Contraception and Buddhism

Hi guys,

Some contraceptions prevent conception but some of them can also act as abortifacient i.e. prevent the implantation of fertilised egg in the uterus, in case the prevention is failed.
Therefore, it’s a violation of the first precept.

But it’s also said that newly created zygote is not “alive”, not all fertilised eggs result in pregnancy. Therefore, birth control method that prevents pregnancy at the very early stage such as birth control that prevents the implantation of fertilised egg is not considered abortifacient. I read somewhere, even if it’s alive the consciousness is comparable to someone in a deep coma. When a person takes birth control pill prior sexual intercourse, for example, their intention is to prevent pregnancy/conception, they do no think to have abortion and intention is kamma.

But as far as I am aware, it’s widely understood that the most acceptable birth control method for Buddhists is the one that prevents conception, Buddhists do not have many choices when it comes to birth control. Does anyone think preventing implantation of fertilised egg is equal to violation of the first precept, any thoughts? Thanks.

Hi @SC1100, the topic below is related and worth linking here:



Brahmacariya :wink:


I was startled to hear the following:

Furthermore, someone is aware when conceived in their mother’s womb, aware as they remain there, and aware as they emerge. This is the fourth kind of conception. –DN33

That is quite…sobering.

Sperm and ovum usually unite, if they do, in a woman’s fallopian tube ampulla. This is not a womb.

Sperm and ovum can unite in IVF In vitro fertilisation. This, also, not a womb.

A zygote (from Greek ζυγωτός zygōtos “joined” or “yoked”, from ζυγοῦν zygoun “to join” or “to yoke”)[1] is a eukaryotic cell formed by a fertilization event between two gametes. The zygote’s genome is a combination of the DNA in each gamete, and contains all of the genetic information necessary to form a new individual. In multicellular organisms, the zygote is the earliest developmental stage. In single-celled organisms, the zygote can divide asexually by mitosis to produce identical offspring.
[wiki pedia zygote]

But a zygote develops more than just a fetus…

A cavity forms inside the morula, by the active transport of sodium ions from trophoblast cells and osmosis of water. This results in a hollow ball of cells known as the blastocyst.[7][8] The blastocyst’s outer cells will become the first embryonic epithelium (the trophectoderm). Some cells, however, will remain trapped in the interior and will become the inner cell mass (ICM), and are pluripotent. In mammals (except monotremes), the ICM will ultimately form the “embryo proper”, while the trophectoderm will form the placenta and extra-embryonic tissues.
[wikipedia morula]

The hypoblast contributes to extraembryonic membranes and the epiblast will give rise to the ultimate embryo proper as well as some extraembryonic tissues.
[wikipedia inner cell mass]

The implantation window is characterized by changes to the endometrium cells, which aid in the absorption of the uterine fluid. These changes are collectively known as the plasma membrane transformation and bring the blastocyst nearer to the endometrium and immobilize it. During this stage the blastocyst can still be eliminated by being flushed out of the uterus.
[wikipedia implantation (human embryo]

Conceptus (Latin: conceptio, meaning derivatives of zygote) denotes the embryo and its adnexa (appendages or adjunct parts) or associated membranes (i.e. the products of conception).[1] The conceptus includes all structures that develop from the zygote, both embryonic and extraembryonic. It includes the embryo as well as the embryonic part of the placenta and its associated membranes - amnion, chorion (gestational sac), and yolk sac.
[wikipedia conceptus]

In human pregnancy, a developing fetus is considered as an embryo until the ninth week, fertilization age, or eleventh-week gestational age. After this time the embryo is referred to as a fetus.
[wikipedia embryo]

But these are technical terms; they will not give you wisdom about rebirth.

Some embryos do not survive to the next stage of development. When this happens naturally, it is called spontaneous abortion or miscarriage.[12] There are many reasons why this may occur. The most common natural cause of miscarriage is chromosomal abnormality in animals or genetic load in plants.
In species which produce multiple embryos at the same time, miscarriage or abortion of some embryos can provide the remaining embryos with a greater share of maternal resources. This can also disturb the pregnancy, causing harm to the second embryo. Genetic strains which miscarry their embryos are the source of commercial seedless fruits.
Abortion is the process of artificially (non-naturally) removing the embryo through deliberate pharmaceutical or surgical methods.

Abortion may or may not be against the first precept; an embryo which is dead could be removed, for health of the mother, or (possibly) a twin still in utero.

Miscarriage may or may not mean the death of a being; we do not know when rebirth occurs, we do not know if miscarried cells ever carried cita simply based on technical terms of biology or medicine.

A living limb may be amputated without breaking the first precept; the cells in that limb will DIE but this is not “taking a life”. A miscarriage may occur without breaking the first precept; menstruation can occur without breaking the first precept. A still birth may occur without breaking the first precept. Ectopic pregnancy may occur; maternal death in childbirth may occur.

The first precept imo is best kept, maybe only kept, BY ONESELF. All the precepts are DIY. :wink: If you are a human male, as far as I know, you cannot get pregnant, but you can impregnate. So - if you are male, consider a vasectomy; it is usually easily reversible, and is simple operation with few if any side effects. You might also want to educate yourself and other males about male birth control (in addition to brahmacariya, which may not be for everyone, despite its excellent side benefits).

Trying to conform the first precept of the Buddha to political ideology or abrahamic religuous concepts is imo folly. It seems to encourage beliefs in souls and selfs.


Thanks for referring to the link, however, I find the conclusion is not quite clear.
Most people still roaming around between contraception that prevent fertilization and the contraception that might prevent implantation, the reason the latter one is chosen I think is because the intention to kill does not exist.

