Who Should Decide Family Size?
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN BRAZIL
ONLY three days old, the boy was abandoned in a plastic bag in a subway station. But a Brazilian newspaper noted that several families offered to adopt the baby.
Although that particular type of incident is rare, the number of unwanted and abandoned children throughout the world is growing. Responsible parenthood is too often lacking. Is contraception the solution? Would it be wrong to plan the size of one’s family?
According to the World Health Organization, about 50 percent of pregnancies worldwide are unplanned. Often a pregnancy is not only unplanned but also unwanted.
Many seek to avoid pregnancy, perhaps because of health, housing, or work problems. Hence, contraceptive methods, such as birth-control pills or condoms, are common. Abortion and sterilization are also used as birth control methods. Regarding abortion in Brazil, the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo reports: “The World Health Organization estimates that annually 5 million of the 13 million women who get pregnant in Brazil interrupt the pregnancy clandestinely.” Also, Time magazine reported that 71 percent of Brazilian women of childbearing age who live with a mate practice birth control. Of these, 41 percent use the pill and 44 percent have been sterilized.
A survey shows that 75 percent of Brazilians think that it is necessary to plan the number of children. Others reject family planning because of belief in destiny or because of thinking that it is God’s will that a family have ‘as many children as God sends.’ Who should decide the size of the family—the couple or national or religious interests?
Birth Control—Why Controversial?
Although permitting the rhythm method, the Roman Catholic Church, Brazil’s largest religion, objects to contraceptive methods, whether they are abortive or not. Stated Pope Paul VI: “Every conjugal act [has] to be open to the transmission of life.” Pope John Paul II said: “Contraception, judged objectively, is so profoundly illicit that it can never, for any reason, be justified.” As a result, many Catholics hesitate to regulate the size of their family, considering contraception a sin.
On the other hand, the medical journal Lancet declares: “Millions will spend their lives uneducated, unemployed, ill-housed and without access to the most elementary health, welfare and sanitary services, and unchecked population increase is a major causal factor.” Hence, fearing overpopulation and poverty, certain governments encourage family planning, despite objections of the church. For example, “Costa Rica reduced the average number of children [per family] from 7 to 3,” says biologist Paul Ehrlich.
The UN publication Facts for Life—A Communication Challenge states: “After a woman has had four children, further pregnancies bring greater risks to the life and health of both mother and child. Especially if the previous births have not been spaced more than two years apart, a woman’s body can easily become exhausted by repeated pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding, and looking after small children.”
Large families are still common where infant mortality is high, particularly in rural areas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Why? Many are not familiar with contraceptive methods. One factor in some areas may be that, as one legislator said, “a man still considers himself a real man only if his wife gets pregnant every year.” Jornal da Tarde mentions another possible factor, especially from the woman’s viewpoint: “The children are one of their rare sources of pleasure and bring a sense of personal accomplishment.” Also, Paulo Nogueira Neto, former secretary of the environment in Brazil, stated: “A child is the social security of the poor population.”
What the Bible Says
Did you know that God’s Word, the Bible, leaves it to the husband and wife to decide family size? It also shows that marriage is appropriate, whether for procreation or for showing affection by honorable sexual intimacy.—1 Corinthians 7:3-5; Hebrews 13:4.
But did God not tell Adam and Eve in Paradise to “be fruitful and become many and fill the earth”? (Genesis 1:28) Yes, yet nothing in the Bible shows that we are under that same command today. Writer Ricardo Lezcano pointed out: “It seems somewhat contradictory to apply to [billions of] human beings the same formula that was applied to the only two inhabitants of the planet.” Even if the decision is to have no children at all, this is a personal choice to be respected.
Interestingly, the New Catholic Encyclopedia notes that the view of Jehovah’s Witnesses is Bible based. It states: “Except for birth control, which they leave to the couple’s own decision, their conjugal and sexual morality is quite rigid.” It adds: “They regard the Bible as their only source of belief and rule of conduct.”
Are all methods for limiting family size valid? No. Since life is sacred, God’s Law to Israel decreed that one who caused an abortion be treated as a murderer. (Exodus 20:13; 21:22, 23) In the case of sterilization, such as by a vasectomy, the decision is one of personal conscience, since this is not directly mentioned in the Bible. “Each one will carry his own load.” (Galatians 6:5)* And as there are various methods of birth control, medical guidance can help a couple decide whether they wish to employ a particular one or not.
Make Decisions You Can Live With
Not everything in life can be planned. But would you buy a car or a house without giving serious thought to what is involved? A car or a house can be sold again, but children are not returnable. When planning a pregnancy, then, should not the husband and wife’s ability to provide life’s necessities be considered?
Surely, we would not want our family to be undernourished, nor would we want to be a burden on others. (1 Timothy 5:8) At the same time, besides food and shelter, children need education, moral values, and love.
In addition to calculating what is required in terms of work, money, and patience, the wife’s health has to be considered. The wise timing of pregnancies saves lives and promotes better health. Facts for Life says: “One of the most effective ways of reducing the dangers of pregnancy and child birth for both mother and child is to plan the timing of births. The risks of child-bearing are greatest when the mother-to-be is under 18 or over 35, or has had four or more previous pregnancies, or when there is a gap of less than two years since the last birth.”
Couples thinking about having children ought to consider that, as the Bible foretold, we are surrounded by a world filled with crime, famine, war, and economic uncertainty. (Matthew 24:3-12; 2 Timothy 3:1-5, 13; Revelation 6:5, 6) Genuine love for children will help couples to be realistic regarding the world we live in, appreciating that raising children is in our time a great challenge. So rather than just letting things happen and having as many children as come along in hopes that everything will turn out right, many prefer to choose how large their family will be so that their children will enjoy a greater measure of happiness and security.
Besides helping us to make wise decisions on family matters, God’s Word gives us a solid hope for the future. The Bible shows that it is the Creator’s purpose for humans to live forever in peace and happiness on a paradise earth. To accomplish this, God will soon bring this wicked system of things to an end. Then, in a righteous new world free from poverty and overpopulation, children will never again be thrown away because of being unwanted.—Isaiah 45:18; 65:17, 20-25; Matthew 6:9, 10.
Clearly, consideration for each other and for the children, as well as a balanced view of procreation, will help a couple to decide the size of their family. Instead of just letting things take their own course, they should prayerfully seek God’s guidance. “The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.”—Proverbs 10:22.
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Millions of children are abandoned
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Children need loving care