Given the information we now know about the relatively rare but real abortifacient effect of the birth control pill, do you believe it is a sin to use the pill for contraceptive purposes?
This question has, in recent times, become one of the most frequently asked of all the inquiries I receive. I must confess that, for some time, I have procrastinated in answering, at least in any public forum, this question. There are a couple of reasons for my hesitancy.
First, I did not feel qualified to be a definitive resource about this subject, since I have had no training or experience in the medical or pharmaceutical fields. Please understand, even now, as I tell you what I think about the use of the pill, that I may not use the exact terminology that a medical doctor would use. I answer in terms that I understand.
Second, I hesitated because there are two views that are poles apart in regard to this question, even among those who are recognized as leaders in the pro-life camp. Many accuse those who speak out in opposition to the use of the birth control pill of weakening the pro-life movement by causing division in the ranks. Please know that I have carefully examined this consideration before speaking or writing about the moral issue associated with the pill. I am a strong supporter of the pro-life movement and do not want to injure it. But I believe, in order to be truly pro-life, a person must consistently stand for the sanctity of every innocent life and that said life begins at conception. (For the purposes of this article, I will assume that my readers agree that human life begins at conception, the point at which all genetic material is present and at which only nutrition from the mother and time is needed to mature the baby for viability outside the womb.) I believe that making any exception– i.e. overlooking the destruction of any fertilized human egg—is what weakens the pro-life position. To be perfectly clear, I believe that, whenever an action is not obligatory (and taking the pill certainly is not required of anyone) and when said action can possibly destroy life (and it has been proven that the pill can do exactly that), then the action is wrong. I realize the position I am taking is strong. But I continue to ask myself, “If this is not true, why is it not true?” I’m at a loss as I try to answer that question.
Third and most disturbing to me, I procrastinated because I just often weary of controversy. I understand that this question remains unasked in many circles. Lots of women and their husbands are simply unaware that the pill has the capacity to make a woman’s womb reject a fertilized egg. In other circles, in which the question is being explored, the answers are always controversial. I have spoken with scientists, pharmacists, and doctors, who profess Christianity and yet they remain poles apart in their views of this issue. I do not want to avoid important and consequential issues just because talking about them might stir controversy. If the answer to the question involves life, then ignorance is not bliss and peace is not always practical. So, as I was given vastly different “opinions” by medical experts, I finally decided that I needed to come to the truth for myself about the effects of the pill and decide for myself if such an optional procedure as taking the pill could be morally right if it ever caused the destruction of human life.
So exactly what’s the big deal about the low dose birth control pill that is taken daily by millions of women? Here’s the gist of it:
- The first “job” of the birth control pill is to prevent ovulation. This is what the pill usually does. Of course, if ovulation is prevented then the egg(s) are not released for fertilization. No fertilization, no conception, no life.
- The second “job” of the pill is to thicken the cervical mucus so that sperm and egg have a difficult time uniting. Again if they are not united, there is no fertilization. Still no life.
- The third “job” of the pill is to alter the lining of the uterus, so that implantation of a fertilized egg is difficult and sometimes impossible. It is this “job” of the pill that has spawned so much controversy. Does “the pill” really do this?
- We do know for sure that, occasionally, there is a break-through ovulation. In these cases, the pill has failed to do its first job. The egg has been released and may be fertilized. We know that this occurs because we know that many women have become pregnant even while taking the pill.
- Should this break-through ovulation occur and should the egg be fertilized, then the egg, which now contains all genetic information, is ready to implant on the wall of the uterus. The thinning of the uterus lining, resultant from the birth control pill, in these relatively rare cases, causes the egg to be less likely to implant. Some have described this lining change as a hostile environment. Whatever we call it, we do know that this thinned lining of the womb is a happening thing. Of course, if and when this rejection of the egg occurs, the fertilized egg would be flushed from the body during menstruation.
- Those who profess Christianity and yet defend the use of the pill often use the “innocent intent” argument in their defense. That is, since the intent is to prevent pregnancy rather than terminate it, and, since the rejection of a fertilized egg would just be an accident, then the lack of deliberation excuses the undesirable result. We must remember, at this juncture, though, that taking the pill is completely optional. Its use is a matter of convenience rather than obligation. We must also remember that we are obviously discussing the decision of someone who is aware of risks. Knowledge is power. This knowledge of risk empowers one to make a rational decision that has significant implications.
- Others who defend the use of birth control pills do so because they believe the incidence of embryo rejection to be rare. But any loss of innocent human life caused by my choice is not rare enough. I choose protection of life over choosing a method of birth control that could destroy it.
- Others say that natural miscarriages happen more frequently than pill-related miscarriages. Natural miscarriages are not related to my decisions. I can live with unavoidable miscarriage. I cannot live with self –induced circumstances that may cause a chemical abortion.
- Since a casual inquiry among doctors reveals a polar disagreement about whether or not this lining change within the uterus can cause a fertilized egg to be rejected and thus destroyed, I researched brand names of birth control pills and investigated specific ingredients. The following results from NetDoctor were telling:
- I first researched the popular combination pill. These pills contain natural or synthetic forms of both estrogens and progestins, similar to the natural sex hormones of women: estrogen and progesterone. I looked at several different brands and at each different combination of ingredients that I could find. In each case I found this statement, or a very similar one, in the description of the pills’ effects:
“They also change the quality of the womb lining (endometrium), making it less likely that a fertilized egg can implant there.”
- I then researched various mini pills. These are the progestin-only pills. The statement always included in the “how does it work” section of the description of the mini pill is even stronger:
(Name of particular brand)_________also changes the quality of the womb lining (endometrium). The changes prevent any eggs that have been fertilized from successfully implanting onto the wall of the womb.
Well, this research was the clincher for me. Since taking the pill is a matter of choice and since the possibility remains that the pill may cause a woman’s uterus to reject a fertilized egg, how could informed Christian women choose this form of birth control? My considered opinion is that we simply cannot. I am afraid that 20 years down the road as we become more informed as God’s women about this induced destruction of fertilized eggs (lives), while we will seek forgiveness and be granted God’s mercy, we may still suffer from deep regret and the great burden of guilt. Let’s think long and hard now and be sure we are opting in all optional matters to honor the God Who forms life in the womb (Isaiah 49:5).
Now, the question asked was “Given the information we now know about the relatively rare but real abortifacient effect of the birth control pill, do you believe it is a sin to use the pill for contraceptive purposes?”
Now, the short answer: If we could use the pill exclusively for contraceptive purposes that would be one thing. But both the combination pill and the mini-pill do have the potential to destroy fertilized eggs. Thus, when we use the pill for contraception, we run the risk of also allowing its abortifacient effect to reject implantation of a fertilized egg, thus aborting human life within the womb. Therefore, I cannot recommend or endorse any use of the birth control pill.
Cindy is a Christian homemaker, wife, mom and author. The home she “makes” is in Huntsville, AL where she lives with her husband (Glenn Colley), also an author, as well as minister and elder for the West Huntsville church of Christ. Her children, Caleb and Hannah, both collegiate, have published books as well. Cindy has authored five books for Christian women and co-authored several more. She keeps a blog, Bless Your Heart, which discusses many pertinent faith and culture issues.