Contraception for the Unmarried
Nucleus, January, 1996
Christian Medical Fellowship (United
Reproduced with permission
Breakdown of family life
Not long ago I attended a GP refresher course
lecture, in which we learned about a study in Exeter
investigating the effect of divorce or separation on
children. The study has confirmed what I think most
people could deduce by common sense - the effect is
often harmful. In fact it has been found that even
if the parents are constantly quarrelling, it is
better for the children if the parents stay
The lecturer asked us what we would say to
patients contemplating divorce who came to us for
advice. We agreed we should encourage them to do
everything in their power to stay together, and we
should tell them the findings of the above study.
Later, I pointed out that prevention is better than
cure, and that there is something which doctors can
do at a much earlier stage. I will come back to this
at the end.
There has been an increasing incidence of
breakdown of family life in this country, and more
and more children now come from broken homes. The
implications are serious. The children involved in
these marriage breakdowns are affected mentally,
emotionally and sometimes physically. They tend to
be more disturbed, unhappy and unsuccessful than
children whose parents remain together, and they
have a greater tendency to turn to delinquent
Having the example of their parents to follow,
they are less likely to form stable, life-lasting
relationships with the opposite sex when they reach
adulthood, and so the vicious circle continues.
(Presumably children of parents who cohabit and then
separate - or who never even live together - are
Why are we in this situation?
Why are we in this situation today? Underlying it
all is the fact that our society is increasingly
pagan. More and more, God and his laws are rejected.
Having said this, there are several factors
involved. I believe that one of the biggest factors
- if not the biggest - is that of sexual immorality.
Nowadays it seems that most young people (and
many older ones too) consider it both normal and
acceptable to engage in extramarital sexual
intercourse. Young people who refuse to do so may be
derided and regarded as abnormal and defective in
some way. (I know this, because a member of my own
family experienced such attitudes at university.)
Common sense tells us that whether or not there
is a causal relationship, this behaviour must be
associated with a loss of respect for the
institution of marriage and a loss of stability in
all sexual relationships - and this is borne out by
the statistics. A man and wife are more likely to
divorce if they have engaged in extramarital
and a cohabiting couple is more likely to split up
than a married couple.
Contraception and promiscuity
As I have mentioned, today's situation arises
because our society is becoming increasingly pagan.
God and his laws have to a large extent been
rejected. However, the explosive increase in
promiscuity over the last few decades is temporally
related to the availability of reliable methods of
contraception - and I believe this is no
coincidence. The knowledge that an act of
intercourse could result in an unwanted pregnancy
must have a restraining influence. Reliable
contraception removes this restraint.
GPs are expected to provide their patients with
contraceptive advice when they ask for it. This was
the situation I found myself in when I came into
general practice in 1983 after 16 years on the
mission field. Many of those requesting
contraception are unmarried, and they are asking us,
to put it bluntly, to enable them to fornicate
without restraint. How was I to react to this
As far as I know, all orthodox Christians agree
the Bible teaches unequivocally that sexual
intercourse outside the marriage relationship is
sin. More than that, it is a very serious sin and an
abomination in the sight of God. The many references
in the Bible to 'fornication' or 'fornicator'
(Authorised Version) make this absolutely clear.
Jesus himself listed fornication, together with evil
thoughts, murders, adulteries, thefts, false witness
and slanders, as something which comes out of the
heart of man and defiles him.
(Use of the word 'man' here includes woman.)
Unanimity among Christians in this matter is, I
think, far greater than in the question of abortion.
Yet fornication is practised so widely nowadays
that many who disapprove of it (even some
Christians) have become hardened and are no longer
shocked by it. Several people have said to me with
an air of helpless resignation: 'We don't like it,
but this is the way people do things now'. Some seem
to think that if enough people disobey one of God's
laws, that law somehow becomes less important -
disobedience is somehow less of a sin than it used
to be. This is nonsense of course. Fornication is
just as much a sin as it always has been. God does
not change his laws because people disobey them!
