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Birth Control is such a widely accepted practice these days, that the “right to choose” is often an unexamined assumption.  But what do the Baha’i Writings tell us?  Is it OK, or isn’t it?

First of all, we know that the soul of man comes into being at conception

You have raised the point about the time of the appearance of human soul. You are quite right in your deduction in this regard, as our teachings clearly confirm that the soul of man comes into being at conception.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)

It should be pointed out, however, that the Teachings state that the soul appears at conception, and that therefore it would be improper to use a method, the effect of which would be to produce an abortion after the conception has taken place.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

According to the Bahá’í Teachings the human soul starts with the formation of the embryo, and continues to develop and pass through stages of existence after its separation from the body. Its progress is thus infinite.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 204)

Secondly, we know that the purpose of marriage is primarily to raise up a new generation who will know and worship God.

Both Baha’u’llah and the Báb emphasized the need of children in marriage.  The latter, for example, states that to beget children is the highest physical fruit of man’s existence.  But neither say whether the number of children should be limited or not.  Or if it is to be limited, what the proper method to be used.  (Shoghi Effendi, Throne of the Inner Temple. P. 6)

In a letter written on behalf of the Guardian to an individual he has further pointed out that the ‘chief and sacred purpose’ of marriage is ‘the perpetuation of the human race… and its elevation to the true station destined for it by God.’ In another letter written on his behalf it is stated: ‘…the fundamental purpose of marriage is to bring other souls into this world, to serve God and love Him.’  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345)

To use birth control in order to have no children at all thwarts the purpose of marriage.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

So with that in mind, even though neither Bahá’u’lláh nor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has revealed anything direct or explicit regarding this question, we can see that birth control, except in certain exceptional cases, is not permitted:

As to the problem of birth control. Neither Bahá’u’lláh nor ‘Abdu’l-Bahá has revealed anything direct or explicit regarding this question. But the Bahá’í Teachings, when carefully studied imply that such current conceptions like birth control, if not necessarily wrong and immoral in principle, have nevertheless to be discarded as constituting a real danger to the very foundation of our social life. For Bahá’u’lláh explicitly reveals in His Book of Laws that the very purpose of marriage is the procreation of children who, when grown up, will be able to know God and to recognize and observe His Commandments and Laws as revealed through His Messengers. Marriage is thus, according to the Bahá’í Teachings, primarily a social and moral act. It has purpose which transcends the immediate personal needs and interests of the parties.  Birth control, except in certain exceptional cases, is therefore not permissible.  (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 345)

We are obligated to avoid any action which would permanently prevent us from bearing children: 

As to your desire and that of your husband to avoid any action which would permanently prevent you from bearing children, the only text we have so far found on the subjects is in a letter to an individual believer from the beloved Guardian. The question asked was whether after a few children it would be permissible to have a surgical operation on the wife to prevent further conception. His reply was that such an act was inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act were responsible before God.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

 This includes vasectomy:

Directly to your question about having a vasectomy, in general it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of avoiding having unwanted children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

And tubal ligation:

The Universal House of Justice has received your letter of April 29 asking about tubal ligation and has noted that you are familiar with general Bahá’í principles on the subject. However, it has directed us to say that under normal circumstances it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of not having more children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

If vasectomy and tubal ligation are reversible and do not result in permanent sterility, they would not fall under this prohibition:

Under normal circumstances it is not permissible to have a surgical operation for the purpose of not having more children if such an operation could result in permanent sterility. Bahá’ís considering such a step must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them, and their own consciences. If it is established that vasectomy and tubal ligation are operations the effects of which are reversible and which, therefore, do not result in permanent sterility, they would not fall under this prohibition.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

With regards to intrauterine devices, Bahá’ís will have to be guided by the best professional advice available and their own consciences:

