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Contraceptives: An overview

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Contraceptives prevent pregnancy. Some are in the form of medication. Others, including condoms and IUDs, take the form of a contraceptive device.  They inhibit pregnancy by preventing:

bullet Ovulation (the release of an ovum from an ovary) and/or
bullet Conception (the joining of a spermatozoa from a male with an ovum), and/or
bullet The implantation of the resulting fertilized ovum (more correctly called a zygote) in the wall of the uterus.

Until the early 20th century, almost all faith groups in North America, Canada, and the UK were opposed to the sale and use of contraceptives, even to married couples. Churches gave fertile couples two choices: abstinence or enforced pregnancy. The Church of England was the first major Christian denomination to deviate from this teaching. In 1930, they approved the use of birth control in certain specific situations. Almost all other faith groups followed the lead of the Church of England in subsequent years. Today, the Roman Catholic Church is the only large faith group that still bans the use of birth control.  Many governments have since drastically altered their policies. Twenty five years ago, some still criminalized the display of contraceptives in pharmacies. Now, these same governments are actively promoting their use.

Unlike contraceptives, abortifacients interrupt a pregnancy which is already in progress. i.e. they cause the implanted zygote, or embryo or or fetus to be rejected by the woman's body.

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Various religious groups define the start of human personhood differently:

  • Religious conservatives and pro-lifers generally define the start of pregnancy as well as the start of human personhood as happening at the instant of conception.

  • Religious liberals, secularists, physicians, fertility researchers, biologists, etc. generally define pregnancy as beginning when the zygote is implanted in the lining of the womb; they often define human personhood as developing later in pregnancy.

These differences in definitions can cause some conservatives to define a specific pill as a potential abortifacient, while some liberals and others define it as a contraceptive medication. To the former group, a pill may murders a helpless human at its most vulnerable state; to the latter, the same pill simply prevents a group of undifferentiated cells from implantation -- i.e. it avoids the start of a pregnancy well before human life becomes a human person. 1

There is little probability that these differences will be resolved any time soon. The pro-life and pro-choice "solitudes" occasionally debate each other, but essentially no dialogue is taking place.

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Site navigation:

 Home page > Christianity > Christian history, belief... > Beliefs > Sex > here

or Home page > Christianity > History, practices... > Christian practices > Sex > here

or Home page > Religious Information > Christian practices > Sex > here

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Copyright © 2002 to 2015 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-10
Latest update: 2015-DEC-24
Author: B.A. Robinson

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