As the childhood sage of Sleepless in Seattle put it, Daddypotamus and I are MFEO.*
For the most part we enjoy the same books, T.V. shows, etc. We both LOVE the Caribbean and go there as often as we can. We agree on how to parent our children. We share a common background of faith and pray together often(ish). There is this one thing about kids though: We have never agreed on birth control.
I was already insanely attracted to Daniel when it first came up that he didn’t believe in using any kind of birth control whatsoever.** Pretty sneaky of him, because if that had come up earlier I would have been OUT. OF. THERE.
I thought he was CRAZY. Twenty-one year old me wasn’t sure I ever wanted to become a mom. But six, eight, or ten kids? I told him no way.
Birth control was almost a deal breaker for us . . .
But as I said before we are MFEO and stuff, so I began looking into other options. You know what surprised me? It didn’t take much digging for me to discover an ugly truth I’d never heard before.
[Before I go on, I want you to know that I feel a little bit like throwing up as I type this. This is probably similar to what policemen feel like when they have to knock on someone's front door and tell them that their husband and the father of their children has been in a serious car wreck. I don't like to drop life-changing information on unsuspecting people. But I would be seriously angry if the messenger decided just not to tell me. Because as much as I don't want to be told, I know I need to know. So I'm telling you what I would want to know]
Despite the fact that they are referred to as contraceptives (Latin for against conception, meaning that it prevents conception), birth control pills cause abortions.
My goal in saying this is not to stir up controversy about whether abortions are morally permissible. Others have made arguments on both sides that are much more persuasive than anything I have to say. Since it will be painfully obvious when I start using words like baby to describe a fertilized egg, I should go ahead and say that I believe life begins at conception. But even if you don’t believe that, read on. At issue here is whether or not people are being mislead regarding what the Pill actually does. Everyone has a right to informed consent, and that is not what is happening.
The Three Mechanisms
There are three mechanisms that give the Pill its high rate of effectiveness. First, it suppresses ovulation most of the time. When that fails, the second mechanism kicks in. The second mechanism involves thickening cervical mucus so that it is difficult for sperm to migrate to the fallopian tubes and join with an ovum.
When THAT fails and sperm reaches the ovum and all the magical right things happen, a woman becomes pregnant. Unfortunately, the birth control pill has one last hand to deal and like all gambles, the odds are with the house. The fine print that comes with birth control pills invariably goes something like this:
Combination oral contraceptives act by suppression of gonadotrophins. Although the primary mechanism of this action is inhibition of ovulation, other alterations include changes in the cervical mucus, which increase the difficulty of sperm entry into the uterus, and changes in the endometrium, which reduce the likelihood of implantation.
The Physicians Desk Reference, 1995, 1775
In plain English what this means is that the pill alters the uterus from an environment that is designed to nourish and protect new life into one that is essentially barren of the necessary nutrients to sustain a child. Typically, a uterus needs to be between 5 -13 mm thick to sustain a pregnancy. The average thickness in pill users is 1.1mm.¹
Now maybe you’re thinking “People get pregnant on the pill all the time and carry their babies to term, so I don’t think that third mechanism is real. If a woman gets pregnant on the pill she’ll stay pregnant.” It’s tempting to believe that, but consider this: The first two mechanisms are real and sometimes fail. The same is true of the third. In his book, “Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?” Randy Alcorn says:
It is significant that the “morning after pill” is in fact nothing but a combination of several standard birth control pills taken in high dosages. When the announcement was made, the uninformed public probably assumed that the high dosage makes birth control pills do something they were otherwise incapable of doing. But the truth is that it simply increases the chances of doing what it already sometimes does – cause an abortion.
Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?, pp 65-66
We have assumed that the pill’s failure rate accurately depicts the number of times a woman conceives while on the pill. Unfortunately, because of the third mechanism there may be many more pregnancies that women are never aware occurred because they ended prematurely. Of course, no studies have been done to determine how often the first two mechanisms fail (who would fund them, the drug companies that have a vested interest in selling them?). Here’s a helpful analogy;
Imagine a farmer who has two places he might plant seed. One is rich, brown soil that has been tilled, fertilized and watered. The other is on hard, thin, dry and rocky soil. If the farmer wants as much seed as possible to take hold and grow, where will he plant the seed? The answer is obvious – on the fertile ground.
Now you could say to the farmer that his preference for the rich, tilled, moist soil is based on the “theoretical,” because he has probably never seen a scientific study that proves this soil is more hospitable than the thin, hard, dry soil. Likely, such a study has never been done. In other words, there is no absolute proof. The farmer might reply to your skeptical challenge based on his years of observation: “I know good soil when I see it – sure, I’ve seen some plants grow in the hard, thin soil too, but the chances of survival are much less than in the good soil.”
Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?, p. 51
Why Haven’t I Heard This Before?
Words evolve. Did you know that according to The Mad Logophile “apology once meant to defend against an accusation”? It’s from the Greek word apologia, meaning “defense.” If someone time traveled from ancient Greece to now, can you imagine their confusion when someone tried to apologize to them? What if you traveled to a future where people spoke English but the meanings had changed? Believe it or not, you already have.
Historically, when a sperm and egg joined to form a fertilized ovum with completely unique DNA, that was defined as conception. When a woman has conceived she is pregnant. Duh, right?
Not exactly. In 1976 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists redefined conception to mean the point at which a fertilized ovum implants in the mother’s uterine lining. That’s six days after the egg and sperm have joined. For six days that the child has been growing, but according to this new definition any chemical which prevents a fertilized ovum from being able to attach to it’s mother for nourishment has “prevented conception/pregnancy.” What?
So if your doctor tells you that the pill prevents conception and is not abortifacient, he or she is correct according to the new definition, but probably not the definition you were thinking of when you asked. Ironically, according to a former drug rep for Whitehall-Robins, a sister company to Wyeth-Ayerst (one of the top producers of the pill), your doctor is probably unaware that he is being misleading.
In company meetings information on the Pill was covered in a totally different way than other products. Our training had always been open and relaxed, and we went through detailed instruction on how every product works; we were expected to explain how they worked to physicians. But the approach to the birth control pills was completely different – the approach was, “don’t worry about how they work, the point is they do; don’t ask questions, just give out the samples.”
Testimony of Karen Witt as documented in Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?, p. 54
Those that are not fully convinced by Karen’s testimony can do what Randy Alcorn did: Contact each pill maker directly and ask if the pill prevents implantation. Although reluctantly, each company confirmed in one way or another that the Pill is designed to prevent a six day old embryo from implanting in its mothers uterus. The trick, it seems, is to ask exactly the right questions. When Alcorn called Wyeth-Ayerst he was read to from a script and then offered information via mail.
It was clearly a form letter designed for those expressing concerns about abortion, and contained the precise contents that Adrianne [the customer service rep he had spoken with] had quoted to me. Also enclosed was a colorful booklet entitled Birth Control With The Pill. In the section, “How the Pill Works,” it states, “The pill mainly prevents pregnancy in two ways.” It then speaks of only the first two mechanisms and makes no reference whatsoever to the third, the prevention of implantation.
The detailed, fine print “professional labeling” was also enclosed, and as reflected in the PDR [Physician's Desk Reference], it states “alterations include changes in . . . the endometrium (which reduces the likelihood of implantation).
It struck me that virtually everyone receiving this information would read the large print, attractive, colorful, easy-to-understand booklet (which makes no mention of the abortive mechanism), and almost no one would read the extremely small print, black and white, technically worded and completely unattractive sheet – the one that acknowledges in the fine print that the Pill sometimes prevents implantation.
Please Don’t Send Me Hate Mail (But it’s okay if you really feel the need to)
There is a mountain of evidence indicating that the Pill is both a contraceptive and a contra-implantive.*** I believe that the public is being intentionally kept in the dark about the third mechanism and that people who believe life begins at fertilization have unknowingly participated in chemical abortions. It is wrong of drug companies to obscure facts about their products in a way that causes individuals to unknowingly violate their own conscience.
I wish I was wrong about this, I REALLY, REALLY do. Other than barrier methods and Natural Family Planning, there are no options that do not have an abortifacient component. Norplant, Depo-Provera, RU 486 and the Mini-Pill are all confirmed abortifacients. There is some debate as to whether the IUD is an abortifacient, but so far the evidence indicates that it is.
For this reason, along with the fact that I don’t like putting chemicals in my body, Daniel and I have practiced Natural Family Planning throughout our marriage. Honestly, it has been inconvenient and frustrating at times and I wish there was an easier way. Daniel and I have never fully agreed on what that way could or should be, so we’re sticking with this for now.
So, if you haven’t run across this research before I’d like to know: Are you convinced? If so, does it change anything for you?
¹ Postfertilization effects of oral contraceptives and their relation to informed consent by Drs. Walter Larimore and Joseph Stanford
*Made for each other
** Both of our views have changed. I used to be fully supportive of all kinds of birth control and he was completely against them. Thorough debate and the experience of actually having children has caused us to reexamine our convictions. There’s too much to say on the subject for this little footnote, so I’ll just say that Daddypotamus is much more comfortable with taking an active role in stewarding our fertility through natural family planning and I have baby fever
***Most of the data cited in Randy Alcorn’s book comes from doctors, scientists, researchers and the pill manufacturers themselves –not prolife advocates with an agenda to push.