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A while ago, I was poking around the Catholic section of Reddit, since I was curious about how the topic of birth control might be handled within it. In a comment to one post, someone stated that his girlfriend was diabetic and could only have very carefully planned pregnancies, as pregnancy could jeopardize her life. In response, another commentor argued that the "correct" Catholic response would still prohibit use of "artificial" birth control methods.

These questions (1, 2) suggests that there's some general precedent as to what happens if the woman does get pregnant, but that's not my concern here. I'm more interested in this: in such a scenario, where pregnancy must either be entirely planned or averted, has there been any halachic precedent for whether the couple should still marital relations, and if so, whether birth control (or at least some forms of the such) is permissible?

This post suggests that the solution isn't to not use birth control or abstain, but I would prefer a more explicit address of the problem.


Note: this sounds like the sort of scenario where the advice to CYLOR would be extremely pertinent, but I am asking purely out of curiosity.

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    The "correct" answer to this question is CYLOR. The question can be rephrased to make it about the use of birth control generally and whether there are scenarios when it is allowed, or about the requirement for marital relations generally and whether there are scenarios when it is not required. But for the question "does Judaism allow couples to forego marital relations if one partner is at risk of a dangerous pregnancy, and if so, when?" is a practical one, and a sensitive one, whose answer is CYLOR. – Seth J Jun 22 '15 at 18:23
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    Birth control is halachically allowed (and even mandatory) in cases where pregnancy is potentially life threatening, with certain methods preferable over others. – Loewian Jun 22 '15 at 20:25
  • the tzemach tzedek regarding this chabadlibrary.org/books/zz/shut/3/89/1.htm – hazoriz Mar 28 '17 at 17:53
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There is 100%, crystal-clear, absolute precedent in Jewish law for birth control if pregnancy would endanger the mother.

Talmud, Ketubot 39a:

תני רב ביבי קמיה דרב נחמן שלש נשים משמשות במוך אלו הן קטנה ומעוברת ומניקה קטנה שמא תתעבר ותמות מעוברת שמא תעשה עוברה סנדל מניקה שמא תגמול את בנה

Rabbi Bibi taught before Rav Nachman: three women may/should/must [commentaries debate the language here] use a cloth [as a mechanical barrier]: one who is too young; pregnant; or nursing. Too young, as pregnancy may kill her. Pregnant, as it may harm the fetus. Nursing, as it may dry up her milk supply.

Irrespective of exactly which cases the Talmud was discussing and whether we'd encounter them today, the theory is quite clear: we are not Catholics! Judaism very much allows at least some methods of birth control due to certain health concerns.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (d. NYC 1986), for instance, has responsa where the questions include: the parents have anxiety disorders; mom gets severe postpartum depression (where he writes explicitly that I don't want to do anything depression can easily slide into I want to hurt someone including myself depression, God forbid); and allowing adequate recovery time from C-sections.

Obviously, please consult your local rabbi regarding particular needs and methods. If you can't do so for any reason, try emailing yoatzot.org.

  • Thanks: this was more or less what I was looking for. (I had a good sense of what the answer would be but wanted to look for some more exact references. ) – Maroon Jun 23 '15 at 16:17

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