Birth Control and the Supreme Court

Sometimes the Church and the World both recognize the same underlying truths, even if they radically disagree over how to respond to that truth.

The Orthodox Church and the Supreme Court both agree that there is a direct link between birth control and abortion. The Church has condemned both, while the Supreme Court has legalized both.  But on the underlying principle they are both agreed: Contraception and abortion are essentially the same thing.  It would be unreasonable to allow one, without also allowing the other.

For two millenia, the Church has taught that birth control and abortion are essentially the same thing.  If one should be allowed, then both should be allowed.  If one should be prohibited, then both should be prohibited.  And the consensus of the Fathers has always been clear:  contraception and abortion are both strongly prohibited.

For nineteen hundred years, it was not only Orthodox and Catholics who prohibited birth control. Until 1930, even the Protestant denominations were in agreement. Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, Baptists, Anglicans and others agreed that birth control is forbidden.

Even the secular government prohibited birth control.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, it was illegal to import birth control into the USA.
It was also forbidden to send any contraceptives through the U.S. mail.
These laws were known as the Comstock Laws.

In 1918, Judge Frederick E. Crane of the New York Court of Appeals ruled that doctors could legally prescribe birth control products. Still, it was illegal to import contraceptive devices from abroad, or to mail them over state lines.  Then, in the 1936 case of United States v. One Package, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that medical doctors could import birth control devices, to be prescribed in special cases where doctors believed pregnancy would constitute an undue health risk.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the United States Supreme Court opened the floodgates. First, they legalized birth control across the board. Then they noted that legalization of birth control makes it logically necessary to legalize abortion as well.  Consider these three Supreme Court cases:

  • Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) – The Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution protects a right to privacy, and that married persons should therefore be allowed to purchase and use birth control.
  • Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) – The Supreme Court extended the “right” of contraception to unmarried persons.
  • Roe v. Wade (1973) – In this case, the Supreme Court cited Griswold v. Connecticut and Eisenstadt v. Baird. The Court ruled that a right to contraception gives one a right to abortion. If the “right to privacy” guarantees the legalization of birth control, then it also guarantees the legalization of abortion.

Their underlying assumption is that a fertilized human egg cell–a zygote–is not always a blessing.  They believe that a child is sometimes a curse rather than a blessing.

In response to that faulty assumption, the Supreme Court approved two methods:

  • Avoid the curse by keeping the egg from being fertilized. (Contraception)
  • Avoid the curse by killing the egg after it has been fertilized. (Abortion)

In both cases, the parents think about a zygote–a real human being–and they think to themselves something like this, “You are a curse, not a blessing. I do not want you to exist.” Such thoughts are indistinguishable from hatred.

And according to Jesus, hatred is equivalent to murder.

To be a murderer, there does not have to be any actual bloodshed. A person only has to think in his heart, “I wish that person did not exist”, and the seeds of murder have been planted.  To wish someone into nonexistence, is to say, “I would kill them if I could.”

Imagine that your next door neighbor hates you.  He believes that you are a curse, and he tells you so.  He wishes that you did not exist.  He says he would kill you if he could. Obviously, such a person is a murderer at heart.

Now suppose your neighbor discovered a real time-machine.  He informs you that he doesn’t want to stab you with a knife or shoot you with a gun, because that would be too messy.  He doesn’t want to shed any blood.  He merely wants to go back in time, and keep your parents apart from each other, just long enough to make sure that you are never born in the first place.

There. Now don’t you feel a whole lot better about your neighbor?

Of course not.  He is still a murderer at heart.  He has you in mind, and he wants to erase your existence.  It does not matter whether he wants to erase it by bloodshed after you are conceived, or whether he wants to erase it by keeping you from being conceived.  Either way, he hates you.  Either way, he treats you as a curse.  Either way, he is a murderer at heart.

The early Church equated birth control with murder.  St. John Chrysostom called it “murder before conception”.  For more information about the early Church’s teaching on contraception, read this article:  Murder Before Conception

Is every child a blessing?

If yes, then birth control and abortion are both a rejection of God’s blessings.

But if every child is not a blessing, then they are not a blessing, regardless of whether they have already been conceived or not.  If some children would indeed be a “curse” if born, then it would be difficult to blame the abortionist any more than the birth control specialist.


