Plan of salvation/Birth control

Table of Contents

Birth control

Summary: What is the stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on birth control? The General Handbook of Instructions states: "Husbands must be considerate of their wives, who have a great responsibility not only for bearing children but also for caring for them through childhood…. Married couples should seek inspiration from the Lord in meeting their marital challenges and rearing their children according to the teachings of the gospel."

Jump to Subtopic:


Gospel Topics: "Decisions about birth control and the consequences of those decisions rest solely with each married couple"

Decisions about birth control and the consequences of those decisions rest solely with each married couple. Elective abortion as a method of birth control, however, is contrary to the commandments of God.[1]


Question: What is the stance of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on birth control?

The use of birth control is not prohibited by the Church

Though the LDS Church places a high value on families and regards the commandment given to Adam and Eve to "multiply, and replenish the earth" Genesis 1:28 as still being in force, the use of birth control is not prohibited by the Church. Married LDS couples are not expected to limit their sexual contact to purposeful childbearing. Sexual behavior between married partners is seen as wholesome and sanctifying even when there is little chance of conception. Birth control is meant to be used carefully and prayerfully but it is not forbidden.

Church Leaders' Statements on Birth Control

According to the section labeled “Birth Control” in the current Church Handbook 2 (a manual issued to Church leaders to outline guidelines and policies for administering the gospel to members):

It is the privilege of married couples who are able to bear children to provide mortal bodies for the spirit children of God, whom they are then responsible to nurture and rear. The decision as to how many children to have and when to have them is extremely intimate and private and should be left between the couple and the Lord. Church members should not judge one another in this matter.

Married couples should also understand that sexual relations within marriage are divinely approved not only for the purpose of procreation, but also as a way of expressing love and strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds between husband and wife. [2]

The Church Handbook 2 is not considered scripture itself but it is approved by the First Presidency of the Church and much of its content is taken from prophetic teachings. In 1993, member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Dallin H. Oaks, spoke in the Church’s General Conference saying:

How many children should a couple have? All they can care for! Of course, to care for children means more than simply giving them life. Children must be loved, nurtured, taught, fed, clothed, housed, and well started in their capacities to be good parents themselves. Exercising faith in God’s promises to bless them when they are keeping his commandments, many LDS parents have large families…In a matter as intimate as this, we should not judge one another. [3]

Elder Oaks quoted the then President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, expressing similar sentiments:

I like to think of the positive side of the equation, of the meaning and sanctity of life, of the purpose of this estate in our eternal journey, of the need for the experiences of mortal life under the great plan of God our Father, of the joy that is to be found only where there are children in the home, of the blessings that come of good posterity. When I think of these values and see them taught and observed, then I am willing to leave the question of numbers to the man and the woman and the Lord. [4]

Current Church counsel on birth control is not something new that has evolved in response to contemporary social pressures. In 1916, Church leaders, such as David O. MacKay, endorsed of the wisdom in using moderation and sensitivity when it comes to childbearing. MacKay said,

In all this, however, the mother's health should be guarded. In the realm of wifehood, the woman should reign supreme. [5]

The language and tone may be old fashioned but the message of mothers’ autonomy was a progressive one for its day.

Sexual Behavior and Emotional Health

The Church has also been progressive in acknowledging the important social and emotional functions sexual behavior serves within marriage apart from childbearing. Late President of the Church, Spencer W. Kimball, taught:

In the context of lawful marriage, the intimacy of sexual relations is right and divinely approved. There is nothing unholy or degrading about sexuality in itself, for by that means men and women join in a process of creation and in an expression of love. [6]

Cautions and Qualifications

It is true that Church leaders have made frank warnings about the over-use of birth control. Even today, the LDS Church regards the commandment given to Adam and Eve to “multiply, and replenish the earth” Genesis 1:28 as still being in effect . [7] As late Church President, Ezra Taft Benson, taught:

Mothers who enjoy good health, have your children and have them early. And, husbands, always be considerate of your wives in the bearing of children. Do not curtail the number of children for personal or selfish reasons. Material possessions, social convenience, and so-called professional advantages are nothing compared to a righteous posterity. [8]

Even this statement contains the qualification that mothers enjoy “good health.” This certainly refers to physical health and we assume it refers to mental health as well. Childbearing is never meant to be carried out with dogmatic recklessness. In all things, the LDS decision making process is a deliberate, thoughtful one where individuals “study it out in [their] mind[s]” D&C 9:8 before acting.

President Benson knew this and added, "I would ask our young people to think seriously about these things, pray about them, fast about them. The Lord will give them the answers, because He wants them to have the blessings of a righteous posterity." [9]

Despite the warnings, the use of birth control is not prohibited by the LDS Church. Married LDS couples are not expected to limit their sexual contact to purposeful childbearing. Sexual behavior between married partners is seen as wholesome and sanctifying even when there is little chance of conception. Birth control is meant to be used carefully and prayerfully but it is not forbidden.


Notes

  1. Birth Control", Gospel Topics on LDS.org
  2. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Handbook 2: Administering the Church, 2010 Salt Lake City, 2010. (195)
  3. Dallin H. Oaks, "The Great Plan of Happiness," Ensign (November 1993) off-site
  4. Oaks, "The Great Plan of Happiness."
  5. David O. McKay, Relief Society Magazine (July 1916) 3:7.
  6. Dallin H. Oaks, "The Great Plan of Happiness," Ensign, November, 1993.
  7. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, "The Family: A Proclamation to the World," 1995.
  8. Ezra Taft Benson, “To the Mothers in Zion," Parents' Fireside, Salt Lake City, Utah, 22 February 1987.
  9. Ezra Taft Benson, Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988), 539–543. ISBN 0884946398. GospeLink (requires subscrip.)