Fornication is harmful
Apart from this spiritual aspect, the practice of
fornication is ultimately destructive and harmful,
both in the lives of the individuals concerned and
in society as a whole. Physically, there are the
dangers of sexually transmitted disease (including
AIDS), carcinoma of the cervix, and unwanted
pregnancies followed by abortion. Mentally and
emotionally, there is that lack of total commitment
and trust between the partners which leads so often
to the breakdown of the relationship (and subsequent
relationships). Socially, there is the harm done to
children and the catastrophic effect on society of
the breakdown of family life.
Considering the above, I think it is surprising
that many Christian doctors seem to feel they have
no choice but to provide contraception to all or
most of those who ask for it. Although there are
probably many who counsel unmarried patients not to
have intercourse, my impression (right or wrong) is
that the doctor who refuses to provide contraception
after his or her advice has been rejected is quite
rare (except among Roman Catholics). The belief
seems to be that we have no right to force our
opinions on our patients.
Married couples only
I came to the conclusion that I could only
provide contraception to married couples, and that
my contraceptive advice to unmarried couples would
be limited to that of advising them not to have
intercourse. I would advise them that if they
rejected my advice they should go elsewhere and
obtain their contraception from another doctor. I
was not forcing my opinion on them, because they
were perfectly free to reject my advice and obtain
their contraception elsewhere. I believe that
extramarital sexual intercourse is thoroughly evil
and destructive and it would be wrong for me
actively to assist people to indulge in it. I would
be allowing the world to force me into its mould and
would become part of this evil system.
It has not been easy for me to take this stand
and I am afraid I have sometimes done it rather
badly. I have had to face real anger and abuse.
Patients have been incredulous that anyone in this
day and age can be such an outdated, fundamentalist
freak. Sometimes the surgery door has been slammed
in fury and perhaps patients have been lost to the
Personally, I often find it difficult and
embarrassing to take this line; but not to do so
would be against my conscience. With younger
patients it is easier. Often they are ready to
listen, even if they do not take my advice. The
older unmarried patient, usually on the
contraceptive pill already, is more difficult. In
practice, I start by telling them that I only
provide a contraceptive service for married couples;
so if they want contraception, they will have to go
to another doctor. I offer to explain why this is my
policy, and if they accept my offer, I explain. I do
not tell them unless they ask. Often I regret not
having said more; but I find it difficult enough to
say what I do say. I am reluctant to say anything
which might be perceived as ramming my opinion
(although, of course, it is much more than 'my
opinion') down somebody else's throat.
Better than an unwanted pregnancy?
Christian doctors justify providing a
contraceptive service to unmarried patients by
saying that it is better to have extramarital
intercourse with contraception than to have an
unwanted pregnancy, followed by an abortion. This
view has a certain logic; but I think it is
shortsighted. It fails to take into account the
broader picture which I have outlined above.
If we follow this policy, we are actively helping
and encouraging patients to do something which is
both evil and harmful to themselves, to their
partners (both present and future), to their
children (both present and future) and to society as
a whole. The long-term effects of extramarital
intercourse are so disastrous that I think the
statement 'extramarital intercourse with
contraception is better than an unwanted pregnancy'
is extremely questionable.
In any case, by refusing to give contraception I
am not condemning patients to unwanted pregnancies
and abortions - they are perfectly free to abstain
from sexual intercourse or, failing that, to consult
another doctor. Incidentally, the contraceptive
supply form FP1001 is a separate contract which a
woman can make with a doctor who is not her own GP.
Contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies; but
it also has the effect of enabling and encouraging
people to fornicate - because it frees them from the
fear of pregnancy. I suggest that if reliable
contraception were not available, a large proportion
of those who fornicate would not fornicate at all.
By providing contraception to unmarried people, we
are actually making ourselves part of a system which
facilitates, perpetuates and increases promiscuity -
with the associated breakdown of family life leading
to a rise in crime, poverty and homelessness etc.
Perhaps we cannot beat the system; but that does not
mean we have to join it.
As an influential group of Christians, should we
not be taking a clear and definite stand against
this undoubted evil? I realise that if all Christian
doctors elected to provide contraception to married
couples only, we might lose a lot of patients - but
does that justify what we are doing now? How can it
be right actively to assist people to fornicate?
Passing the buck?
Perhaps some Christian doctors feel that if we
refuse to give contraception to these patients, we
are simply 'passing the buck' to another doctor. I
am quite certain that we need not feel this at all.
