Our Father knits us together in our mothers’ wombs in a very unique way that has never been duplicated in all of history. A new human being is created when the sperm fertilizes the egg and after this combination of the male’s and female’s separate chromosomes there are no major additions. The sperm and the egg cannot exist or develop on their own, but once joined this new human will simply require the right environment and the right nourishment to grow and continue to develop through varying degrees of dependency and independence onward through their lifespan. God has created and guides this wonderful process, and so another person is made in His image, for His purpose and to live to His pleasure and glory.
What this article is not about
When God puts this privilege in our lives we also must act responsibly with it. Many Christians have used the birth control pill with the intentions of planning their family under God’s guidance. Their intentions were and are to please God with their family and to live responsibly in His kingdom. There have been many controversies about many types of contraceptives and some have questioned the use of any contraceptives, wondering if they are being used in an improper attempt to “play God.” But that isn’t a topic that will be dealt with in the scope of this article.
Instead the birth control pill will be examined closely to determine whether or not there are any other reasons Christians should question this particular contraceptive’s use in family planning.
Abortifacient or contraceptive?
It is now being suggested that the pill is an abortifacient and not a contraceptive. The difference is significant: abortifacients actually take the life of a preborn child at some stage between the instant of fertilization and birth, whereas contraceptives prevent the sperm from actually meeting the egg and fertilizing it.
The birth control pill has changed over the years. Initially it was produced as a “progesterone only pill” (POP). This was a high level dose of progesterone which would alter the cervical mucus and also interfere with the implantation of the fertilized egg in the mother’s womb. These are now widely known as abortifacient pills because they interfere with the implantation of any fertilized ovum and thus directly result in the termination of the life of that zygote stage human. They are now rarely used because of the dangerous side effects to women. They are in fact now marketed as the “morning after pill” because this high dose of progesterone serves to prevent the newly formed human from receiving its vital nutritive conection from the mother through the endometrium (the tissue lining the uterus).
Today the vast majority of birth control pills prescribed are the “combination oral contraceptives” (COP) which are a combination of progesterone and estrogen. Although these are safer for the women using them, they are less effective at preventing ovulation, and thus preventing fertilization, because they are a lower dose. Therefore COP’s work on three levels (as stated by the Physicians Desk Reference from the Food and Drug Administration):
- inhibiting ovulation (the primary mechanism)
- thickening the cervical mucus and thereby making it more difficult for the sperm to meet the egg
- thinning the endometrial lining so that the fertilized egg is less able or unable to implant in the womb.
It is at this third level that the pill’s effect is abortifacient.
But does this third level happen?
This has been hotly debated by non-Christian and Christians in the medical world. Some say that because the chance for this last method to occur is so infinitesimally small it is not significant. Some have contended that if ovulation and then fertilization occurs in a person using the pill the subsequent hormone production in the mother’s body will rejuvenate the endometrium, thus allowing implantation and no unintended abortion will occur. They also have stated that there is not enough medical evidence to prove that the endometrium will actually be hostile to an implanting fertilized egg because there is a seven day span between when conception occurs and implantation occurs, enough time for the endometrium to recover. They state that this is the reason some women have still been able to become pregnant while using the pill.
It has been countered that there is no medical evidence available to suggest that the endometrium recovers. In fact, studies done on the use of the pill and breakthrough ovulation suggest the opposite, that the endometrium is still indeed thin and unable to support life. It is also noted that medical studies have clearly shown the endometrial lining is as little as 1.1 mm in thickness with women on the pill, whereas 5-13 mm thickness is necessary for sustaining a pregnancy. Normally it takes women a number of regular cycles while not taking the pill for the endometrial lining to restore to full thickness.
There have also been those who say that because the women using the pill are not intending to cause an abortion they cannot be held at fault. However Christian ethicists have suggested that intentions would indeed make this valid only if there were no other viable options for family planning (assuming also that family planning is in accord with God’s will).
There are indeed other family planning options available for Christians who, knowing that the pill could be abortifacient, will not take it. There are natural family planning techniques available, such as the NaPro’ method and the Billings Ovulation Method. Studies have proven these to actually be more effective than the birth control pill at planning pregnancies, and also have been shown to improve the quality of the husband and wife relationship through qualitative studies.
More research is needed on the abortifacient effects of the birth control pill, because at this point one can not quantitatively argue that the birth control pill will cause “x” number of abortions. It is unlikely, however, that these studies will necessarily occur, because the pharmaceutical companies would be unlikely to fund them. Also, they could quickly become unethical as would any study that involves the life of a child and involves trying to control and imitate the causes of death in the life of that child.
As always, prayerful consideration should be made in this matter. We cannot be ignorant to the facts surrounding the birth control pill and although many of us would rather not be faced with this we must as God’s children sanctify the life that he has given us and to all others around us. For more information and for the sources of this article please see the following sources:
- Randy Alcorn’s book Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? which can be downloaded for free here
- Dr. Walter Larimore’s article The Growing Debate About the Abortifacient Effect of the Birth Control Pill and the Principle of the Double Effect
- The Canadian Physicians for Life
- ProLife Physicians’ A Declaration of Life