Contraception is nothing new.Some of the earliest documented descriptions of birth control, the use of honey, acacia leaves and lint placed in the vagina to block sperm date back to 1550 BC. Ancient Egyptian drawings also show the use of condoms. The Book of Genesis references withdrawal, or coitus interruptus, as a method of birth control when Onan “spills his seed” on the ground so as to not father a child with his dead brother’s wife.It is thought that in Ancient Greece silphium, a plant also known as laserwort, was used as birth control which, due to its effectiveness and thus attractiveness, was harvested into extinction.Prior to the 20th century, contraception was generally condemned by all the major branches of Christianity including the major reformers like Luther and Calvin. However,among Christian denominations today there is no single position towards contraception.
There are many contraceptive methods widely available. With the exceptions of caps and condoms, all seem to interfere with a woman’s hormones.The ‘Pill’ is the most commonly used form of contraception, taken by about 100 million women worldwide and about 3.5 million women in the UK.This is roughly one in three of all females of reproductive age.The Pill has always been a bit controversial. Although it is now 55 years since it was first used (in Puerto Rico in 1956), there are still occasional ‘Pill scare stories’ – when newspapers highlight the dangers of Pill taking and the premature deaths or risk of thrombosis.I think the truth is that we still don’t really know the long-term health effects but the fact that it remains so incredibly popular indicates that for huge numbers of women, the slight risks are outweighed by the benefits.The Pill was certainly revolutionary in attitudes to sex and the role women had in society.In 1961,when the Pill was introduced on the NHS,it was prescribed mainly to older women who already had children and had completed their families. The government did not want to be seen to be encouraging promiscuity or “free love.” That all changed in 1974 when family planning clinics were allowed to prescribe single women with the Pill , which was very controversial at the time.It was also liberating for both sexes.
An unwanted pregnancy is pretty devastating for all concerned and, of course, no contraceptive method is foolproof. But thanks to the influence of the Catholic church,in developing countries about 222 million women who want to avoid pregnancy are not using a modern birth control method. Where birth control is used,by lengthening the time between pregnancies, it can improve women’s delivery outcomes and the survival of their babies. In the developing world, women’s earnings, assets, weight, and their children’s schooling and health also improve with access to birth control. Birth control increases economic growth because of fewer dependent children, more women participating in the workforce, and less consumption of scarce resources.So it seems despite the church’s protestations,contraception is a force for good.Though I am not keen on methods of contraception which fill a woman’s body with synthetic hormones, nor do I like the fact that it is almost always the woman who takes family planning responsibility,I would not like to go back to a world where contraception wasn’t widely or freely available.Last year I saw Ann Furedi the chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service debate contraception and abortion. I keenly supported all of her her views.She said it is morally right that society should allow women to have the choice on whether or when to have a child. “Those who believe in Divine plans will not agree with this position, but those who believe that humans can and should plan their lives should surely accept that it is better that a baby is received as a chosen blessing, rather than as some kind of punishment for a moment of unplanned passion.”