Postcoital Methods Of Contraception

Postcoital methods of birth control are those that are applied after sex has taken place. These methods assume that conception has, or may have, occurred — in the case of abortion, of course, it definitely has. Many people feel that using post-coital pills, IUD or menstrual extraction ‘avoids’ the moral dilemma of facing an abortion later. But using one of these methods in the hope of discontinuing any pregnancy that might have occurred is morally just the same as using one knowing a pregnancy has occurred — New Testament teaching makes it quite clear that intention as well as deed can be sinful. On most occasions when postcoital birth control is used, the woman has had sex unprotected by any form of contraception, although in some cases of abortion contraception has been used and has failed. Postcoital pills and IUDS are generally used as emergency methods of birth control.

In the past, methods used to try and prevent pregnancy from occurring after unprotected sex have included inserting pepper, cabbage blossoms or seeds into the vagina. Postcoital methods do not describe methods such as the normal IUD, which has its effect after conception has occurred but which is not applied to the body after conception. The post-coital IUD is one that is inserted into the woman after an episode of unprotected sex.

Because these methods assume that conception has taken place, once again moral and ethical problems are encountered. The postcoital pill and postcoital IUD are intended to work by preventing implantation of the fertilized ovum, and so for these methods the moral dilemma is the same as that over the normal IUD. If you believe that life begins at conception, then preventing implantation is morally equivalent to inducing a very early abortion. Menstrual extraction is indeed a very early abortion if conception has taken place, and abortion itself of course involves ending the pregnancy early so that the embryo or foetus dies.

It is legally possible in this country for virtually any woman to obtain an abortion in early pregnancy if she is persistent. Whether abortion is legal or not has little to do with whether it is right or not. Once again I would stress that here I am not dealing with abortion of a handicapped child, or a child conceived illegitimately, adulterously, or as a result of rape — these cases have further ethical and spiritual considerations. Here we are talking about a normal child which has been conceived accidentally within a normal Christian marriage; the parents either did not plan this child at all, or they did not plan one so early. What are they to do?

The first thing, in fact the vital thing, to remember is that although they did not plan this child, God obviously did. If the parents had sex without contraception, then they took a risk of pregnancy through their own choice; if the risk results in pregnancy then they cannot as responsible adults back out of that situation. As adults we are responsible for the consequences of our own actions, and if irresponsibility has led to a pregnancy, then the couple must accept that and do their best to redeem the situation and come to accept that child with love and joy. They have an extra, not a lesser, responsibility to love and care for that child because they brought about its birth by mistake; the child will probably already have to bear the burden of arriving at an inconvenient time of marriage or when there is little money around. Certainly abortion would solve one problem, but it will create a great many more.

What if the couple were using contraception, and then this failed? This gives them even more reason to see that God intended them to have this child, as he overruled their human wisdom in using contraception by allowing them to conceive anyway. It is easy to become bitter at God when you are doing your best to be responsible and avoid pregnancy, and yet one occurs despite your efforts. This doesn’t give us licence to halt that baby’s life, however, just because we didn’t plan it. God has often provided parents with an extra-special blessing through children who have been conceived in this way.

As Christians, we must never forget that God is the giver of all life — whether we plan it or not. No child is ever unwanted or unplanned to God, and our standards should be the same. God has a plan for that child’s life just as he has for our lives, just as he has for the lives of children whose arrivals are planned by their parents. Charles Swindoll, the American pastor whose writings and teachings have inspired hundreds of thousands of Christians, was an ‘unplanned’ child. His parents didn’t plan him, but God did — in fact, God planned something extra-ordinary for his life and ministry.

The Bible has an extremely high view of human life, and so should we have as Christians. I don’t believe that anything in the Bible gives us a precedent for taking the life of an unborn child, especially not the life of a normal child conceived by a normal husband and wife within marriage. The answer to a trivializing view of human life is not to abort the unwanted babies but to want the ones that are conceived.

In any case, it is unlikely that even on the human level any baby is fully unwanted. Certainly, its parents may genuinely not want it or feel that they simply cannot cope, no matter how much support they are given. However, in this country alone there are literally hundreds of thousands of childless couples wanting to adopt children. Most of these couples will never be able to adopt even one child, there are so few available for adoption, yet most of them would happily adopt two, three, four or more children if they had the chance. All of these couples would need to be supplied with their full desired complement of children before we could ever say genuinely that a child was unwanted.

I don’t want to make light of the enormous strains that an unplanned pregnancy can put on a marriage. Some couples cope very well with an early or ‘surprise’ child, and accept it into the marriage with little problem after the initial shock. On other couples it can impose a severe burden physically, financially or psychologically, especially if a child arrives before a marriage is fully established, or if there are already quite a few children in the family. It is no use saying that abortion is not an option for the Christian unless we provide alternative support — again, practical, financial and psychological — wherever it is needed. An unplanned baby is a shock to any marriage, but it is not a surprise to God; he began that life, and will give all the help necessary to sustain it if we as Christians appeal to him. I cannot believe that it can ever be his will to terminate a pregnancy simply because it was unplanned by the parents.