opportunities for couples to enjoy sexual relations, resulting in sexual frustration. New technologies are being developed to help couples identify fertility patterns. As of this writing, one European hand-held fertility computer is being tested by the US Food and Drug Administration. (57) However, this method is currently only for women with fairly regular cycles.
On the whole, women presently have about four different types of natural methods, as well as five different barrier methods, three types of IUDs, two types of implants, one injection-based method and two more in the works, and scores of oral-contraceptive brands and formulations. In fact, there is even an abortifacient pregnancy "vaccine" being developed that would cause a woman's own immune system to destroy her developing embryo. (58) However, men who want to take the responsibility of contraception are presently left with only the age-old condom and sterilization. More options for males would be a welcome change for everyone. One concerned man wrote the following:
I was just wondering if there's any type of birth-control pill or shot for men yet, and if not is there one in the near future? ÷ We've tried many options from Depo-Provera (NIGHTMARE!!!) to condoms (reduced the pleasure factor for both of us too much). Presently she is on a very low dosage of Estrogen pill, but even that is causing problems for her (depression and massive headaches). If there is anything more I could do, I'd really like to know. (59)
Most feminists realize that current birth-control technologies are not the panacea once imagined, and have called for aggressive research into better methods. (60) Most churches are reluctant even to discuss the issue. Meanwhile, many Christians face frustration, side effects, and unplanned pregnancies as they try to sort through the maze of family-planning aids.
Excerpted from: Christianity Requires Gender Equality and Respect for Life, FNSA, 1998
About the Epigee Birth Control Site
To this end, I have constructed this site as an educational resource for the Christian and others to educate women and men about the mechanisms, efficacy, and usage of all methods to assist couples in planning their children in a manner consistent with the belief that life begins at conception. No methods of birth control which take the lives of unborn children are recommended.