Ethical approaches to Contraception

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Natural Law

Opposed to contraception because the couple wouldn't be fulfiling one of the primary precepts (procreation). If the sex does not lead to children then the sex act is unnatural, therefore, according to natural law homosexuality, masturbation, contraception etc are unnatural.

Some Catholics use the doctrine of double effect to argue that it is morally accept to use condoms to prevent HIV, even though it prevents the birth of a child.


  • Natural Law limits the purpose of sex to purely biological reasons and denies other aspects of sexuality - mutual comfort and expressing love
  • Is sex a means of conceiving children? Or is conceiving children a by-product of sex?
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Kantian Ethics

For Kant it would be a question of applying the categorical imperative. For Kant reproduction is not the sole purpose of sex, he saw sex as important in the relationship of marriage and performing a unitive function. Occasionally usuing contraception does not seem to pose a problem, but Kant is wary of the danger of lust and sexual desire so he would be wary of contraception encouraging promiscuity and so could not universalise it outside marriage. He would also say that it could lead to people using each other sexually as a means to an end, and reduces sex to an end in itself without consequences.

Had a high regard for autonomony for every rational human being, thus would regard it as morally wrong for women to be forced to have children in precisely the same way that he would considered it immoral for women to be made to have abortions


  • Kant does not take into account all the varieties of sexual relationships so it is almost impossible to apply a universal rule
  • However, he does prevent people from being used as sexual objects
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Utilitarians argue for the greatest happiness, but contraception leading to sexual freedom is not necessarily the highest good as we cannot predict the consequences. On the other hand, a utilitarian would argue that humans will have sex no matter what, hence contraceptives must be available to avoid seriously damaging consequences, such as too many unwanted children or the spread of disease. Contraception can also provide for couples who want to limit the number of children they can support and educate without sacrificing the unitive element of their marriage.

Singer argues for using contraception to stop population growth, even suggesting that aid to developing countries should be made conditional on the use of contraceptives


  • Some see the opportunities that contraception vies to institutions as interfering with a basic right of every human being to reproduce - e.g. China's one-child policy
  • The domination of the majority gives no protection for minorities
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Virtue Ethics

Virtue ethics is an agent-based normative theory, which focuses on whether a person can become more virtuous through a particular action. So - thinking of the virtue of prudence - is it more virtuous to use contraception or not? The follower of virtue ethics would have to consider the virtues in practice in a relationship - how would using or not usuing contraception contribute to a virtuous relationship?

A virtue ethicists who was influenced by NL would comment that a virtue lies in human reproduction and in a loving, caring family which exists in a family. They argue that contraception leads to casual sex which is inherently immortal as it treats people unfairly. Michael Slote emphasised the caring nature of a virtuous person - caring for yourself, family/freidsn and the whole of humanity. It can be argued that all three types of care emphasises the need to use contraceptives - if you care for yourself you will not wish to die or be sick due to a STD.


  • Difficult to know what virtues to apply
  • No clear response
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