Wednesday, July 07, 2004

The Contraceptive Pill: A New Frontier for the Pro-Life Movement

I googled 'contraceptive pill' and 'implantation' this morning, and found literally hundreds of biased pro-life sites. Try it, if for nothing else, than to find out what the pro-lifers are het up right now. The topic of the day seems to be the regular contraceptive pill, not the 'morning-after' type, and its abortifacient characteristics. In other words, pro-lifers argue that the birth control pill kills babies. Or rather, tiny, tiny sons and daughters. The cunning way it manages to do this is by preventing the implantation of the fertilized egg onto the lining of the uterus.

Some sites tell about this in vivid terms: how 'your' desperate, starving tiny son or daughter is trying, trying, but failing to hook onto 'your' now-shriveled and hostile uterine lining. The writers of these tragedies have lost good career opportunities in some of the lesser known genres of literature, but I wish that they didn't assume the reader is a woman who is also the location of these events.

The reason why taking the birth control pill is murder, in the pro-life world, is the possibility that there might be an ovulation even though the pill tries to stop ovulations from happening, and that as a consequence an egg might be fertilized, but fail because of its inability to implant. The reason I was googling with those keywords as well as others more refined was to find out the studies that show exactly how the contraceptive pill stops implantation of the fertilized egg. I was unable to find any such study, and in fact an article in the Prevention magazine states that no such research exists:

At the heart of the debate between anti-Pill forces and mainstream medicine lies a profound difference of opinion about when pregnancy and life begin. The long-standing medical definition of pregnancy, held by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, is that it starts not when an egg is fertilized, but when the fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining.

This distinction is practical: A pregnancy test won't show a positive result before implantation. "It can't be an abortion before there is a pregnancy," points out David Grimes, MD, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and one of the leading contraception experts in the US.

But anti-Pill doctors and pharmacists say life begins sooner, at fertilization. Sloughing off a fertilized egg, in their view, is a "chemical abortion."

"How many women know that if they become pregnant after breakthrough ovulation, these 'contraceptives' will almost always kill any son or daughter they've conceived?" asks the anti-Pill organization Pro-Life America on the group's Web site,

Surprisingly, there's no science to back the theory that birth control pills really do discourage implantation. This claim, made by contraceptive manufacturers for decades, has never been proven, Grimes says. Even the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees that it's just speculation.

This is so important it bears repeating:
Surprisingly, there's no science to back the theory that birth control pills really do discourage implantation. This claim, made by contraceptive manufacturers for decades, has never been proven, Grimes says. Even the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees that it's just speculation.

You'd never think that there is any doubt about the scientific basis for the implantation-argument in the tens and hundreds of pro-life websites. No doubt at all. Contraceptive pills are abortifacients!:

The Pill and its "cousins" kill children earlier in their life than surgical abortion. In America, chemical abortions are estimated to kill more than 7 million babies each year -- while surgical abortions kill about 1.5 million babies each year.

That's how pro-lifers think. Even the smallest, hypothetical possibility of a fertilized egg not being implanted is adequate grounds to 'estimate' that seven million 'babies' are killed each year by women who use the birth control pill. This is the next frontier of the pro-life warplan, the natural next step to take after fighting abortion: to fight contraception. The frontlines will no longer be drawn at the offices of physicians who perform abortions, rather, they will be in the wombs of millions and millions of American women. Or that's what the pro-life movement would like to see happen, I believe.

Here's a glimpse of the first moves in this new stage of the anti-abortion war:

Though three states have conscience clauses for pharmacists, there is no such legal provision in Texas, where the CVS druggist refused to fill Julee Lacey's prescription.

The night it happened, Lacey says, she was shocked and responded, "Are you sure? I've had this filled here many times before." But the pharmacist was emphatic. "I just couldn't believe what I was hearing," recalls Lacey. "It was a school night, and I knew I had to put my kids to bed and get organized for work the next morning. I didn't want to run all over town for my Pills." Lacey and her husband complained to the assistant store manager that night and the district manager the next day. Finally, the pharmacy supervisor called and said he would have Lacey's prescription delivered that day. "He apologized and said he was unaware of the pharmacist's moral objections to the Pill. Apparently it was a new belief," says Lacey. (A CVS corporate spokesperson contacted by Prevention confirmed Lacey's story. None of the employees has ever been named.)

All that Ms. Lacey suffered was a small delay and some frustration. But what would the consequences be if ethical refusals by health professionals were more generally legal? What would a woman in a rural area with just one pharmacy do? Where would she go if the only gynecologist refused to prescribe the pill? Do these ethical refusals take into account all the abortions that might ensue because women get pregnant in the absence of the birth control pill they can't get prescribed?

More generally, do ethical refusals consider the fact that many women use the contraceptive pill for something else than pregnancy prevention? It is used to control acne, to reduce fibroids, to control endometriosis and to prevent ovarian cancer, a particulary deathly and symptomless form of cancer (the efficacy of birth control pills in preventing this type of cancer may be as high as 80%). Does this matter to the refusing professional? That the woman denied the pill might then actually die herself? Of course this is unlikely to happen today, given that most other professionals will not refuse to prescribe oral contraceptives, but shouldn't the ethical refuser consider his or her own choices and their consequences alone? After all, most of those denied the pill for birth control purposes will get their prescription filled elsewhere, and if the pill is killing tiny babies, it will do it irrespective of the person who prescribed or dispensed the order.

I'm unhappy with this ethical refusal rule, and wonder where it might lead us. Suppose that I present myself at the front desk of a pharmacy somewhere with a big packet of red and pink condoms. If the clerk helping me doesn't believe in adultery, can she or he quiz me on my marital status and on what I intend to do with the condoms? And does it matter that I'm going to use them in lieu of birthday balloons?

I'm also unhappy with the argument I found on a pro-life website that scientists have conclusively proved that life begins at conception. I believe, deeply, sincerely and fervently, that life begins before conception. The ova and the sperm are both alive and both human, and any man who ejaculates during sleep is guilty of mass murder. Likewise, any woman who needs to buy tampons this month is guilty of serial murder. When I get around to it, I'm going to start my own pro-life movement and go after the Catholic priests first of all. Think of all the lives they have denied! But even if I believed in the lukewarm version the current pro-life movement holds true, I'd be a little bit concerned about going after all women who use oral contraceptives just on the basis of a hunch. This seems a cruel and non-Christian thing to do, though to be fair to the pro-lifers, any woman who gives up her pills right now can still get forgiveness and a place in heaven. I wonder what the writers of this stuff will get when they knock on the final gates? A nasty surprise? Who knows.

Via the Rubber Nun