As to the use of intrauterine devices, we understand that there is a difference of professional opinion as to how they work, i.e. whether they prevent conception or whether they prevent the fertilized ovum from attaching to the wall of the uterus.  However, the Guardian has stated that the individual life begins at conception.  In using such devices, therefore, Bahá’ís will have to be guided by the best professional advice available and their own consciences.  There is nothing in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas, however, concerning the placing of foreign materials in the body for preventing birth.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 264)

Sterilization is permitted if required for medical reasons: 

Sterilization, however, would be a more far-reaching action that any of these, with implications and results beyond those necessary for the immediate purpose of limiting the size of your family, and is not permissible in Bahá’í law except in rare instances where it is necessary for a medical reason.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Hysterectomies to prevent conception are inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act will be responsible before God:

As to your desire and that of your husband to avoid any action which would permanently prevent you from bearing children, the only text we have so far found on the subjects is in a letter to an individual believer from the beloved Guardian. The question asked was whether after a few children it would be permissible to have a surgical operation on the wife to prevent further conception. His reply was that such an act was inacceptable and unworthy, and those who commit the act were responsible before God.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)

Abortion to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden:

Abortion merely to prevent the birth of an unwanted child is strictly forbidden in the Cause. There may, however, be instances in which an abortion would be justified by medical reasons, and legislation on this matter has been left to the Universal House of Justice. At the present time, however, the House of Justice does not intend to legislate on this very delicate issue, and therefore it is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the teachings.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 343)

If there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds, the decision is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the Teachings:

Abortion and surgical operations for the purpose of preventing the birth of unwanted children are forbidden in the Cause unless there are circumstances which justify such actions on medical grounds, in which case the decision, at present, is left to the consciences of those concerned who must carefully weigh the medical advice in the light of the general guidance given in the Teachings. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 344)

If a believer becomes pregnant as a consequence of rape, it is for her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings:

One of the most heinous of sexual offences is the crime of rape. When a believer is a victim, she is entitled to the loving aid and support of the members of her community, and she is free to initiate action against the perpetrator under the law of the land should she wish to do so. If she becomes pregnant as a consequence of this assault, no pressure should be brought upon her by the Bahá’í institutions to marry. As to whether she should continue or terminate the pregnancy, it is for her to decide on the course of action she should follow, taking into consideration medical and other relevant factors, and in the light of the Bahá’í Teachings. If she gives birth to a child as a result of the rape, it is left to her discretion whether to seek financial support for the maintenance of the child from the father; however, his claim to any parental rights would, under Bahá’í law, be called into question, in view of the circumstances.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1992, Violence and Sexual Abuse of Women and Children)

With regards to terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus, this is a matter left to the judgment of capable professionals and the consciences of the parents:

As to the permissibility of terminating a pregnancy following the discovery through amniocentesis of a severely handicapped foetus, this is a matter left to the judgement of capable professionals in the field, and the consciences of the parents. As you are aware, the Bahá’í Writings prohibit the practice of abortion solely for the purpose of terminating unwanted pregnancies; however, circumstances may occur in which an abortion would be justifiable. The Texts of the Faith do not specify what these circumstances are, and the House of Justice does not wish to legislate on this matter presently. (Universal House of Justice, Reproduction and other Biological Subjects, 21 May 1992, to an individual)

For more information on abortion please see Abortion and the Baha’i Faith

In making these decisions, Baha’is should be guided by:

  • the Bahá’í principles involved
  • the best professional advice available
  • their own consciences

It is clear that to have surgical operation merely to avoid unwanted children is not acceptable. However, as in the case of abortion, circumstances might exist in which such an operation would be justified. Individual believers called upon to make such a decision must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences. In arriving at a decision the parties must also take into consideration the availability, reliability, and reversibility of all contraceptive methods.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Self-discipline and restraint are acceptable ways to prevent conception:

You and your husband, therefore, should have no feeling that you are obliged to add to your already large family. This is a matter entirely for you to decide, and there are many methods of preventing conception, including self-discipline and restraint, to which you can have recourse.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

For more on this topic, please see:  My Will vs God’s Will in Getting Pregnant 

With all of that in mind, it’s up to the couple to decide how many children to have:

