Birth Control, Anyone?

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I hate to keep dwelling on these darn reproductive topics, but I’m really curious about what Christians think about something, so please forgive me for always posting on “women’s issues.” Today, I’d like to inquire where folks who read this blog stand on the issue-that-I-never-in-my-wildest-dreams-thought-would-become-an-issue: birth control.

See, when I was growing up in the 1980s, the conventional wisdom was that a few kooky Catholics might be against birth control (and an even smaller subset of them might act on that belief), but that other than that, the issue was settled. Birth control was great and wonderful and every woman with any sense used it except when specifically trying to procreate. But now, in the new millenium, there’s all this conscience clause legislation and pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for the birth control pill and I was wondering what it was all about, so I did a little research (and I do mean a little, I could not write a term paper on this).

Now, I should be specific: the main objections to birth control that I have heard about (other than those from the aforementioned kooky Catholics) are about the birth control pill, Norplant, Depo-Provera, and IUDs, not about condoms or diaphragms (the so-called “barrier methods”). The argument is that the birth control pill can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, and is thus an abortifacient (i.e., tantamount to having an abortion). Although the literature states that the birth control pill prevents ovulation, in fact ovulation does occur from 4 to 50% of the time, and in some subset of those cases fertilization occurs, and in such cases the birth control pill works by preventing implantation. Apparently there has been a huge conspiracy on the part of the pharmaceutical companies who profit from the Pill to keep this information from the public.

So then, maybe there’s no moral or ethical difference between abortion and at least certain types of birth control. That’s certainly what Randy Alcorn of Eternal Perspective Ministries thinks. I guess that means I’ll never know how many human beings I’ve murdered, since I used birth control pills for ten years off and on. Of course, the pro-life folks tell me that I am not culpable for these murders since I was unaware (you have to scroll way down to get to that part; this page also explains very clearly and at length what the pro-life argument is on this issue).

Interestingly enough, I am not a huge fan of hormonal birth control for most women for other reasons — you know, crunchy granola stuff about putting unnecessary chemicals and synthetic hormones into your body. I read a terrific book last summer called Taking Charge of Your Fertility, and it advocates the Fertility Awareness Method, which involves a lot of tedious stuff like taking your temperature every day and keeping detailed records of your cervical fluid (sorry to be graphic, guys!). I think that for a lot of women, especially those who are in long-term monogamous relationships, this is a much better way to prevent unwanted pregnancy and to really be aware of how your body works. I learned so much — stuff that it’s criminal they don’t teach girls in school. (I would explain it more, but that would involve being graphic).

What do you all think about this birth control issue? If you didn’t know this information before today (I didn’t), does it change your views on the birth control pill and other hormonal forms of birth control? Has anyone seen research or views from medical professionals contradicting the pro-life arguments expressed on the websites linked above? Is there a real chance that the birth control pill will be banned in the United States?

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6 Responses to “Birth Control, Anyone?”

  1. Whitney Says:

    Sandi,

    This is a really interesting issue. Like you, I’ve been on and off the pill for years now. It never occurred to me to think of it as an abortifacient (first time I’ve heard or used that word!). I was always told that ovulation didn’t happen.

    It’s something for us pro-lifers to think about,though, isn’t it?

    I know a couple who thinks all birth control is wrong. I’m minutely afraid that they will wind up with 5 kids in 5 years (they are very young) and she will have a breakdown.

    Also, I’m going to have to buy that book you referenced.

    On a similar note, I’ve been wondering how so many pro-lifers (read: my fellow Christians) are OK with IVF. I’ve know so many people outside my church friends who’ve done IVF. I don’t judge them, and I’m happy for the families they’ve subsequently had. But more and more I hear people in the Church who are going through IVF; these are the same people who scream that abortion is wrong. But what’s the theoretical difference between abortion and an unused embryo? Am I making sense? For that reason, I personally couldn’t go through IVF. I’d feel compelled to use all the embryos and I might end up with 5-10 kids if everything went perfectly.