About Fr Joseph Gleason

I serve as a priest at Christ the King Orthodox Mission in Omaha, Illinois, and am blessed with eight children and one lovely wife. I contribute to On Behalf of All, a simple blog about Orthodox Christianity. I also blog here at The Orthodox Life.
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9 Responses to Birth Control and the Supreme Court

  1. orthodoxchristian2 says:

    It is indeed a terrible thing. I strongly dislike both, and realize that God hates both of these things, too!

  2. tpkatsa says:

    The notion that birth control before conception is murder is fraught with theological problems that are really beyond our ability to resolve conclusively.

    The foregoing is probably why, although many such as yourself would like to dogmatize a prohibition of pre-conception birth control, the Orthodox Church as far as I know and have read has not yet done so. It is left a private decision between the married couple in consultation with their priest.

    • Thomas,

      So, you disagree with St. John Chrysostom?

      “Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit, where there are medicines of sterility [oral contraceptives], where there is murder before conception? You do not even let a harlot remain only a harlot, but you make her a murderess as well. . . . Indeed, it is something worse than murder, and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God and fight with His [natural] laws? . . . Yet such turpitude . . . the matter still seems indifferent to many men–even to many men having wives. In this indifference of the married men there is greater evil filth; for then poisons are prepared, not against the womb of a prostitute, but against your injured wife. Against her are these innumerable tricks”

      ~ St. John Chrysostom (Homilies on Romans 24 [A.D. 391]).

      In fact, the Orthodox Church historically has always rejected birth control, as you can see here:

  3. tpkatsa says:

    Hi Deacon Joseph – I’m making another pass through some of your posts (inspired in part by itsasimplelife :-)). I believe I explained this one in my response to itsasimplelife. I would like to see a little more context around this passage from St. John C. I’m interested in what situation caused St. John C. to write this. It seems from reading this that perhaps either the man or the woman wanted to have a child but the other did not, so the one that didn’t want the child practiced birth control not so much to “prevent formation” but rather to get back at the other spouse (he alludes to this towards the end). But again I would have a problem with the equation of birth control with murder (the wrongful taking of human life) for the simple reason that prior to conception, there is no life to take. I think you expressed it more accurately when you alluded to birth control as a sin because it precludes the possibility of human life.

    Let’s be clear. I’m not saying that I see nothing wrong with birth control. Far from it. In spirit I am with you. I think that procreation is an important part of married life for reasons I explained elsewhere. What I object to, and will continue to object to, is the hyperbolic manner in which these things are often expressed. St. John C. was well-known for hyperbole, among other things. But rather than say that “Birth Control is Murder!” we should say, “Birth control precludes the possibility of human life by preventing conception” and deal with it on its own terms.

    • The important point is not whether contraception is equal to murder.

      The important point is that the Orthodox Church unanimously condemned birth control for over 1900 years.

      The important point is that birth control is a sin.

      • Prometheus says:

        In fact it is important if contraception is murder, since that is what you argue. Much of your argumentation depends upon it. But if every prevention of the life of a child is murder, then, logically, we should take every opportunity we can to make children. Sex at any and every opportunity would be a sacred duty – even if we didn’t think that we could support so many. And I daresay we would be showing lack of faith in God, not to mention we would be calling God a liar, if we failed to actualize as many children as possible, since we would be calling them a curse and be believing that God doesn’t want us to have all these children. There has to be a better reason for avoiding birth control. Abstinence has always been an accepted form of birth control in the Church. But according to your logic even this would be a problem. I think you’ve misidentified the actual issue . . . though you remedy that some by back-tracking in this most recent comment: “The important point is that birth control is a sin.” Your post, however, seems to be trying to explain why it is a sin, and in that regard I think you’ve missed the boat.

      • Nowhere in the article was it argued that “every prevention of the life of a child is murder”. That is something you are illegitimately reading into it. As I have pointed out, a number of Early Church Fathers equated birth control with murder, so I am simply following their lead.

        St. Paul does endorse abstinence for a while, but not for the express purpose of avoiding conception. The apostle says a husband and wife may mutually abstain for a while, for the purpose of fasting and prayer. And after that period of time, St. Paul says they are supposed to come back together again.

        To have sex is to initiate the act of procreation. It is to welcome the unity and the mutual pleasure which go along with welcoming new human life into the world. To greedily grab at this pleasure, and then to stop the act short, stopping the act from being fruitful, for no other purpose than to stop a real human life from being conceived . . . this is a grave sin. A husband and wife lay together, calling a child into the world, and then through contraception they rob that child of its very existence. I am not surprised that Saints of the Church have called this murder.

  4. Pingback: Sacred Seed, Sacred Chamber | The Orthodox Life


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