Christianity,  Politics

The difference between birth control and contraception

Karen Swallow Prior has written a crash-course in the difference between birth control and contraception at Christianity Today. If you didn’t know that there was a difference, this article is definitely for you. A couple of items here are noteworthy:

1. Prior takes on Rachel Held Evans and others who confuse “birth control” with other medicinal uses of the pill. She writes:

One is “using birth control” if one is using the method with the intention of preventing pregnancy. A woman who receiving treatment solely to alleviate menstrual irregularities or other medical problems is not “using birth control” any more than a woman who undergoes a hysterectomy due to cancer is “using birth control.” To advocate for “birth control” under the guise of other medicinal uses only sets the cause of birth control—and women—back by communicating obfuscation and perpetuating ignorance about female sexuality and reproductive health. If medications should be covered by insurance for off-label uses, that’s an argument to be made intelligently on its own merits.

2. Prior also talks about the potentially abortifacient mechanism of the Pill. She has a wallop for people who make facile appeals to “science” to dismiss that concern when they apparently don’t understand the science themselves. This is a contested issue even among evangelicals (which I write about in my book), but I’m glad she brings it up. She writes:

Concerns about possible abortifacient mechanisms of some birth control methods are not based on belief but on scientific statements. It’s a strange state of affairs when the people citing the medical community are said to basing their views on religious belief, and those basing their views on speculative theories claim they are the only ones with science on their side. Given this data, I have to question Hobby Lobby’s lack of consistency in not opposing all forms of hormonal birth control whose labels describe the same possible mechanisms.

There’s much good in this article. Sometimes I think I hear echoes of Humana Vitae in this one (which is probably why I appreciate it so much). Read it here.


  • Paul Reed

    Kevin De Young has a good article about how quickly public policy has changed toward homosexuality. I have noted that the same thing happened only a few decades ago with birth control. Birth control, in any form (let alone abortion), was once nearly-universally condemned by all mainstream groups, with the exception of a few fringe groups. It was Margaret Sanger and others who changed this, making birth control something that could be morally acceptable.

  • Don Johnson

    This is an area where the framing one uses can greatly predetermine the outcome, so both sides have well-rehearsed framing wordings. Just determining WHAT each side is saying is a challenge, so Prior’s article is helpful.

  • Kelly Hall

    Peace to you!

    With your great respect of Pope Pius VI “Humane Viatae”, would you consider using “artificial birth control pills (ABCP),” instead of “The Pill” or “birth control”? God created woman with the ability to naturally monitor her monthly cycle. Without designating “artificial” in this discussion, we are not using common definitions (as Prior encourages).

    RHE’s 11 women article is a perfect example of a “Squirrel!” story.

    What a way to celebrate the 41st anniversary of Humane Vitae (this Friday)! As Pope Paul Vi eloquently said: “… man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires, no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection.”

  • Kelly Hall

    Hi Denny, perhaps you misunderstood my question? I am not looking for advice on ABCP, the meaning of sex or to purchase a book. 🙂 I was asking you to change the words you wrote in this article. Loosely stating “birth control” or “the pill” adds to the definition problem, which Karen S. Prior is encouraging Christians to fix. The correct term should be artificial birth control.

    Artificial birth control–using hormonal supplements manufactured in a lab to mask a woman or teen’s fertility.

    Natural birth control–the scientific, natural and moral way to observe fertility signs in a woman or teen. Created by God to assist women in predicting their cycle.

    Birth control–sounds like something done in China or in Planned Parenthood.

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