RMC Responds: The Difference Between Contraception and Abortion

rmc_responds1Following the Supreme Court’s controversial ruling allowing Hobby Lobby to exclude four contraceptives: Plan B; Ella; and two forms of IUDs, from their employee’s healthcare coverage, many Facebook commenters have defended Hobby Lobby by calling these contraceptives abortifacients. One user wrote:

What concerns me is a supposed Republican organization–yours–does not understand religious freedom and does not understand the basic difference between contraception and abortion…Hobby Lobby is only refusing to pay for abortifacients–those drugs that cause spontaneous abortion or due away with potential babies.”

We have already addressed the ruling’s impact on religious and individual liberty, by emphasizing that the ruling puts the beliefs of an employer above the wellbeing and personal liberty of individual employees. (You can read more here and here.) In addition, we have discussed the broader impact this ruling may have on all approved forms of birth control, but the question of whether or not contraception causes abortions is not a matter of opinion, it is established medical science. Purely and simply, contraception is not abortion. Further, none of the FDA-approved contraceptives, which include IUDs, Plan B, and Ella, cause abortions.

Before we discuss how IUDs and morning after pills work, medical experts agree that pregnancy is a three-step process.  The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains the three steps as follows: first, ovulation must occur. Second, sperm must fertilize an egg that is produced during ovulation. Third, after fertilization that egg must implant itself in a woman’s uterine wall­- this entire process takes about 14 days. A pregnancy occurs ONLY at the point of uterine implantation.

When regulating medical issues we must value facts as provided by medical experts over opinions based on individual religious or moral beliefs.  Legislating based simply on opinion over fact is a recipe for disaster and has lead to the divisive never-ending debate over prevention and family planning.  Redefining the term “conception” to mean “fertilization” without the necessary third step in the process does not adhere to medical science – which should be the standard.  With so few schools systems requiring comprehensive sex education, it is no wonder that the numbers of unplanned pregnancies and STDs occur with such predictable frequency.

Here are the simple biological facts:  IUDs PREVENT fertilization from taking place while both Plan B and Ella PREVENT both fertilization AND ovulation from occurring.

Let’s begin with IUDs. There are two types of IUDs, a type that contains copper and another that contains the same hormone found in many birth control pills. According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, both types of IUDs work by ensuring that a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm do not meet, meaning they PREVENT fertilization. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists explains it this way: copper IUD’s, by their very nature, are toxic to sperm, while the hormonal IUD thickens the mucus in the cervix, making it impossible for sperm to reach the uterus. No fertilization occurs at any point in this process and both the World Health Organization and the American Medical Association consider IUDs to be one of the best types of birth control because they are so safe and effective.

Morning after pills, Ella and Plan B, prevent an egg from being released from the ovary.  While there are many people who believe that sperm and egg unite immediately after intercourse or that as long as a woman isn’t menstruating she can become pregnant, both of these beliefs are biologically inaccurate.  Women will only become pregnant when an egg is first produced and then leaves its ovary- a process that lasts 12 to 24 hours every month. Morning after pills prevent the release of an egg so that a sperm cannot fertilize it and a pregnancy will not occur. Finally, it is important to note that morning after pills have absolutely no effect on an established pregnancy so defining them as abortifacients is wholly incorrect.

Another Facebook commenter summed this up pretty clearly:

And I’d like to clarify something about this theory that’s going out there that the only things that were excluded were abortifacients. None of those that were excluded were abortifacients. None of them work if the woman was in fact pregnant — yes even the morning after pill, if a fertilized egg has latched itself to the uterine wall (a.k.a. being pregnant) the morning after pill doesn’t work.”
A final thought – We understand and respect that individuals have strongly held personal beliefs that may be contrary to conventional wisdom or even scientific fact. Further, we believe that a well-educated people can discern the difference between dogma and established science and choose the path that best meets their personal needs.  We owe it to the generations that follow to provide them with every possible fact we have about the mysteries of life so they have the same privilege.

4 Comments on “RMC Responds: The Difference Between Contraception and Abortion”

  1. RINOcracy.com supports access to both contraceptives and abortifacients. But it is not clear that the Supreme Court got the science wrong in Hobby Lobby. As we wrote (http://www.rinocracy.com/2014/07/blog-no-42-contraceptive-confusion-the-puzzlements-of-hobby-lobby-and-wheaton/):

    The opinion in Hobby Lobby was criticized by some as based on an assumption contrary to the consensus of scientific opinion. For example, a column in The Los Angeles Times by Robin Abcarian, “The craziest thing about the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision,” argued that the employers’ belief was simply not a scientific truth. At a more scholarly level, Cornell Professor Michael Dorf considered at some length whether, or to what extent, “religious claimants are entitled to rely on empirically false propositions to ground their legal claims to exceptions.” The empirical falsity of the employers’ claims, however, is not clear.

