Birth Control for Christians: Making Wise Choices
By Jenell Williams Paris
Reviewed by Dr. Michael Grisanti
15.2 (Fall 2004) : 265-266
The author is an associate professor of anthropology at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota and serves as a fertility awareness instructor in the Twin Cities area. In this book, she seeks to answer the following question: What is the best form of birth control for you— morally, relationally, and medically? She divides the book into six main sections. Most chapters end with “Questions for Conversation.” The book concludes with a table summarizing the effectiveness of the contraceptive methods considered in the volume.
The first subdivision lays the foundation for the rest of the book. In the first chapter she addresses the importance of this issue for Christians by generally summarizing those who oppose contraception and those who favor it. In the second chapter, she considers the factors for determining whether birth control is right, and then, which kind of contraception is best. Building off the Hebrew word shalom, she contends that right relationships with God, self, each other (spouse), and the world (i.e., technology) are foundational to a person’s decision about birth control. In discussing one’s relationship with God (32-33), she refers to two issues: one’s motive for using birth control and the fact that some contraceptive methods are intrinsically wrong because they are “abortifacient” (i.e., they cause abortion). Later on in the chapter, as part of a listing of steps a person can take with regard to this issue, the author devotes a paragraph to developing an ethical framework for one’s sexual life (42). Her concern is that a Christian’s decision about birth control should harmonize with his/her worldview (an issue addressed below). In the third chapter she overviews key issues relating to male and female fertility and anatomy and summarizes five categories of contraception: behavioral methods, barrier methods, hormonal methods, IUD’s, and sterilization. In the fourth chapter she addresses “legendary” but ineffective methods of birth control. As she considers the five categories of birth control (5 sections, 12 chapters), she consistently presents information under the following headings: mechanism of action, effectiveness, how to maximize effectiveness, advantages, disadvantages, cost, and questions for conversation.
With regard to hormonal methods (e.g., “the pill”) and IUD’s (intrauterine devices) in particular, the author provides a helpful summary of the question of whether or not these methods are abortifacient (142-46, 174-75). Unfortunately, medical experts are not unanimous in the way they answer this question. Certain versions of the pill and IUD’s (because of the hormones they release) make the womb less receptive to the implantation of a fertilized egg. Consequently, if an egg becomes fertilized (as a result of a failure of that method), and that fertilized egg cannot implant on the wall of the womb, the fertilized egg passes out of the woman’s body (i.e., an abortion takes place). Since this is not a “known” risk and is only theoretical, some Christian doctors prescribe these contraceptive methods and many Christian women utilize them. They do this with confidence that they are not causing an abortion. Although the present writer recognizes his lack of medical expertise, in light of the theoretical risk, he counsels couples to utilize other methods of birth control that are clearly non-abortifacient.
This book does a superb job of presenting the birth control methods that are commonly used. The author provides clear and concise explanations and seeks to face potential risks that various methods present. The footnotes provide a wealth of sources a person can consult for further information. The “questions for conversation” provide avenues for good discussion by a couple wrestling with this issue. The book’s greatest weakness is the scant attention it gives to the question of whether or not birth control is right or wrong. Although the author exhorts every Christian spouse to make sure his/her decision about birth control harmonizes with his/her Christian worldview, she offers no explicit help in this area. With that weakness in mind, this book provides significant help for a Christian who is seeking an overview of birth control methods and a helpful evaluation of those methods. A person will need to turn elsewhere, however, for theological help in answering the deeper questions of what the Bible has to say about birth control.