The wife of a Southern Baptist seminary president says women who oppose abortion should think twice before using birth control pills.
Dorothy Patterson, professor of theology in woman’s studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and wife of President Paige Patterson, says in an article on her Web site that many women who believe life begins at conception are unaware that oral contraceptives are sometimes effective by preventing a fertilized ovum from implanting, “resulting in what is actually an early abortion.”
“While taking an oral contraceptive is certainly not equal to purposely getting an abortion, the ethical considerations are similar,” she writes. “One function of oral contraceptives is to help prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. If life begins at conception, this function of the pill is not contraceptive but abortive.”
While the percentage of times the pill actually functions that way is comparatively low, from 1 percent to 10 percent, she said, it is one of the designed functions.
“Many women who take oral contraceptives do not desire to have an abortion,” she wrote. “However, a woman’s choice to use the pill does introduce the possibility of this occurrence.”
Patterson urged Christian women to consider if “the use of oral contraceptives truly compatible with a pro-life stance.” For many women, she said, the issue of whether to use the pill revolves around the issue of convenience. “Is mere convenience a good enough reason to take a drug that may terminate human life, no matter how low the risk is?”
Beyond that, Patterson said, is the “responsibility of maternity” that women fulfill.
“The basic moral question is not whether or not a baby is wanted but whether or not the baby was willed,” she wrote. “The choice or consent to have intercourse is the implicit consent to bear children by divine fiat (i.e., God’s way of continuing the generations). The woman is not a baby-making machine, but she has by nature a baby-making body. Only one woman can bear a particular child, and her tie to that child is personal and her bonding virtually unbreakable. In the rearing of that child, she has the opportunity to impart within the privacy of her family circle her own values to the child. To refuse that procreative role and to throw upon society that nurturing responsibility is to abdicate her highest calling and greatest usefulness to the Creator and to His created order. Women are called upon to make sacrifices; they are challenged to live selflessly. These sacrifices and a selfless life are essential for the continuation of the generations. Women cannot shun this greatest responsibility of maternity without endangering all of civilization.”
Patterson blamed “selfish whims” of individualism and materialism that believes “things are more important than children” for the decision of many modern women to delay childbearing.
“In Scripture, godly women were not concerned with whether or not they would receive discrimination in the marketplace but rather with whether or not their wombs were barren,” she said. “Childlessness was looked upon as an affliction, an indication of worthlessness and insignificance (Gen. 29:32; 30:1). Women were not pining away, pleading with the Almighty that they might be priests or prophets. They were praying for the privilege of bearing a child. In Israel every Jewish mother hoped to become the mother of the Messiah, whose coming had been promised to Eve, the first mother (Gen. 3:15). Children were considered a direct gift from God (Gen. 4:1; 16:2; 17:19; 29:31; 30:22; Ruth 4:13). God has always been actively involved in fashioning the child in the womb (Ps. 139:13-18).”
Someone, she said, suggested that a couple weigh the “risk” of having a child, which God calls a “blessing” against the possibility of killing a child, “an act that God calls an abomination, whether in or out of the womb.”
“God’s gifts are not always timed according to your preferences and convenience,” she said. “Some short-sighted mothers and fathers decide that the family or baby or the world would be better off if conception or birth does not occur. They refuse the grace God offers to fulfill His challenges and validate His promises (Mk. 10:27).”
Even if a child is unplanned by parents, she said, it doesn’t mean he or she isn’t planned by God. Even an unplanned child, she said, can be a blessing.
“I do not feel that it is my responsibility to convince people not to use the Pill,” she concluded. “However, I do want to provide other women with the tools necessary to make an informed decision rather than one based on disinformation or ignorance. The moral issues surrounding use of the pill are difficult and are noticeably more ‘gray’ than many issues concerning the sanctity of human life. In matters of conscience, one must allow others grace to make their own decisions before God.”
Patterson isn’t the first influential Southern Baptist to question the denomination’s traditional hands-off attitude toward birth control. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in 2003 termed deliberate childlessness by married couples “moral rebellion” against God’s design. In a radio broadcast last year, Mohler lamented a “contraceptive mentality” that regards pregnancy as “equivalent to a disease.”
Southern Baptist leaders including Timothy George, David Dockery, David Gushee and Rick Warren signed a document with Catholic leaders last fall listing birth control in a consensus statement on building a “culture of life.”
“[W]hile we are not agreed on the moral permissibility of artificial contraception, we recognize the sad effects of a widespread ‘contraceptive mentality’ that divorces sexual love from procreation and views children as a burden to be avoided rather than as a gift to be cherished,” says the statement by Evangelicals and Catholics Together.
Some Baptists subscribe to a “full quiver” movement that leaves family planning up to God.
Four years ago, while at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Paige and Dorothy Patterson complained about missionaries in training by the International Mission Board being asked to use a breast pump and allow nursery workers to give bottled milk to babies while their mothers finished a tight schedule of training. The issue, according to a blogging IMB trustee who doesn’t identify the Patterson’s by name, “was not that the mothers were not allowed to feed their children naturally, but that ‘artificial’ means of feeding were being employed at the IMB–a method not designed by God.” EthicsDaily.com confirmed their identity with another knowledgeable source.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.