6 Resources on Whether or Not Birth Control Pills Cause Abortions

birth control smallerHere are the six most helpful resources I know of for trying to assess whether birth control pills and/or Plan B definitely cause abortions or not.

The most common question I get emailed to me goes something like this:

I’m trying to figure out what contraception is morally acceptable to use and would appreciate any info you could send me on research about how hormonal contraception and Plan B prevent implantation. My understanding is that they thin the uterine lining. I’d specifically be interested in studies establishing a correlation between fertility and thickness controlling for all other factors. Or at least given my current understanding of how the drugs work.

Here’s my short answer:

I don’t know whether or not birth control pills or Plan B act as an abortifacient.

“But Josh, there’s so much research and even a booklet that proves hormonal birth control methods thin the endometrium, causing an inhospitable place for the embryo to implant!”

Yes, I’ve seen that research. I totally understand why you might be so convinced that this is an open and shut case. In fact, that used to be my view, and I passionately debated with people who doubted the evidence I communicated to them. But now I have more doubt because I’ve seen a growing body of research that suggests that the issue is more complicated than that.

I think these pro-life advocates mean well, but that they are overstating their case. Image source: ThePillKills.org

I think these pro-life advocates mean well, but that they are overstating their case.
Image source: ThePillKills.org

I think birth control pills might sometimes act as abortifacients. But I’m not willing to say that I know they do, because that would be overstating the case, considering that both sides have scientific reasons for believing that birth control pills may or may not have a cause and effect relationship with the thickness of the endometrium.

When I’m on a college campus and asked by a pro-choice person whether I think birth control pills should be illegal, I take a cue from my colleague Steve Wagner at Justice For All, and say:

As a matter of public policy, I am not opposed to birth control methods that don’t kill anybody.

Obviously the most important question on the morality of birth control pills is whether or not they actually act as abortifacients. While there is an important theological discussion that can be had on whether or not God wants people to plan their families and whether or not it’s wise to take birth control pills that often have negative side effects like loss of libido, but I’m tabling all of that discussion when talking to pro-choice people.

If you’re interested in exploring this topic a bit from a different perspective, here are the six resources I think you should start with. All of these involve my colleague Dr. Rich Poupard from Life Training Institute. Dr. Poupard is an oral surgeon and has read many studies on this issue, and believe pro-life advocates would be wise to not overstate their case on this subject until more research comes out.

#1: Interview with Dr. Poupard – “How Should Pro-Lifers Talk About Birth Control?”

Click here to watch the video. | Click here to download the MP3.

I asked Dr. Poupard to come on Life Report (produced by Right to Life of Central CA) to answer some questions about how Plan B works.

Includes an explanation of the recent research that Plan B is ineffective for any woman who weighs over 175 pounds and why this research will probably result in even more loss of life.

#2: Follow-Up Discussion with Dr. Poupard on Birth Control Pills and Plan B

Click here to download the MP3.

We didn’t have enough time in the video to get all of my questions answered, so we recorded this bonus audio, which answered a lot of the most common questions from pro-lifers on this topic.

#3: Does a Thin Uterine Lining Support the “Pill as Baby Killer” Theory?

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A Christian named Marie was very upset with Dr. Poupard and I when we released those two resources, and engaged in lengthy comments rebuking us. It was only after she read this article from Dr. Poupard did she do a 180 and publicly apologize.

#4: Be Careful Out There (When Discussing Emergency Contraception)

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It is very easy to read misleading headlines and then overstate what the evidence actually shows. Pro-life advocates ought to be thought of as people who think carefully, and this post is a helpful lesson on that.

#5: What about the FDA Information?

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One of the most common arguments I see pro-life advocates make on this topic is that most of the birth control packages state that the hormones can cause thinning of the uterus lining. Dr. Poupard explains why this isn’t a compelling argument.

#6: Clarifying Confusion about OCPs

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In response to Marie’s public rebuke, Dr. Poupard offers three reasons why the assertion that LNG, the progestin found in Plan B, works as a competitive antagonist for progesterone receptors is not supported in the literature.

 

The post “6 Resources on Whether or Not Birth Control Pills Cause Abortions” originally appeared at JoshBrahm.comClick here to subscribe via email and get exclusive access to a FREE MP3 of Josh Brahm’s speech, “Nine Faulty Pro-Life Arguments and Tactics.”