You are welcome.

I understand that EBTs will not provide you a dogmatic answer to the question.

What EBTs will provide us is a number of reference points to consider when assessing ourselves the potential harmfulness of our choices and actions.

On the topic of contraception, I understand that making use of methods which make physiologically unlikely or impossible for the origination of a human being within a woman’s womb is a neutral choice in itself.

While it is effective in terms of frustrating the biological process which could result in a successful pregnancy 9 months or so down the track it is not frustrating the phenomena of rebirth in itself - as there will be a number of other wombs for the dependent origination of a birth to take place.

Even if we were to think of the extreme (reductio ad absurdom) of a hypothetical choice of mass and immediate sterilization across the whole of humankind, I am confident that this would only lead to an ‘overflow’ of dependent originated births to another specie, mode or form of birth.

There is as well a second order implication which relates to why in first place contraception is being used.

I understand that most of the time, people make use of those methods because they just want to enjoy the sensual pleasure of sex without the risk of that resulting in a son or daughter down the track.

And that may be motivated by a genuine fear of the financial implications of that, or just the disinterest in the social responsibilities that come with having a son or a daughter. It can be also a motivated by an understanding that one’s family is already big enough.

In either case, EBTs will not support the vilification / demonization of those using those methods, as they are just interested in having ‘a good time’ and not willing to take the risk of ending up with a family (or an larger family) to take care.

From EBTs perspective, all in all, partaking in the sensual pleasure of sex is as much as a fetter as partaking in the sensual pleasure of listening to a nice song, having a nice meal or delighting in a nice aroma or sight.

At the same time, from the perspective of the four noble truths and the goal of verifying ourselves the ending of suffering, EBTs are quite consistent in saying that the act of sex is definitely something that drops away as the the mind is liberated and purified.

And in that case, with or without making use of contraception, the partaking on the sensual pleasure of sex relations is simply and clearly incompatible with the spiritual livelihood / lifestyle promoted by the Buddha and which eventually and naturally brings about the end of suffering.

Last but not least, note that as per the Vinaya, monastics are not expected to promote methods of abortion. And I understand that to play safe, monastics abstain from interfering with non-monastic choices in regards to what they do to their bodies in terms of stopping conception to take place or interrupting it even if at the level of contraception.


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Thoughtful post. I think one could add a bit to the paragraph above. One might be motivated by realistic fears of shame and shaming by family and society. That shaming might come with punitive consequences such as expulsion from schools, ejection from family homes, loss of employment, ejection from social group groups, loss of opportunity for education.

If shaming and other risks for any and every pregnancy was eradicated, perhaps abortions would drop. If shaming for single parenthood and anything related to adoption was eradicated from society, perhaps abortions would drop. If risks to maternal health and childbirth and prenatal health were reduced, perhaps abortions would drop. If accurate sex education was mandated, especially that ejaculation without vasectomy can lead to fatherhood, and fatherhood would actually have mandated support and responsibilities (as well as kamma), perhaps abortions would drop.

… is this a projection or based on survey? Do you think an intention to kill does or might exist if the preference is to prevent fertilization? (Did you mean implantation? And is the suggested correlation other than speculative, but has investigation behind it? Not sure I am understanding you, but it seems you might mean, using some form(s) of birth control should be viewed as evidence of murderous intentions… )

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Nothing is truly reliable including survey. If you happen to see or hear senior monks or educated Buddhists encourage Buddhists or say it’s ok to use contraception that can/might prevent implantation, you are welcome to quote it here, I would like to know it too.

Buddhist teaching AFAIK is the teaching of harmlessness. We do not have intention but somehow we need to use common sense as well, just like other things in life.
Buddhists accept contraceptions in the different degree of hesitation, Buddha didn’t talk about this before , we can’t rely the Bible either.

edit: reply to @SC1100; I don’t know why Reply didn’t seem to work.

… I am not big on quoting “senior monks or educated Buddhists”. It’s just not where my mind goes, even if issues are a little challenging.

“Common sense” is an interesting idea, if considered removed from this or any volitle issue. Sometimes it refers to practical matters, like gravity in this world we are accustomed to; things fall, it’s common sense. But the phrase has another use, and maybe that isn’t harmless; it can mean “what is generally believed”; I have even seen it used (and I am NOT saying this is how it is used here) as a way to ask someone to “stop talking; stop thinking and working on this; just act like everybody else”. :slight_smile:

I really try NOT to use my common sense this way.

The specific mechanisms of rebirth are as far as I know unknown.

Contra ception, contra ceptives, and abortion, killing, and murder are all different things. Talking about them as if they were not, seems to me to not lead to dispassion.

What we know from the EBTs, it seems to me, and perhaps someone can add information here, is that the Buddha prohibited monastics from advising, procuring, instructing how, or arranging, abortions. And he also (?) I think prohibited monastics from teaching contraceptives; but I cannot recall at the moment if the context was more, don’t get involved in or participate in spouses keeping secrets from each other, or meddle in married people’s relationships, or if it was in context of the first precept.

I don’t recall anything else on birth control in the suttas (but if there is, would be happy to be educated.)

I think it is a very good practice to be cautious in extrapolating (edit: especially as a Rule for others) about any modern concern or technology based on the Buddha’s words; I don’t think any of us want to misrepresent the Buddha!

Every Buddhist, I hope, takes the precepts we have been given seriously, and would, I hope, seek to keep them in their current life, as best they understand them, and as they grow in understanding of the Dhamma.

I think any support offered should, as much as possible, be free of anger, ill will, and anything else unskillful.