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What Do Religions Say About Birth Control and Family Planning?


Updated June 21, 2014

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What Do Religions Say About Birth Control and Family Planning?


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Birth control views vary among the Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform branches of Judaism. The Torah promotes prolific childbirth; Orthodox rabbis believe that being fruitful and multiplying is a male duty. But many rabbis allow birth control in cases where pregnancy would seriously harm the woman. The book of Genesis makes a reference when during intercourse Onan "spilled his seed on the ground" (withdrawal). This was "evil in the sight of the Lord" and was punished by Onan's death. Judaism uses this passage to determine approved contraceptive methods. Because the birth control pill does not result in sterility and doesn't prevent semen from traveling its normal route, it and other forms of hormonal contraception are preferred over barrier methods to prevent the “spilling of seed.”

Jewish law considers children a blessing. So a man may not abstain from procreation or get sterilized until he has fathered a child. Conservative and Reform Jews feel that the benefits of birth control (female health, family stability, or disease prevention) uphold the commandment to "choose life" more strongly than if they violate the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply."

The Jewish laws of niddah (family purity) do not allow a woman to have sex during her period. If an Orthodox Jewish woman wants to use contraception, she may choose a method that decreases the chances for additional bleeding. Judaism also suggests that brides use the combination pill. Due to niddah, Jewish brides can try to regulate their periods before their wedding to lower the chances of having it on their wedding day. That is because after the marriage ceremony, Jewish newlyweds are supposed to retire to a private room for time alone, known as Yichud. Yichud allows for the consummation of the marriage and is a requirement under Orthodox Jewish law.

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