Nishmat's Women’s Health and HalachaIn memory of Chaya Mirel bat R' Avraham

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Choice of birth control

20 October, 2004

Question:

Why are birth control pills the most halachically preferred method of birth control if they carry the greatest and most severe long-term health risks to the woman's body. Given the Torah's directive of, "ve'chay bahem", I would assume that the preferred halachic choice should be the barrier method, such as the condom which carries no health risk.


Answer:

When deciding the order of halachic preference for birth control methods, a number of factors are taken into consideration. While one of them is the health risk, it is not the only one. The prohibition of hotza'at zera levatalah (expulsion of semen in a manner that it cannot get to its intended destination), and the need to allow relations to take place in a "natural" manner, are important concerns as well.

As the condom completely blocks the progression of semen into the wife's body, it is in clear violation of the latter two principles. Therefore, it is almost never permitted as a method of birth control. There is debate among authorities about the diaphragm. Rav Yehuda Henkin, the posek for this site, generally permits it.

While there are some risks with the use of hormonal contraceptives, for most women they are quite small. Therefore, most authorities feel that hormonal contraceptives are the halachic first choice in the majority of cases. When specific medical concerns raise the level of risk for a particular woman, alternate methods such as the IUD or diaphragm will generally be approved. This is part of the reason why an individual question about birth control methods should be asked of a halachic authority when such a decision is being made.


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