As I understand it, Roman Catholicism teaches the following:

  • Life begins at conception and therefore abortion is wrong
  • Artificial birth control is wrong

Under normal circumstances these teachings seem complementary or at least unrelated. But it seems to me that this combination might be problematic when considering the case of a woman who has a history of miscarriages. Does the Roman Catholic Church specifically instruct such women differently than others?

For example, assume a woman who has had several miscarriages despite medical intervention, and no live births. Would the RCC consider the deaths of the children in the womb of such a woman significant enough to instruct her to take one of the following approaches?

  • Abstention from sexual relations until menopause (eliminating the chance of miscarriage)
  • Mandatory use of natural family planning and/or artificial birth control (allowing the latter since it can prevent pregnancy more effectively than natural family planning alone)
  • Mandatory use of natural family planning only (reducing the chance of miscarriage, but not as much as previous options)

Or does the RCC not recognize a distinction in such a case? From the perspective of the RCC, are such women just as free to pursue pregnancy as those with no history of miscarriage?

  • Is your question: "Does the Church allow Catholic women to take the estrogen-progestogen pill for medical and non-contraceptive purposes only?"
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 4:39
  • @Geremia No, not at all. To the (limited) extent that my question relates to artificial birth control, it includes all artificial birth control methods, and it refers to them in their capacity as birth control, not things that happen to be birth control but are taken for some other purpose. Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 4:43
  • I'm very confused where you say: "…things that happen to be birth control but are taken for some other purpose." Are you asking if there is ever a medical reason to contracept and whether the Church permits this?
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 16:30
  • 2
    @Geremia it seems pretty clear to me that the question is asking "Does the Church instruct women with a history of multiple miscarriages that they may, or must, use birth control OR complete abstinence OR or natural family planning OR a combination of the above to avoid pregnancy, such (hypothetical) instruction differing from that given to other women?" Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 17:25
  • 1
    @Nathaniel Okay, so it seems you're asking: "In Roman Catholicism, can artificial contraception be used to prevent recurrent miscarriages?" Is that correct? Although even then, there's still som ambiguity because "contraception" means "preventing conception," which isn't necessarily what people with recurrent miscarriages want to do; sometimes they want to conceive and birth a live baby.
    – Geremia
    Commented Nov 29, 2016 at 18:17

1 Answer 1


There are two ways of preventing miscarriages (spontaneous abortions):

  1. Not conceiving at all
    1. by abstaining from sexual intercourse (allowed)
    2. by contracepting (forbidden)
  2. Treating the underlying medical cause of recurrent miscarriage (allowed)

If #1 is intended, yet the husband and wife still engage in the marriage act, this is contraception, and the Church prohibits all forms of contraception (frustrating the procreative end of the marriage act). As Pope Pius XI said in his encyclical on Christian marriage Casti Connubii:

[A]ny use whatsoever of matrimony exercised in such a way that the act is deliberately frustrated in its natural power to generate life is an offense against the law of God and of nature.

Certainly, #1 could be intended by refraining from sexual relations, too, and the Church does not forbid this as long as both husband and wife agree to it.

The Catholic Church prohibits contraception in any form, regardless of other factors. If there is a serious reason for having marriage relations (e.g., to prevent a spouse from committing adultery), yet conceiving may be dangerous to her health (e.g., due to recurrent miscarriage), the couple can (and could even be obliged to) have marriage relations during the relatively more infertile period of her cycle. See, e.g., "Recourse to Infertile Periods" (§16) of Humanæ Vitæ.

Regarding #2, Catholics are certainly permitted to cure recurrent miscarriage, just as they are permitted and in some cases obliged, to cure any other disease. Failure to cure, if possible, a life-threatening disease could be a sin against the 5th Commandment. If curing the recurrent miscarriage produces some other undesired effect, like infertility, it might still be permissible to cure the recurrent miscarriage, as long as infertility is not intended; this is the principle of double-effect:

The principle that says it is morally allowable to perform an act that has at least two effects, one good and one bad. It may be used under the following conditions:

  1. the act to be done must be good in itself or at least morally indifferent; by the act to be done is meant the deed itself taken independently of its consequences;

  2. the good effect must not be obtained by means of the evil effect; the evil must be only an incidental by-product and not an actual factor in the accomplishment of the good;

  3. the evil effect must not be intended for itself but only permitted; all bad will must be excluded form the act;

  4. there must be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect. At least the good and evil effects should be nearly equivalent. All four conditions must be fulfilled. If any one of them is not satisfied, the act is morally wrong.

An example of the lawful use of the double effect would be the commander of a submarine in wartime who torpedoes an armed merchant vessel of the enemy, although he foresees that several innocent children on board will be killed. All four required conditions are fulfilled:

  1. he intends merely to lessen the power of the enemy by destroying an armed merchant ship. He does not wish to kill the innocent children;

  2. his action of torpedoing the ship is not evil in itself;

  3. the evil effect (the death of the children) is not the cause of the good effect (the lessening of the enemy's strength);

  4. there is sufficient reason for permitting the evil effect to follow, and this reason is administering a damaging blow to those who are unjustly attacking his country.

Usually recurrent miscarriage, like infertility, is a sign of some underlying medical issue that needs to be addressed. See ch. 12 "Recurrent Miscarriage" of Catholic OB/GYN Dr. Hilgers's The NaProTECHNOLOGY Revolution. Dr. Hilgers practices medicine in accordance with Catholic moral teaching.

  • downvote. 'If there is a serious reason for having marriage relations (e.g., to prevent a spouse from committing adultery)' --> wait what's up with this eg? in order for my spouse to not sin, i must have sex even if i would not want to and even if i were not obliged to? so, what, it's not sinful to commit adultery if spouse isn't putting out?
    – BCLC
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 12:40
  • wait also i think you didn't quite answer the part about the instruct: sure it's permitted if the spouses never have sex until menopause during the fertile periods, but is it ever going to be required? (i understand the 'instructed' part as possibly, but not necessarily, 'required') It's kinda like this post, where the answer says it's never gonna be required just like recommended
    – BCLC
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 12:47
  • @BCLC "is it ever going to be required?" Continence is only suggested, not commanded; cf. 1 Cor. 7:3-6.
    – Geremia
    Commented May 27, 2021 at 17:23

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