There is nothing in the Sacred Writings specifically on the subjects of birth control, abortion or sterilization, but Bahá’u’lláh did state the primary  purpose of marriage was the procreation of children, and it is to this primary purpose that the beloved Guardian alludes in many of the letters which are quoted in the compilation. This does not imply that a couple are obliged to have as many children as they can; the Guardian’s secretary clearly stated on his behalf, in answer to an enquiry, that it was for the husband and wife to decide how many children they would have. (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346-347)

You and your husband, therefore, should have no feeling that you are obliged to add to your already large family. This is a matter entirely for you to decide, and there are many methods of preventing conception, including self-discipline and restraint, to which you can have recourse. Sterilization, however, would be a more far-reaching action that any of these, with implications and results beyond those necessary for the immediate purpose of limiting the size of your family, and is not permissible in Bahá’í law except in rare instances where it is necessary for a medical reason.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

For more on this topic, please see:  Having a Baby will Fix Everything

If we’re concerned about preventing a pregnancy which could result in undesirable family traits and tendencies, these matters will be decided by the House of Justice in the future, but for now this decision is left to the individual believers involved:

With regard to your question whether it would be permissible for a believer to limit the number of his children by the use of contraceptive methods, in order to prevent the transmission through inheritance of undesirable family traits and tendencies; this, the Guardian wishes me to inform you, is a question to which there is no specific reference in the Teachings, and should therefore be explained and decided upon by the International House of Justice. (Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

When asked about sterilization of the mentally deficient or the physically unfit the Guardian pointed out that there is no reference to this in the Teachings. Neither is there anything in the Teachings about the use of contraceptive methods in order to prevent the transmission through inheritance of undesirable family traits and tendencies. These are, therefore, matters which the Universal House of Justice will have to consider in future. We do not wish to legislate on such matters now, and therefore leave the decision in each case to the individual believers involved.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Baha’i Communities)

Whatever the number of children the couple decides on, it’s important to remember that God will protect His own so we do not have to face the future with fear, but with glad and assured hearts:

Regarding your question of whether you should have more children or not, the Guardian feels that this is a matter for you and your husband to decide.  However, we must always bear in mind that God will protect His own and that the Baha’i  children are the future servants of mankind who will help to carry the world forward into the glorious New Order which Baha’u’llah has prepared for it in this day of days.  We should not face the future with fear, but with glad and assured hearts.  (Universal House of Justice, Throne of the Inner Temple, p. 8)

A decision to have no children at all would vitiate the primary purpose of marriage unless there was a medical reason why such a decision would be required:

A decision to have no children at all would vitiate the primary purpose of marriage unless, of course, there were some medical reason why such a decision would be required.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346-347)

The House of Justice does not wish to comment on the effectiveness or possible hazards of present-day contraceptive agents:

As to birth control methods, the House of Justice does not wish to comment on the effectiveness or possible hazards of present-day contraceptive agents, and leaves it to individuals to decide what course of action they will take in light of the teachings and the best medical advice available.  (Universal House of Justice, Birth Control and Related Subjects, p. 3)

With regards to birth control as a means to slow down population explosion:

We have not discovered any specific reference in the texts to the problem of  population explosion in its relation to birth control. This question, of course, is a matter which is currently a subject of concern and speculation by many. A study of our teachings, however, indicates that in the future there will no doubt be a general improvement of standards of life and of health, but there will also be the full exploitation of unused and as yet unsuspected resources of the planet along with the control and tapping of its raw material, with a great increase in productivity.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 345-346)

Guidance to a Physician:

