By GEOFFREY M. HOWARD
Since birth control is such a personal subject, it is not often discussed, and many considering marriage are not aware of the counsel and policies of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The LDS Church has consistently opposed the use of methods that prohibit the birth of children.
As early as Brigham Young, Latter-day Saints were told to prepare tabernacles for the many unborn spirits. In Mormon Doctrine, President Bruce R. McConkie quoted President Brigham Young’s warning that unwilling parents would drive unborn spirits “into the families of the wicked, where they would be trained in wickedness, debauchery, and every species of crime.”
In a 1969 General Conference, Elder Ezra Taft Benson said the commandment to multiply and replenish the earth had not been “altered, modified, or cancelled.”
Elder Benson compared the pain and remorse couples would feel upon meeting spirits that may have been in their posterity to the joy of raising a heritage of the Lord in righteousness.
“We started talking about birth control when I got engaged,” said Keri Niepraschk, a 21-year old biology major from Sacremento, Calif.
Niepraschk said that she and her husband took into consideration counsel from the prophets, parents, and her gynecologist.
She said one of her religion professors told her class “there are two things in life you’ll never be ready for … marriage and kids.”
Many students may question whether the LDS Church has official guidelines on birth control.
Bishop Jeff Kimball of the BYU 35th Ward quoted recent LDS Church policy.
“It is the privilege of married couples to provide mortal bodies, and they are responsible to rear them. How many and when is between them and the Lord. Church members should not judge other members in this matter of too many or not enough. Married couples should understand sexual relations are divinely approved not only for procreation but for strengthening emotional and spiritual bonds in marriage,” Kimball quoted his new bishop’s handbook as saying.
Even single members of the LDS Church feel they need to educate themselves and make decisions regarding birth control even before it is an issue in their lives.
Janae Thiriot, an unmarried junior from the United Kingdom double majoring in family science and sociology, comes from a family of 10 children. Up until last year, she believed in going on faith. Thiriot decided she had to find out for herself.
“I wanted to put the choice in the Lord’s hands…but I saw we have free agency. It’s really our responsibility,” she said.
Kimball believes there is a perception among LDS Church members that surgical sterilization, such as vasectomy or tubal ligation, is all right once a certain age is reached.
Kimball stated, “the Church strongly discourages surgical sterilization as an effective form of birth control. Surgery should be considered only if medical conditions jeopardize life or health or if someone is mentally incompetent by birth or trauma.”
Kimball also said there should be divine confirmation in such a decision after consulting with the Lord, a bishop, and a competent physician.
Dr. Homer Ellsworth, a gynecologist and former member of the LDS Church’s Melchizedec Priesthood General Committee, responded to a question of “gospel family-planning” in an article in The Ensign, August 1979. Ellsworth recited an experience.
“I recall a President of the Church, now deceased, who visited his daughter in the hospital following a miscarriage. She was the mother of eight children and was in her early forties. She asked, ‘Father, may I quit now?’
“His response was, ‘Don’t ask me. That decision is between you, your husband, and your Father in Heaven. If you can face him with a good conscience and can say you have done the best you could, that you have really tried, then you may quit. But, that is between you and him. I have enough problems of my own to talk over with him when we meet!’
“So it is clear to me that the decision regarding our children, when to have them, their number, and all related matters and questions can only be made after real discussion between the marriage partners and after prayer.”
The health of the mother should always be considered, as well.
Ellsworth continued, “I believe that the prophets have given wise counsel when they advise couples to be considerate and plan carefully so that the mother’s health will not be impaired. When this recommendation of the First Presidency is ignored, unknown or misinterpreted, heartache can result.
“I know a couple who had seven children. The wife, who was afflicted with high blood pressure, had been advised by her physician that additional pregnancy was fraught with grave danger and should not be attempted. But the couple interpreted the teachings of their local priesthood leaders to mean that they should consider no contraceptive measures under any circumstances. She died from a stroke during the delivery of her eigth child.”
There are over 30 different types of birth control for males and females.
Citing personal experience, Keri Niepraschk said that students should examine different types of birth control if they are considering it an option.
She said, “after the third week on the pill, I was mean, a different person.” After nine months, they decided to get off the pill.
“I would try a different kind with different amount of hormones,” Niepraschk said.
After their first baby boy, she decided to use a type of shot. This caused weight gain and other side effects. Niepraschk is not sure how common use of this shot is, but said she would not use it again.
She said couples should remember that birth control becomes a regular part of the family budget, and plan for the extra cost if they plan to postpone having children.
In his Ensign article, Dr. Homer Ellsworth also said that 34 years of practicing gynecology and observing LDS families gave him valuable observations. Some parents can handle the emotional pressure of many children, some parents have more help from family, and some are more effective parents than others, he said.
“It is clear to me that couples not let the things that matter most be at the mercy of those that matter least,” Ellsworth said. “In searching for what is most important, I believe that we are accountable not only for what we do but for why we do it. Thus, regarding family size, spacing of children, and attendant questions, we should desire to multiply and replenish the earth as the Lord commands us. In that process, Heavenly Father intends that we use the free agency he has given in charting a wise course for ourselves and our families. We gain the wisdom to chart that wise course through study, prayer, and listening to the still small voice.”