    I don’t mean to hijack–but I’ve been thinking about this awhile and your post made it more salient. I would absolutely love to hear your thoughts on the matter. I would also like to hear some justification from pro-lifers as to why IVF is an acceptable fertility measure.

  2. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I have absolutely nothing to add. Please keep talking, and I’ll keep reading, but I’m in the big-time learner’s seat for this one.

    I would add that many of my CofC pro-life brethren would take issue with the idea that you have to know what you are doing to be sinning. They prefer mangling the “God used to wink at ignorance” passage and condemn all well-meaning denominationalists for their misguided worship conclusions, so I suspect birth control / abortions would send a whole new batch of folks to hell, too. According to them.

  3. Al Sturgeon Says:

    I feel as out of place in this discussion as the Presidents Bush at Coretta Scott King’s funeral.
    🙂

    (Don’t get mad, it’s a joke!!! I just read the article about the funeral, and it is “liberal” day!)

  4. Sandi Says:

    Whitney,

    My basic view on the beginning-of-life question is that it is a continuum rather than absolute. So life isn’t not there one minute and there the next (the fertilization process itself takes 20 minutes, I have read), but rather comes into being over time. This characterization seems right to me and, I think, to a lot of people.

    So the question that people struggle with is, at what point on the continuum do we vest legal rights or interests in the evolving life form? And it’s hard to draw lines on a continuum, but we do it in other contexts — the drinking age, the driving age, the age at which an individual is eligible to be executed. (To be clear: I’m not comparing abortion to getting your drivers license, my point is only about drawing lines on continuums). The lines sometimes change, and they are often disputed, but we draw them anyway because we have to.

    So for me, IVF is not at all problematic. At one point in the fall, I thought that I would need to undergo IVF to have children (this turned out not to be the case, thankfully), and I gladly would have done it if it was the only way. Infertility is an extremely painful thing, and I wouldn’t want to take the chance to have children away from people who are, in the vast majority of cases, simply unlucky enough to have an issue that makes IVF their only hope.

    But William Saletan, a writer from Slate, wrote an article a while back about this issue. (It’s called “The Coming War Over IVF” and I think I linked to it in one of my previous posts). Also, I think that Italy has passed a law requiring that all embryos be implanted — I don’t remember the exact details. And of course there are also the “Snowflakes,” the products of embryo “adoption” (donation).

    It would be incredibly complicated to do IVF in a way consistent with stringent pro-life principles, it would be extremely hard on the woman, and it would lower success rates, which would raise the cost, etc., etc.

    Of course, if I really thought that IVF destroyed human lives, the fact that it was the only way for someone to have a child would not make it all right. But I think that’s the point of contention. If drawing a line is hard, is it better to instead adhere to an extremely harsh absolute? Especially when there are countervailing interests involved that are at least as weighty? My answer is no.

  5. Sandi Says:

    I just checked this site: http://www.visembryo.com/baby, and it says the fertilization process takes 24 HOURS, not minutes. So I stand corrected.

  6. Sandi Says:

    I just thought of something else, too. If the account given by Alcorn and the pro-life site of hormonal birth control is correct, then the only difference between it and IVF is that with birth control, embryo destruction *might* occur, whereas with IVF it will almost certainly occur.

    Although at the same time, I wonder whether the “breakthrough ovulation” phenomenon is specific to the individual and not just random. That is, I would think that whether this is likely to occur would vary more by the person (assuming perfect usage, i.e. no missed pills) than by the month. Or does it mostly happen with less-than-perfect usage? Either way, if I’m right that it’s not random then it seems curable. Women who ovulate on a lower dosage can take a higher dosage or switch methods, and people who don’t can continue using it with a clear conscience. Less-than-perfect usage can certainly be cured by anyone who finds potential embryo destruction problematic.

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