    Justice Alito addressed the issue briefly:

    “As we have noted, the [employers] have a sincere religious belief that life begins at conception. They therefore object on religious grounds to providing health insurance that covers methods of birth control that, as HHS acknowledges, see Brief for HHS in No. 13–354, at 9, n.4, may result in the destruction of an embryo. By requiring the employer to arrange for such coverage, the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs.”

    The footnote referenced by Justice Alito cited FDA-approved product labels that the Physicians’ [Physicians for Reproductive Health] amicus brief had described as outdated and not reflective of current research. Nevertheless, even the Physicians conceded that, while the methods complained of operated principally to prevent fertilization, at least one method, insertion of a copper IUD, may prevent a fertilized egg (embryo) from being implanted in the uterus, thereby resulting in its destruction. While the Physicians’ amicus brief argued that, according to medical literature, pregnancy (and hence the possibility of an abortion) does not occur until after implantation, that definitional understanding should probably not be seen to control the employer’s religious beliefs.

  2. Douglas Parker says:

    I submitted a comment yesterday that still seems to be “awaiting moderation.” I would appreciate your telling me what seems to be the problem causing the delay.

    Douglas M. Parker

    • GOP Choice says:

      Douglas, we apologize for the delay. But as your comment was made on a Friday evening, we were unable to access the portal until the following work week.

      You seem to make two points in your previous comment, one that the science is not clear on this issue. This, we believe is addressed by the consensus within the scientific and medical community, including the AMA, FDA and ACOG among others cited above, that the contested methods of contraception, including both long-acting contraceptives and emergency contraceptives are not abortifacients.

      The second point seems to be that “definitional understandings” should not impact employer’s beliefs. And this in fact, seems to be the crux of the case. If scientific understandings do not affect employer’s legal obligations, then are there limitations at all? Could this open up employees to much further discrimination based on employer’s beliefs? But as the Court argued that this precedent could NOT be extended in order to restrict insurance coverage for LGBTQ employees or those with AIDS (cited as examples) – then does it make sense that contraception is singled out in this respect, subject to employer’s “beliefs” over accepted scientific facts?

      As we said in our initial statement on the decision, “This decision creates a hierarchy for religious liberty, in which employer’s beliefs take precedence over the wellbeing of individual employees.” You can read this statement here.

  3. hlparker says:

    I appreciate your comment, but I think a reply may be helpful.

    First, in terms of the science not being clear, the Supreme Court relied on a concession in the government’s brief that, according to FDA labels, the several methods complained of are abortifacients in the sense that they may result in destruction of embryos. Some have argued that the FDA labels are out of date and should be changed, and perhaps that is so. But until they are, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the science is not clear.

    Second, I pointed out that that even critics of the FDA labels conceded that at least one method, the copper IUD, may result in destruction of an embryo, albeit prior to its implantation in the uterus. I suggested that employers should not be bound by the “definitional understanding” of medical literature that pregnancy begins only after implantation. The operative word there is “definitional”: definitions are conventions that may or may not reflect facts. Perhaps there is some compelling scientific reason why pregnancy should be so defined, but if so I have not heard it. It any case, I know of no valid reason why it cannot be a rational and legitimate religious belief, uncontradicted by any scientific fact, that destruction of an embryo at any stage is a taking of life. I hasten to add that such a belief is one that I personally do not share, but it is one that I respect.

    Finally, I do not agree that the Hobby Lobby decision “creates a hierarchy for religious liberty, in which employer’s beliefs take precedence over the wellbeing of individual employees.”
    The majority made it clear that, under the alternate procedure they proposed, full contraceptive coverage will be available to employees. In short, their wellbeing will not suffer. It may be that, as the dissenters argued, the majority is over-optimistic in that regard. Time will tell, but my own belief is that the majority’s view is likely to be vindicated. I believe the Court may have made things seem more complicated than they are, but the time for alarm has not yet arrived.

    I greatly admire and support the work of RMC and I appreciate your willingness to post and consider my somewhat differing views on this point.

    Douglas M. Parker

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