Religion and Reproductive Rights



Margaret Sanger

March for Women's Lives



Judicial Review

Roe v. Wade




The major opponents for most elements of family planning come from religious organizations and their members. Different religions have different views on reproductive issues stemming from interpretations of their holy texts.

The Roman Catholic Church has the most restrictive views on all areas of reproduction. Their position is principles derived from their holy texts which state that life is sacred and that life begins at the moment of conception. As a result, they believe that any interference in the reproductive process is sinful and not permitted. It strictly prohibits any use of contraceptives, including condoms, or abortion no matter the situation. In 1930, Pope Pius XI released the encyclical, Casti Connubii in response to an Episcopalian announcement permitting the use of artificial contraceptives in cases of extreme necessity. It reaffirmed the Roman Catholic belief in the sanctity of marriage and the prohibition of any contraceptives. “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.” Pope Paul VI articulated the current official position of the Roman Catholic Church in 1968 in the encyclical, Humanae Vitae. This encyclical reaffirmed that only natural methods of contraceptives like the rhythm method in cases of extreme necessity were permitted. All other methods of birth control are prohibited.

The Roman Catholic Church is the most boisterous of abortion opponents and actively engages in international debate and diplomatic events to further imbed its views on abortion and contraceptives into legal work. It also organizes a large number of US organizations to prevent the legalization of contraceptives and abortion.

The Catholic Church also prohibits premarital sex and encourages abstinence until marriage. After marriage, abstinence can be considered immoral. It has also come out against all forms of sex education except abstinence-only education.

The views of the Roman Catholic Church are not shared with all Christians.

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Protestant Christianity
While Protestant denominations take many positions on these issues, a large portion of them support a statement issued by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). That statement declares: “When [having children] is not their intention, the responsible use of safe, effective contraceptives is expected of the male and the female. Respect and sensitivity should also be shown toward couples who do not feel called to conceive and/or rear children, or who are unable to do so.”

The divergence of opinion is significantly less on the issue of abortion. Evangelical churches view abortion as infanticide or murder and as thus do not permit it. This belief follows from a strict interpretation of passages of both the Old and New Testaments that explicitly state that life begins at conception and prohibits abortion. There are a few Protestant churches, normally Anglican, that agree with ‘abortion on demand’ and placing restrictions on abortion.

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While Genesis 1:22 (the commandment to “be fruitful and multiply”) is contradictory to the purpose of contraceptive, the Talmud (tractate Yevamot 12b) mentions its use. As a result, many rabbinic authorities permit the use of natural contraceptives when necessary for the health of the woman. The preferred methods are condoms, pessaries, oral contraceptives (e.g. “the pill”) or intrauterine devices. Methods that cause sterility are not approved of. Before the use of contraceptives, consultation with a rabbi about the reasons and methods is common and preferred. Overall, contraceptives have not had as large of controversy among members of the Judaism as it has among the Catholic Church and other religions.

Judaism respects the sanctity of life but does permit abortions in some circumstances because in general the fetus is not considered an autonomous person. It believes that the fetus has great value because it is potentially a human life but that it gains "full human status at birth only." In the Mishna (Ohalot 7:6) abortion is explicitly instructed if the health of the mother is at risk. As a result, as stated in ancient Jewish texts, abortion “is not forbidden when done because of a great need.” It is necessary though that “each case must be decided individually by a rabbi well-versed in Jewish law."

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Like the Bible, the Qur’an encourages procreation but does not explicitly discuss contraceptives. There is discussion of contraceptives in some other early texts however. As a result, methods such as “azl” (coitus interruptus) are permitted so long as the method does not result in sterility. Debate does exist on this issue. On the issue of abortion, there is broad acceptance of abortion in cases where there exist serious reasons and a significant danger to the mother’s life.

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Last Updated 12/17/04
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