If our patients had no alternative but to fornicate,
perhaps it would be a case of passing the buck. But
fornicating is not something they have to do - it is
something they choose to do. Fornication is not only
evil and harmful - it is also unnecessary. When we
refuse to provide contraception and advise
abstinence, we do it for the good of the patients
themselves, the good of their partners, the good of
their children and the good of society at large.
If they choose to reject our advice and go to
another doctor to get what they want, they will
later be doing something which is morally wrong,
harmful and unnecessary - and be doing it of their
own free will. We are under no obligation to help
them do evil. Quite apart from what God's will is in
this matter, not even the government says we have to
do it. It is recognised and accepted that some
doctors have a conscientious objection to certain
procedures and treatments, and this is respected. If
the government were to make it compulsory for us to
supply unmarried people with contraceptives, I
believe that our response would have to be 'We must
obey God rather than men'.
Losing touch with patients
Another reason sometimes given for providing
unmarried people with contraceptives is that if we
do not do so, they may not come back to see us
again. Thus we lose touch with them and are unable
to help them in the future.
This sounds very laudable; but I believe it is
based on human reason and not on the word of God. It
is equivalent to saying 'Let us help them to do evil
in order that good may come'. It is right to try to
get alongside people and understand their problems
and sympathise and help them; but this should not
extend to helping them do evil - and the Bible
clearly indicates that fornication is evil.
God uses many methods to draw people to Christ;
but getting us to help people do evil is surely not
one of them. If we want to help them, we must do it
God's way, not our own way. He simply requires we do
his will and trust him concerning the consequences
(both for ourselves and for our patients) which may
follow from this.
Opposition to the stand
In actual fact, I think very few have left the
practice or refused to see me again because of the
stand I have taken. But we must expect anger with
the stand we take, and opposition to it. Jesus
warned his disciples that they would be reviled and
persecuted, just as he was; because the world
prefers darkness to light.
If we try to please everyone and avoid saying
anything that could upset anyone - and thus avoid
any kind of opposition or abuse - we are failing in
our witness. My own belief is that helping people to
fornicate is not only morally wrong but also does
them no good at all in the long run. They are far
more likely to be helped if I stand up for what is
true and good, even if it makes them angry at first.
If anyone should say that I have no right to
bring my morals into my place of work and inflict
them on other people, my reply would be that God
commands us to do his will at all times. He wants us
to be 'salt' and 'light' in 'the world'. I have no
right to force people to do what I believe is
correct, and no wish to try - but they likewise have
no right to force me to do what I believe is wrong.
I believe helping them fornicate is wrong.
Many Christian doctors refuse to help patients to
procure abortions (except in certain special cases);
so why are there apparently so few willing to take a
stand on this issue? The wrongness and harmfulness
of immoral sexual behaviour is without question; so
why do so many of us go along with it?
To return to that lecture I attended - I pointed
out that research has shown that married couples are
more likely to divorce if they have had extramarital
sexual intercourse, and cohabiting couples are more
likely to split up than married couples. It follows
that if we counsel patients not to have extramarital
intercourse, we are doing something to prevent
family breakdown, rather than simply trying to clear
up the mess after disaster has occurred. Nobody in
the lecture room disagreed with me.
1. Children living in re-ordered
families, Social Policy Research Findings Number 45,
Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1994.
2. Marital Breakdown and the
Health of the Nation, One Plus One Marriage and
Partnership Research, 1991. See also the Exeter
Social Trends 24, Central
Statistical Office, 1994.
4. 2 Ch 21:11; Is 23:17; Ez
16:15, 26, 29; Mt 15:19, 19:9; Mk 7:21; Jn 8:41;
Acts 15:20,29, 21:25; Rom 1:29; 1 Cor 5:1, 9, 10,
11, 6:9,13,18, 7:2, 10:8; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph
5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thes 4:3; Heb 12:16; Jude 7; Rev
2:14, 20, 21, 9:21, 14:8, 17:2,4, 18:3,9, 19:2
6. Acts 4:18-21, 5:27-29
Mt 5:10-16; Jn 3:19,20, 15:18-21