Header image courtesy of Bryan Calabro – Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution from Wikimedia Commons.

Question: What are your thoughts? If you read or listened to at least one of the resources listed above, did it affect your thinking on this issue at all? Why or why not?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are snarky, offensive, or off-topic. If in doubt, read My Comments Policy.

  • Marauder

    “While there is an important theological discussion that can be had on whether or not God wants people to plan their families…”

    Are there really that many people in the pro-life movement who think that God doesn’t want people plan their families in any way, shape or form? Clearly there are people who believe God doesn’t want people to use contraception, but outside of a few individuals I’ve encountered online whose behavior was pretty trollish, I haven’t personally run across too many pro-lifers who think God disapproves of anything – NFP, abstaining from sex for a certain number of months after giving birth – that could possibly fall into the category of “planning your family.” You’ve talked to more people than I have, so I could be wrong, but I’m not sure pro-life and/or religious debates about birth control can really be described as “people who think God wants people to plan their families” vs. “people who don’t think God wants people to plan their families.” It seems like the vast majority of pro-lifers think it’s acceptable to do something to plan your family and the difference in opinion lies in which things are acceptable.

    • http://JoshBrahm.com/ Josh Brahm

      I’ve spent a lot of time talking to my Catholic friends about contraception in general, and I’m grateful for those conversations. Most of my personal friends believe that NFP is a morally legitimate method of planning one’s family. Having said that, it’s a pretty small sample size. I couldn’t say whether or not most Catholics believe one way or the other.

      • Marauder

        I went to Catholic school for sixteen years (K-12 plus law school) and my uncle is a priest, and I’ve never met anybody Catholic who believed (or at least, who stated a belief that I was aware of) that not only contraception but also NFP was morally unacceptable. Family-planning-wise, the two groups of Catholics seem to be 1) people who think NFP is the only acceptable way to plan your family and 2) people who disagree with church doctrine and think contraception is also acceptable. There doesn’t appear to be any third group who thinks Catholic teaching is too permissive in allowing NFP and that no one should be doing anything to plan their families. (As I said in my first comment, I’ve run across a few people online who were of the opinion that any type of family planning was morally wrong, but they weren’t Catholic.)

        • argent

          I haven’t met any Catholics who believe that NFP is inherently immoral, but I have met some who believed it should only be used if a couple has ‘grave reasons’ to postpone pregnancy, and who believed that many people who practice NFP do so with an immoral ‘contraceptive mentality’.

          • Marauder

            Huh. When my husband and I did NFP class, which was held in a Catholic church, the focus was solely on how to figure it when you’re ovulating/when you’re going to ovulate, without any discussion of when you should or shouldn’t decide to postpone pregnancy. (We actually don’t believe that all forms of contraception are necessarily immoral, but we went with NFP because I didn’t want to mess with my hormones and all the barrier methods sounded pretty unerotic.) Did the people you met say what some examples of “grave reasons” would be?

            • argent

              Well, this is one (one translation of) Humanae Vitae has to say on the matter (emphasis added):

              If, then, there are serious motives to space out births, which derive from the physical or psychological conditions of husband and wife, or from external conditions, the Church teaches that it is then licit to take into account the natural rhythms immanent in the generative functions, for the use of marriage in the infecund periods only, and in this way to regulate birth without offending the moral principles which have been recalled earlier.

              And this was what one commenter on an article about contraception at Secular Pro-Life had to say (emphasis added):

              Whether or not a couple uses it is between them and God–and the Church teaches that reasons ought to be serious. E.g., not something like “We’re waiting 6 years to have a baby just because we don’t want them…” It’s more like health, financial or whatever the couple in their well-formed consciences have discerned sometimes with the help of a spiritual director. That’s it.

              I also heard someone say that Catholics have different interpretations of what “serious reasons” means: some people believe that the only serious reasons are ones like living under China’s one-child policy, while others believe that if a couple says they have serious reasons, you should take their word for it no matter what those reasons are.

              • Marauder

                “I also heard someone say that Catholics have different interpretations of what “serious reasons” means: some people believe that the only serious reasons are ones like living under China’s one-child policy, while others believe that if a couple says they have serious reasons, you should take their word for it no matter what those reasons are.”

