Birth and population control

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Birth and population control. In general, religions give to birth the highest possible value. In W. religions, it tends to be seen as a matter of responsibility, aligned with the will of God: it is indeed a matter of pro-creation. In E. religions, birth continues the sequences of reincarnation or of reappearance (punabbhāva). Although, to varying degrees and in different ways, each religion allows contraception, the emphasis is on the marvel and opportunity of birth.

In Judaism, some (not all) methods of contraception are allowed in some circumstances. The most general circumstances are those which involve threat to the woman or a potential foetus. B.Ket. 39a requires contraception for those under 12 (at that time able to be married), pregnant mothers, and nursing mothers. The methods of contraception tend to favour those used by women (i.e. not the condom), since women may not be under the obligation of the command. Progressive Judaism extends the notion of welfare to include the existing family, allowing family planning.

Christianity has followed the same instinct to forbid contraception, though (generally) without the same attention to detail. Churches apart from the Roman Catholic Church have come to emphasize the whole marriage act, including the sustenance of the family, as a matter of love-endowed responsibility. The RC Church was moving in the same direction until 1968, when Pope Paul VI issued the encyclical, Humanae Vitae, which reaffirmed the condemnation of artificial measures to prevent conception (against the majority advice of the commission set up in 1963 to assess the issue).

In Islam, ‘the preservation of the human species is unquestionably the primary objective of marriage’ (al-Qaradāwi), but contraception is allowed for valid reasons: danger to the mother or a potential foetus, the burden of a further child on the existing family, protecting a suckling infant.