Since you are a physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, your professional decisions in this field are frequent and difficult ones. In each individual case your physician’s judgement and your Bahá’í conscience should guide you to the correct decision whenever permanent sterilization of a patient is contemplated. Of the four categories you have listed, only the first, grave sickness of the mother, clearly falls within Bahá’í permissibility. In the Second category, only grave genetic defects, but obviously not all genetic defects could be considered to be valid cause for intervention. As for lack of social and financial means, and anticipation of supernumerary children where individual maternal request is decisive, neither can be acceptable as reasons for permanent sterilization.  What can now be considered to be a form of family fertility control for some patients are those methods of intervention which are reversible and therefore do not necessarily bring about permanent sterility. Where such methods have been employed, the wish by patients to have additional children, for whatever reason, can be realized through a corrective operation.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 348-349)

All Bahá’ís are subject to Bahá’í law and Bahá’í standards. It would clearly be unacceptable for a Bahá’í doctor to advocate abortion as a method of birth control and set up a clinic for that purpose, or for a Bahá’í psychiatrist to publicly advocate sexual intercourse before marriage.  (The Universal House of Justice, 1992 Dec 10, Issues Related to Study Compilation)

Conclusion

Since there is no reference whatsoever in the Writings on this subject, Bahá’ís are not in a position to either condemn the practice of birth control or to confirm it:

The Guardian has … given his careful consideration to your question regarding the Bahá’í view of birth control.  ‘…there is no reference whatsoever in the Writings on this subject. The utmost we can say is by way of reference from what Bahá’u’lláh has revealed regarding the nature, purpose and character of marriage.  ‘We, as Bahá’ís, are not therefore in a position either to condemn the practice of birth control or to confirm it.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

The Universal House of Justice will have to consider this issue in the future and give its verdict upon it.  In the meantime, individuals will have to make their own choices, based on these principles.

The Universal House of Justice feels that the time has not yet arrived for legislation on this matter, and that these instructions provide sufficient guidance for the friends for the time being.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 346)

It should also be noted that it is neither possible nor desirable for the Universal House of Justice to set forth a set of rules covering every situation. Rather is it the task of the individual believer to determine, according to his own prayerful understanding of the Writings, precisely what his course of conduct should be in relation to situations which he encounters in his daily life. If he is to fulfil his true mission in life as a follower of the Blessed Perfection, he will pattern his life according to the Teachings. The believer cannot attain this objective merely by living according to a set of rigid regulations. When his life is oriented towards service to Bahá’u’lláh, and when every conscious act is performed within this frame of reference, he will not fail to achieve the true purpose of his life.  (Universal House of Justice, Legislating on Morality, 5 June 1988)

Individual believers called upon to make such a decision must be guided by the Bahá’í principles involved, the best professional advice available to them and their own consciences. In arriving at a decision the parties must also take into consideration the availability, reliability, and reversibility of all contraceptive methods.  (Universal House of Justice, Lights of Guidance, p. 347)

Although we might want to eliminate all grey areas, there should be enough information above for couples to allow their consciences to decide:

The principles pertaining to these issues are available in the book “Lights of Guidance” and elsewhere. In studying these principles, it should be noted that in most areas of human behaviour there are acts which are clearly contrary to the law of God and others which are clearly approved or permissible; between these there is often a grey area where it is not immediately apparent what should be done. It has been a human tendency to wish to eliminate these grey areas so that every aspect of life is clearly prescribed. A result of this tendency has been the tremendous accretion of interpretation and subsidiary legislation which has smothered the spirit of certain of the older religions. In the Bahá’í Faith moderation, which is so strongly upheld by Bahá’u’lláh, is applied here also. Provision is made for supplementary legislation by the Universal House of Justice — legislation which it can itself abrogate and amend as conditions change. There is also a clear pattern already established in the Sacred Scriptures, in the interpretations made by `Abdu’l-Bahá and Shoghi Effendi, and in the decisions so far made by the Universal House of Justice, whereby an area of the application of the laws is intentionally left to the conscience of each individual believer. This is the age in which mankind must attain maturity, and one aspect of this is the assumption by individuals of the responsibility for deciding, with the assistance of consultation, their own course of action in areas which are left open by the law of God.  (Universal House of Justice, Legislating on Morality, 5 June 1988)