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Religious adherents vary widely in their views on birth control. This can be true even between different branches of one faith, as in the case of Judaism. Some religious believers find that their own opinions of the use of birth control differ from the beliefs espoused by the leaders of their faith, and many grapple with the ethical dilemma of what is conceived as "correct action" according to their faith, versus personal circumstance, reason, and choice.
Among Christian denominations today there are a large variety of positions towards contraception. The Roman Catholic Church has disallowed artificial contraception for as far back as one can historically trace. Contraception was also officially disallowed by non-Catholic Christians until 1930 when the Anglican Communion changed its policy. Soon after, most Protestant groups came to accept the use of modern contraceptives as a matter of Biblically allowable freedom of conscience.
The Catholic Church is opposed to artificial contraception and orgasmic acts outside of the context of marital intercourse. This belief dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. Such acts are considered intrinsically disordered because of the belief that all licit sexual acts must be both unitive (express love), and procreative (open to procreation). The only form of birth control permitted is abstinence. Modern scientific methods of "periodic abstinence" such as natural family planning (NFP) were counted as a form of abstinence by Pope Paul VI in his 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. The following is the condemnation of contraception:
Therefore We base Our words on the first principles of a human and Christian doctrine of marriage when We are obliged once more to declare that the direct interruption of the generative process already begun and, above all, all direct abortion, even for therapeutic reasons, are to be absolutely excluded as lawful means of regulating the number of children. Equally to be condemned, as the magisterium of the Church has affirmed on many occasions, is direct sterilization, whether of the man or of the woman, whether permanent or temporary. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.
A number of other documents provide more insight into the Church's position on contraception. The commission appointed to study the question in the years leading up to Humanae Vitae issued two unofficial reports, a so-called "majority report" which attempted to express reasons the Catholic Church could change its teaching on contraception, and a "minority report" which explains the reasons for upholding the traditional Catholic view on contraception. In 1997, the Vatican released a document entitled "Vademecum for Confessors" (2:4) which states "[t]he Church has always taught the intrinsic evil of contraception." Furthermore, many Church Fathers condemned the use of contraception.
The 1987 document Donum Vitae opposes in-vitro fertilization on grounds that it is harmful to embryos. Later on, the 2008 instruction Dignitas Personae denounces embryonic manipulations and new methods of contraception.
Many Western Catholics have voiced significant disagreement with the Church's stance on contraception. The Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued what many interpreted as a dissenting document, the Winnipeg Statement. In it, the bishops recognized that many Catholics found it "either extremely difficult or even impossible to make their own all elements of this doctrine" (that of Humanae Vitae). Additionally, they reasserted the Catholic principle of primacy of conscience, a principle that they said should be properly interpreted, since they insisted that "a Catholic Christian is not free to form his conscience without consideration of the teaching of the magisterium, in the particular instance exercised by the Holy Father (i.e., the Pope) in an encyclical letter". Theologians such as Charles Curran have also criticized the stance of Humanae Vitae on artificial birth control. According to the American Enterprise Institute, 78% of Catholics say they believe the Church should allow Catholics to use birth control, though other polls reflect different numbers.
The Vatican's opposition towards birth control continues to this day and has been a major influence on United States policies concerning the problem of population growth and unrestricted access to birth control.
As an implementation policy of the 2009 Affordable Health Care for America Act, the Department of Health and Human Services developed a mandate requiring all insurance policies to provide free contraceptives. In 2012, the GOP led an attempt to exempt insurance policies sponsored or paid for by religious institutions opposed to birth control on religious or moral grounds, from the mandate to provide free contraceptive care. The GOP opposition to this mandate is based on the view that it violates the "Free Exercise Clause" of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The bill was dismissed by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 51-48 along largely partisan lines and is viewed as a victory for President Barack Obama's health care law.
Author and FamilyLife Today radio host Dennis Rainey suggests four categories as useful in understanding current Protestant attitudes concerning birth control. These are the "children in abundance" group, such as Quiverfull adherents who view all birth control and natural family planning as wrong; the "children in managed abundance" group, which accept only natural family planning; the "children in moderation" group which accepts prudent use of a wide range of contraceptives; and, the "no children" group which sees itself as within their Biblical rights to define their lives around non-natal concerns.
Sex is a powerful drive, and for most of human history it was firmly linked to marriage and childbearing. Only relatively recently has the act of sex commonly been divorced from marriage and procreation. Modern contraceptive inventions have given many an exaggerated sense of safety and prompted more people than ever before to move sexual expression outside the marriage boundary.
There is no ban on birth control in Hinduism, although some hinduist figures, such as Mahatma Gandhi, have said that contraception is "a most dangerous doctrine to preach" and "a sin against God and humanity".
Some Hindu scriptures include advice on what a couple should do to promote conception—thus providing contraceptive advice to those who want it. However most Hindus accept that there is a duty to have a family during the householder stage of life, and so are unlikely to use contraception to avoid having children altogether. The Dharma (doctrine of the religious and moral codes of Hindus) emphasizes the need to act for the sake of the good of the world. Some Hindus, therefore, believe that producing more children than the environment can support goes against this Hindu code. Although fertility is important, conceiving more children than can be supported is treated as violating the Ahimsa (nonviolent rule of conduct).
Because India has such a large and dense population, much of the discussion of birth control has focused on the environmental issue of overpopulation rather than more personal ethics, and birth control is not a major ethical issue.
The Qur'an does not make any explicit statements about the morality of contraception, but contains statements encouraging procreation. The Islamic prophet Muhammad also is reported to have said "marry and procreate".
The Jewish view on birth control currently varies between the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform branches of Judaism. Among Orthodox Judaism, use of birth control has been considered only acceptable for use in certain circumstances, for example, when the couple already has two children or if they are both in school. Conservative Judaism, while generally encouraging its members to follow the traditional Jewish views on birth control has been more willing to allow greater exceptions regarding its use to fit better within modern society. Reform Judaism has generally been the most liberal with regard to birth control allowing individual followers to use their own judgment in what, if any, birth control methods they might wish to employ. It should also be noted that Jews who follow halakha based on the Talmudic tradition of law will not have sex during the 11–14 days after a women begins menstruating. This precludes them from utilizing some forms of "natural birth control" such as the "Calendar-based contraceptive methods" which are relatively unobjectionable to other religious groups.
When Orthodox Jewish couples contemplate the use of contraceptives, they generally consult a rabbi who evaluates the need for the intervention and which method is preferable from a halachic point of view.
Other prominent religions do not engage in the issue; for example, Sikhs have no objection to birth control, and in Buddhism there is no widely recognized policy on birth control.