The Pill: Is It Abortifacient?
Here’s a topic I’ve been meaning to bring up for a while. Before I start, I should point out that my knowledge of the sciences (other than aspects of computer science) is absolutely shameful. I last studied science in my second year of high school and only passed because during the final exam I sat behind and to the right of the class brain and was able to copy her multiple choice answers (I offer no excuse for my behaviour except to say I was unregenerate at that time). So my knowledge of biology and chemistry are poor at best.
Before I begin, I’d like to point out that I have no aversion to using birth control. My wife and I have had only two children in our six years of marriage, so you could correctly draw the conclusion that we have employed birth control to space out our children. Furthermore, I do not consider it wrong if a couple wishes to have only two children while another wishes to have eight. I believe that in Christ we have freedom to decide such things. So do not accuse me of believing that every Christian family should be comprised of fifteen children. Some quivers are full at three while others at sixteen.
So while I do not have an issue with using birth control, I have always struggled with accepting the pill as an acceptable form of birth control. I have asked many people the following question and have never gotten a satisfactory answer: "Can the pill cause an abortion?" A friend of mine who is a believer, a remarkably smart guy and a pharmacist could not even answer the question (after only a couple of years his conscience drove him away from his vocation and he became a fellow computer geek instead).
The pill is popular for several reasons. The foremost are:
- Ease of use - No muss, no fuss. A woman need only take a pill once a day to have near perfect protection against pregnancy.
- Effectiveness - The pill is highly effective. When used perfectly, the changes of becoming pregnant are miniscule.
- Convenience - Any couple who has fumbled with condoms or other similar methods of contraception can testify to their inconvenience. The pill also increases spontaneity.
Compared to other forms of birth control, the pill is highly desirable. It offers greater ease, effectiveness and convenience than other methods. It is easy to understand why it has come into such widespread use.
When Does Life Begin?
We must preface this discussion with defining when life begins. Generally Christians believe that life begins at the moment of conception (fertilization) and I hold to this view. Competing views would try to have us believe that life begins later - either when a child is able to survive outside of its mother's body or even not until it is born. In recent days more and more people actually hold to the belief that a baby cannot be considered a human life until a few days after birth. If your belief differs from the view that life begins at conception, you will likely not agree with most of what follows.
How Does The Pill Work?
The pill prevents pregnancy by fooling a woman's body into thinking it is pregnant. There are two main types of birth control pills. The first is a combined oral contraceptive that contains two hormones: estrogen and progestin. Estrogen helps prevent ovulation by suppressing the hormones that would cause the ovary to release an egg. Progestin thickens the cervical mucus which hinders the ability of the sperm to travel through the fallopian tubes. It also prevents the lining of the uterus to develop normally which means that if an egg were fertilized, it would be unable to implant. The second type of pill is known as the minipill and contains no estrogen, so while it does not prevent ovulation, it does inhibit the ability of the sperm to fertilize the egg (both my thickening mucus and by suppressing its ability to unite with the egg) and should fertilization take place, the likelihood of implantation.
It is interesting to note that the "morning-after pill," a pill which can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex to reduce the risk of pregnancy is actually simply a combined oral contraceptive pill that contains both estrogen and progestin. The morning after pill, designed to prevent or terminate a pregnancy is no different from the birth control pill designed to prevent pregnancy.
Can The Pill Cause Abortions?
A search of resources geared mainly towards women's health, shows that most people affirm that birth control does not cause abortions. However, it would seem their definition of what constitutes an abortion is different from what the majority of Christians believe. If life begins at conception, then preventing implantation is already causing an abortion. The pill will not, apparently, cause an implanted fetus to be aborted (though it does increase the likelihood of ectopic pregnancies which are pregnancies in the fallopian tubes that threaten the lives of both mother and child if the pregnancy is not quickly terminated). However, having read the warnings that come with the pill, the companies will not guarantee that the pill will not adversely affect a fetus. It is possible that birth defects and other health problems may be linked to the pill.
I have to conclude, then, that the birth control pill can and does cause abortions. If life begins at the very moment of conception, any implantation which is blocked by the pill is in fact an abortion. It hardly even seems like there can be any controversy about this - if the pill does what the pharmaceutical companies say it does, it may cause an abortion any given month. The changes may be remote, but they still exist. You may find my arguments non-scientific and even simplistic, but I see no reason to make them more complex than this.
I have often mentioned my misgivings about the pill to other believers, only to be met with blank stares and often some anger. It seems to me that if my wife and I were using the pill and found out it was possible that we were aborting children, we would immediately do some research and find out if this was the case. Perhaps I am wrong. I have had couples tell me that using other forms of birth control was hurting their relationship, as they would rather go without sexual relations than have to fumble with condoms or worry about undesired pregnancies using "natural" methods of birth control.
But if the pill really does cause abortions, there is no excuse for using it. How big a risk of abortion would convince you to rethink the pill? What if there was a one in one thousand chance that during the course of your life you would lose one child this way? One in one hundred? One in ten thousand? I do not know what the chances are, but frankly I don't really care. In matters of life and death, we can take no chances!
I would encourage you to do the research for yourself. And when you do so, pass along your findings here. I am willing (and eager) to be corrected on my conclusions.