RMC Responds: The Difference Between Contraception and AbortionPosted: July 25, 2014
Following 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.