Scary stories from a lovely place
Too often I peruse a blog or two that are written by women who are housewives, homeschool their kids, are conservative in every way (though they’re into war) and are anti all forms of birth control. They are such firm believers in allowing God to determine how many kids they will have (lots) that they think it is a major sin to use any kind of birth control (even non-chemical methods) and they talk as if this decision is tantamount to believing the gospel of Jesus. While I don’t agree with them, I think it’s an interesting debate, so I’m joining in.
The notion that using birth control is sinful and could somehow prevent God’s will from taking place is wrong and also a little sad. If a cocktail of chemicals or a thin piece of latex can thwart God then I’m afraid he’s not worth believing in. To think such a thing is nonsense. One of the many wonderful things about following Jesus is that we have God’s word, the bible, to guide us and explain life for us. But as the bible was written in a specific context it takes those of us reading it today a bit of thought to work out how it applies to twentieth-century decisions. The apostle Paul writes in Galatians that it was for “freedom that Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery” (Galatians 5v1). We have freedom, because Jesus has saved us, to make decisions in all areas of life.
The end? In a way, yes. But, this freedom, coupled with the prevalence and ease of accessing birth control doesn’t mean we should run wild with it without putting in some thought. In fact, I think it is these factors, the ease of access and proliferation of birth control, that makes it easy not to think about it. It’s too easy to decide you’re going to start having sex (when you get married if you’re a Christian usually, but that’s another matter) and naturally assume that the next step is starting birth control. Perhaps it’s worth thinking about what birth control, and for the sake of brevity, mainly the Pill, actually does, what it means for your relationship and why you want to use it in the first place.
The reasons for using birth control are obvious – to stop yourself getting pregnant before you are ‘ready’ to be a parent. That is a good consideration. Having kids is hard, and it’s a big responsibility. Often though I hear people talking about lifestyle concerns rather than maturity ones. With the ever-increasing rates of infertility and people taking longer to conceive than planned parenthood is often delayed much longer than initially intended. (1 in 6 couples in Australia are infertile, 15-20% in South Africa and it increases with age. Interestingly South Africa has the lowest rate of fertility in Africa, just 3.1% and it’s declining).
In 1961 the oral contraceptive pill became available easily for consumers. Besides being easy and convenient (and available for free in some countries), the Pill was to revolutionise the way men, but particularly women were able to approach sex. Now women could be in charge of birth control, without having to worry about the man’s opinion or deal with less appealing barrier methods. It was an important moment in feminist history. But, if I may be personal for a moment, this is one thing I really disliked when I was on the pill. I didn’t like that in the end contraception was all up to me, rather than it being a joint effort. The weight of responsibility was too much. When I forgot to take the pill I was causing a huge risk to our plans (whatever they were). With such power comes responsibility.
Finally, how does it actually work? According to my research (reading on the internet and talking to my doctor) the pill has 3 birth control functions (a few have a fourth function which effects the fallopian tubes, but this is rare). First it stops ovulation. So the egg shouldn’t be hanging around in the first place, but frighteningly, ovulation still does occur 2-10% of the time (source – http://www.epigee.org/guide/pill.html). Second the increased amount of hormones in the body thickens the lining of the cervix so that it’s harder for the little guys to move around. Finally the hormones also act to thin the lining of the uterus, so if the first two methods fail and an egg and sperm do manage to find their way together, thus making a little person, it will struggle to properly implant in the woman’s womb. It’s a last line of defense.
It’s this final function of the Pill that should concern a Christian. (If you don’t believe that a fetus is actually a life then it’s a moot point). For reasons that I don’t fully understand, this final function of the Pill is also disputed. From what I can gather, because it is the final line of defense, it’s hard to know how often the Pill does actually function in this way (but how do they tell which of the three functions actually prevents pregnancy each month?). When I was talking to my doctor about it I had to virtually prise the information out of her, even though the pamphlet inside the Pill box she had just given me outlined this third function. Lots of Christians debate this, even Christian ethicists and doctors, so granted, it’s not a certainty. But, if you believe in the sanctity of little lives, it’s a risky possibility worth considering.
It’s pretty easy to research this stuff. Just search birth control or the Pill on google. Or some sites I have found helpful are…..
A good book I read on the topic – ‘Why pro-life?‘ by Randy Alcorn. It also includes a good, but brief, summary of the different claims about the abortive function of the Pill.
And of course, your local doctor will have an opinion too.