                This sounds probable to me. Maybe it’s just me, but “serious reasons” and “grave reasons” sound like two different things, at least in terms of connotations. “Serious” sounds like “we gave this some serious thought” and “grave” sounds like “dire and horrible things could happen.”

                When it comes to spacing out kids, just the very natures of pregnancy and babies seem to lend themselves to there being serious reasons to space out births, at least in my mind. I’m 32 weeks pregnant with my first baby, and I can’t imagine being at this stage and taking care of a really young born baby at the same time. I know some people do – one of my aunts had babies ten and a half months apart – but at the very least, it doesn’t seem to be easy. Pregnancy and taking care of really little kids are such big deals that I think there are inherent serious concerns when it comes to spacing kids.

                “My impression has been that, at the least, the Catholic Church believes it is immoral for married couples to be childless-by-choice.”

                Yep, when you get married in the Catholic Church, you agree, as part of the ceremony, to accept children.

  • Vickie

    It is the contraceptive mentality that is the root of some of our problems and not whether or not any particular form of contraception is an abortficient. I do believe that we should be intelligent regarding the science but it is not this intelligence regarding science that will turn the tide regarding life issues.

    “Obviously the most important question on the morality of birth control pills is whether or not they actually act as abortifacients”
    When we allow ourselves to become mired in arguments in which the morality of birth control is confined primarily to its abortive factors we are diverted from the root problem of a contraceptive mentality and we allow that root to remain intact.
    The pro-abortion side will often mire us in arguments that are in fact irrelevant to the issue or distract us from getting to the root of it. The pain issue for example. We go in endless circles discussing whether or not the child in the womb feels pain and if so when. Each side presents “the science” of feeling pain and of different levels of consciousness and self awareness. In fact pain is not even relevant to the issue. Taking a life is taking a life regardless of the level of pain it causes, or the person’s consciousness or awareness of what is happening to them.
    This is why contraception as abortifacient is actually not as relevant as contraception as a mentality. A contraceptive mentality goes hand in hand with an abortive mentality. That needs to be addressed at the root. One of the keys in the contraceptive mentality is the concept of children as a detriment that must be avoided or planned for as a lessening of detriment. As long as this mentality exists it is a very short step to abortion to rid ourselves of children that we were avoiding anyway.

    • http://JoshBrahm.com/ Josh Brahm

      Just to be clear, are you arguing that a societal “contraceptive mentality” is a more important issue when determining whether or not to take birth control pills than the question of whether or not they act as an abortifacient?

      • Vickie

        In a way, yes. I was talking to a friend once about the use of the pill. I asked her “what if the pill is abortive as well?”. She shrugged her shoulders and said “Oh, well. I don’t want to have a baby”. Her contraceptive mentality caused her to be receptive to an abortive possibility.
        While the abortifacient factor certainly must not be discounted in determining whether or not to take birth control pills it may not be the root issue. Even if the pill were found to be or made to be non-abortive we would still be left with the issue of a contraceptive mentality that causes a receptivity of abortive possibility. Just like it was said in the discussion, the plan B pill probably is not an abortifacient but is being found to be ineffective. People will just move on to what is more effective and what is more effective in this case would be abortive. As with my friend, the abortifacient factor becomes less and less relevant to their decision.
        So while a discussion of which forms of birth control are abortive and which are not is helpful, if we confine ourselves to that as the primary moral focus, we then ignore the root cause of a mentality which will inevitably be receptive to abortion.

        • Guest

          I think we can draw a sharp distinction between desiring a certain outcome (not having a baby) and committing a violent act in order to achieve said outcome (having an abortion). The same way we can distinguish between desiring sex with one’s spouse (and taking reasonable measures to ensure success, such as doing household chores or not insulting the husband’s driving skills) and committing marital rape.

        • http://JoshBrahm.com/ Josh Brahm

          Yeah, I think we agree that the ineffectiveness of Plan B will probably result in people taking other methods that are abortifacient or having actual abortions later. Dr. Poupard made this point in the video interview I linked to in this post.

          I think I’m trying to say that if an individual is considering using a birth control method, the question of whether or not it is abortifacient is the most important question morally speaking. I think they should consider other questions as well like what would they do if their birth control failed and they became pregnant.

