Birth control pill turns 50: Christians rethink stand even as new forms of birth control have emerged
The birth control pill has turned 50.
However, today birth control has evolved into many new forms of hormonal contraception.
At the same time, new forms of natural birth control have emerged, too. Women have more options, and yet on the birth control pill’s 50th anniversary, new information has emerged widening the debate on the safety of the pill, enlarging the potential side effects, and leading millennial Christians to rethink their positions on birth control.
New natural birth control methods
The website Christian Contraception has listed new natural methods of birth control, aside from abstention and the calendar-rhythm method. These include the more accurate symptothermal method using a basal thermometer and watching for body signs that indicate ovulation. Couples require training from a certified natural family planning instructor to use this method effectively.
Another method is the standard days method, which uses CycleBeads and works best for women with regular menstrual cycles. A third innovation, the fertility computer, is a handheld device that tells a woman which days she is fertile. Some devices test a woman’s urine, others test her basal temperature. All these natural methods are approved by the Roman Catholic church.
New hormonal contraception
The birth control pill uses synthetic hormones to inhibit the release of an egg to prevent fertilization. It can also prevent implantation. Hormonal contraception comes in new forms aside from oral contraceptives, including the vaginal ring, contraceptive patch, the mini pill, injectables and some intrauterine devices. Christian Contraceptives says all these methods may pose a risk to preborn life in the earliest stages of development, and they advise against its use.
Here are some changed perceptions that have emerged in the last 50 years since the birth control pill was introduced.
- Initially, Protestants, Catholics, Western and Eastern Orthodox faiths were against the pill. Today, the Catholics still endorse only natural birth control methods.
- Sex was once considered immoral even among married couples if it was done outside of the purpose of procreation.
- Women’s primary role was that of wife and mother.
- Protestants began to endorse the Pill in the middle of the 20th century.
New reasons for old beliefs
Christian women today are also finding new reasons for old beliefs. For example Amy Julia Becker, in Christianity Today, wrote of how she had used the pill for a decade so she could enjoy life more with her husband. Today she still has no regrets about taking the pill, but says that her reason is more for stewardship than for the pleasure of being a young bride. By being able to plan her family she has experienced greater economic stability, improved health, and had greater access to education and career choices. “Choosing to limit family size can be a way to demonstrate care and stewardship of God’s creation more generally,” Becker said.
Dr. Walter L. Larimore, MD on the other hand experienced a change in attitude towards hormonal contraception after having used it himself and having prescribed it since 1978.
The change of heart came after he encountered studies indicating the pill could have a post fertilization effect, causing the unrecognized loss of preborn children. Larimore did his own research, consulted ethicists and pastors, debated and prayed. In 1998 he stopped prescribing the pill. In the Christian Contraception website he wrote, “As a family physician, my career has been committed to family care from conception to death. Since the evidence indicated to me that the pill could have a post fertilization effect, I felt I could no longer, in good conscience, prescribe it–especially since viable alternatives are available.”
Fifty years after the birth control pill, the debate has enlarged to include new considerations—including the larger role that women play in society today, and external issues families face, including economics and overpopulation. Individual choice in the end must primarily be guided by prayer, counsel and biblical reference.