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Christianity & Contraception

History of the Church & Contraception

Many people are surprised to learn that all denominations of Christianity condemned the use of contraceptives until very recently.

Indeed, until the 1930 Lambeth Conference, all Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics taught that using contraceptives to prevent children was a serious sin.  Moreover these teachings go back to the earliest days of the Church, to the time of the Apostles, and represent a continuous teaching until 1930.

AD 70 – The Didache (or The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles) condemns the use of contraception along with abortion, infanticide, adultery, and other sins.  Contraception had been in use in the Mediterranean world for more than 1,000 years by that point. Other religious leaders like Clement of Alexandria (~175 AD), Origen (~200 AD), and others would do the same.

c. AD 400 – St. Augustine states that intercourse takes place ‘in an unlawful and shameful manner whenever the conception of offspring is avoided.’

c. 1215 – St. Thomas Aquinas condemns any deliberate action to exclude offspring during intercourse. This was confirmed again and again by theologians of all faiths and popes through the beginning of the 20th century.

1924-1927 – “Calendar Method” of family planning is developed in Japan and Austria. This method was based on a 28 day cycle for all women and was not very effective.

1930 – The Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church permits some forms of birth control in limited circumstances. This limitation is later dropped. Most Protestant denominations follow suit, and contraception becomes a matter of personal discretion.

1930 – In Casti Connubii (On Chaste Marriage), Pope Pius XI teaches that all forms of artificial birth control are “intrinsically evil” because they disregard natural law and human biology. He cites abstinence as the only approved way to space births.

1936 – The U.S. courts toss out most of the Comstock Laws, which had prohibited (since 1873) distribution of contraceptives via U.S. Mail.

1951 – Pope Pius XII approves periodic abstinence and the Calendar Method. He asks physicians to move forward on research in Natural Family Planning (NFP).

1951 – The highly effective Sympto-Thermal method of Natural Family Planning is formulated. Other methods of NFP are developed in coming years. All methods are highly effective when used correctly.

1960 – The Birth Control Pill is approved by the FDA and comes into general use. Almost immediately there are reports of negative side effects.

1963 – The Pontifical Commission on Population, Family, and Birth-rate is formed by Pope John XXIII to discuss and formulate recommendations regarding birth control. The commission is expanded by Pope Paul VI.

1964 – The U.S. government passes legislation providing birth control for the poor.

1964 – Birth control is still illegal in 8 states.

1965 – Griswold v Connecticut results in the legalization of birth control in all states.

1966 – The Pontifical Commission issues its report to the Holy Father.

1968 – Pope Paul VI issues Humanae Vitae, which reaffirms that each act of marital intimacy must keep together the “unitive” and “procreative” aspects of human sexuality. Artificial methods are unacceptable, as they disconnect the two.

1973 – Roe v. Wade is decided, a landmark case in the US Supreme Court legalizing abortion.  The decision in Roe is based at least in part on the previous decision, Griswold v. Connecticut, that declared a right to privacy in the US Constitution, specifically in the case of procuring contraceptives.

1979 – Pope John Paul II reaffirms the Church’s position on birth control. He continues to preach about openness to life throughout his papacy.

1979-1984 –  Pope John Paul II preaches a series of talks on Theology of the Body, greatly expanding the Church’s teaching . These talks continue to be shared and studied today.

2005 – Benedict XVI ascends to the Papacy and continues to affirm and support the Church’s teachings on the unitive and procreative aspects of marital love.

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