          • Vickie

            I can see what you are saying, that in regards to an individual decision the abortificient factor is of the highest importance morally speaking. Just as when I say that a contraceptive mentality leads to receptivity to abortive possibility, I am NOT saying that every individual who chooses contraception will eventually be receptive to abortion . Many people want to contracept but they would never abort. As was said in another reply, there is a clear distinction there.
            However, when dealing with abortion as an issue, in the bigger picture as it were, a societal contraceptive mentality itself takes on a greater moral relevance than the details of whether or not any particular form of contraception is abortive. This is evidenced by the fact that many abortions, it might even be argued that most abortions, are for the purposes of societal reasons of contraception/back-up contraception.
            The purpose is to change enough people’s minds to eliminate abortion in our society. Quite frankly, those who would who would base their choice of birth control on the moral factor of whether or not it is an abortifacient probably would not choose an abortion either even if that birth control were to fail. For those who do choose abortion or advocate abortion the abortifacient properties of their birth control is not relevant or worse might even be preferred. The most important moral question for certain individuals may indeed be whether or not their birth control is an abortifacient. But the more relevant moral question regarding abortion itself might just be the root issue of a societal contraceptive mentality.

  • Joey M

    Thanks Josh,

    And Yes i think the Dr.Poupard is the best pro-life person to talk to about birth control. Personally because i am afraid that they might cause abortions, my wife and i have decided not to use the pill until it can be proven there is not a chance that they can work as an abortifacient. I think that other pro-lifers should look at the new research so as to not overstate there case.

    • http://JoshBrahm.com/ Josh Brahm

      I totally hear you. See my response to Elizabeth and you’ll see that we completely agree.

      • Joey M

        Yes and also in one of your comments about the drug Ella, what is interesting is that the ingredients used for Ella is ulipristal acetate which is not used in any other birth control pills i know of, while Plan B ingredients is Levonorgestrel which is used in some regular birth control pills. So basically if we refer to Plan B as an abortion pill that would be wrong since it’s basically a high dose of regular birth control pills. For Ella since it is using an ingredient not used in any other birth control pill and also it is closer to RU-486 i think there is not doubt about Ella being an actual abortifacient drug.

  • Elizabeth Doecke

    I’ve looked into this enough to realise that: (a) it’s not 100% conclusive either way, and (b) there’s enough doubt to make me uncomfortable with using hormonal birth control. And that’s where I stand at the moment. It’s always good to be connected to more resources, though, so thank you for that.

    • http://JoshBrahm.com/ Josh Brahm

      Yes, I agree. On a personal note, my wife and I have never used hormonal birth control, because while the research is out, I think it’s better to be safe than sorry. Some would say that’s a wisdom call and not a moral call. I think it may be both, but I’m pretty open to being wrong about that.

      When young couples about to get married ask me for birth control advice, I tell them that hormonal birth control methods MAY cause early abortions, that the research is not conclusive enough yet, and that they should factor that in to their decision making process. I encourage them to research it themselves and consult their pastor or priest as well.

  • lovethink

    Ella, (new Morning After Pill) does cause abortion, right?

    • http://JoshBrahm.com/ Josh Brahm

      I think it’s MUCH more likely that Ella causes abortions, because it’s a progesterone antagonist like RU-486 is. I have seen some medical research suggesting that Ella is not an abortifacient, but I’m pretty skeptical. Ella works differently than the Morning After Pill.

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  • MTM

    “While there is an important theological discussion that can be had on whether or not God wants people to plan their families…”

    I appreciate main point of your article. Killing people and preventing conception are two distinct topics that shouldn’t be muddled together at a pro-life demonstration.

    Do understand, still, that the religious problem with contraception shouldn’t be characterized as God vs. family planning, lest you appear unfamiliar with the primary moral objection to contraceptive use, i.e. whether it is wrong have sex while withholding, or working against, its procreative meaning.

  • Le Fou du Roi

    Good article and helpful resources. For anyone interested, I’ve just posted a detailed analysis of the scientific arguments (and their cited medical authorities) that were raised against the Hobby Lobby plaintiffs on the abortifacient question. It quotes and analyzes quite a bit more of the underlying source material than was made available in the general press: bit.ly/UIjiuS