A Challenging Truth
How can something be both immense and minute at the same time, something upon which all of human history depends, yet fragile and almost non-existent to the eye? It is the union of an egg and sperm — an embryo. Such is God's way. He takes something smaller than a mustard seed and brings forth all of civilization. After creating everything in the universe single-handedly, He created us in his own image and bestowed upon us the power to become co-creators with Him. Working in union with us, when the sperm unites with the egg, not only has a new human life been set in motion, but so too has a spiritual life. God places an everlasting soul into the being of every son and daughter.
Most of us rarely think that deeply about it all. In our worldly way, we forget eternity and begin to affix costs — physical, emotional and monetary. The costs can seem exorbitant when we focus only through the eyes of the world. And looking through those same worldly eyes, the way to prevent the miracle we clearly do not recognize as such is so easy, inexpensive, and ironically, also so small — the birth control pill. But the pill does not just prevent the miracle, it also destroys it, a fact that is often surprising to committed pro-lifers. This fact is true for all contraception that works through manipulation of hormone levels.
The pill has become a symbol of freedom to those who have been told they can "have it all". And it has become a symbol of destruction to those who support a "Theology of the Body," philosophy, the essence of Catholic teaching that artificial means must not disrupt God's natural order of things.
The first birth control pill received approval from the Food and Drug Administration in 1960. Using a synthetic estrogen hormone, the pill tricked a women's body into thinking it was pregnant. No egg would be released thereby preventing the opportunity for conception.
Although the pill was initially introduced with the idea of affording women a reliable way of limiting their family size, it soon became the ticket to the Sexual Revolution that began in the Sixties and never really ended. The pill promised something it's never been able to deliver: sex with "no strings attached". There are always emotional and moral consequences to thwarting God's purpose, but women discovered physical problems too. Blood clots, heart attacks and strokes were some of the side effects caused by the Pill's high estrogen levels. Drug manufacturers lowered these levels in order to reduce the side effects but that also increased the incidence of breakthrough ovulation. With the lower levels of estrogen, eggs would sometimes still get released and pregnancies resulted.
The drug companies tackled this situation by adding the synthetic hormone progesterone, which makes the uterine wall (the endometrium) inhospitable to implantation by an embryo. So if an egg was released and became fertilized by a sperm, thus creating life, the pill would have actually failed to prevent a conception, meaning it failed as a contraceptive. But, through preventing implantation of the embryo, the pill acts as an abortifacient and stops life from continuing to the next stage. (A clear and simple demonstration of this can be seen here.)
Since some women actually do become pregnant while on the pill, there are some embryos that manage to implant into the uterus. Whether it's RU-486, Norplant, Depo-Provera, the morning after pill, the Mini-pill, or the Pill, there is no chemical "contraceptive" that always causes an abortion. There is also none that never causes an abortion.
There is no way of knowing what percentage of pregnancies result in abortion through the pill. The woman using the pill with this scenario never even knows that she conceived a child. Her cycle will continue on schedule with no realization that an embryo is being flushed from her body. The Catholic Church has never wavered on the teaching that life begins at conception. Although Catholics are contracepting at rates parallel to non-Catholics, using artificial means to change our body's natural functions in order to block the potential for life has been recognized as rebellion against God's plan for humanity. However, using natural means to understand the rhythms of life and then to work in union with God is encouraged through Natural Family Planning.
The issue of birth control is a big one where misunderstanding and ignorance often misguide people. But when it comes to the pill, the ignorance that many women fall prey to is lack of understanding of its abortifacient properties. Most women don't consider that while taking their birth control, they may also be aborting a life within them. As Pope Paul VI predicted when he issued his encyclical Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life) in 1968, the use of artificial contraception would lead to abortions.
Although it seemed to many to be an overdramatic prediction, it proved to be prophetic. In hindsight, its logic in saying that widespread use of contraception would lead to "conjugal infidelity and the general lowering of morality" was prophetic. Since the Pill began to be sold in 1960, divorces have tripled, out-of-wedlock births jumped from 224,000 to 1.2 million, abortions doubled, and cohabitation soared 10-fold from 430,000 to 4.2 million.
Sex both inside and outside marriage ceased to be about a bond of marital love in which a couple became one in union with God. It became merely an activity for personal satisfaction devoid of anything more. The Pope predicted man would lose respect for woman, considering her "as a mere instrument of selfish enjoyment, and no longer as his respected and beloved companion."
Society as a whole moved from recognizing sex as something reserved for married couples to something for everyone, since the possibility for pregnancy was greatly reduced (although never completely removed). Thus, people completely opposed to having children could have sex with others whom they had chosen as bed partners but would never chose to co-parent their children. The most intimate experience intended to be shared in love and self-giving with the potential for creating life became merely a form of recreation. And if life sprang forth, such a life was easily regarded as nothing more than an unintended problem that could legally be disposed of through abortion.
But women choosing abortion and the men who either make that choice with them or plead for them to do otherwise, are very aware of the decision that is being made, whereas women who choose to take birth control pills are not so aware of the potential ramifications of their choice. There is not a baby with a heartbeat who must forcefully be removed, but unbeknownst to many, there is a baby. Since life begins at conception, a life, even though undetectable to us, is still a life. It is the way God chooses to begin things, small and yet mighty in its eternal existence.
In addition to the pill, IUDs, Depo-Provera and Norplant also cause early, undetectable abortions. Doctor usually fail to warn women of the abortifacient properties of the pill. I've heard some doctors admit they were not actually even aware of these properties. Women often choose contraception as a means to avoid pregnancy without realizing they are not actually stopping pregnancy, but quickly ending it.
In his booklet, titled Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions?, Randy Alcorn states: "The question of whether it causes abortions has direct bearing on untold millions of Christians, many of them pro-life, who use and recommend it. For those who believe God is the Creator of each person and the giver and taker of human life, this is a question with profound moral implications."
Alcorn was a Protestant pastor who not only used the pill in his married life, but also counseled other married couples to do so. He had a vested interest in not recognizing the pill as an abortifactient. But when confronted with the facts through his own research, it demanded changes in his own behavior and philosophy. His booklet was written in 1998 to inform others of the truth.
Alcorn's booklet has met some opposition. According to him: "Despite evidence, some pro-life physicians state that the likelihood of the Pill having an abortifacient effect is infinitesimally low, or nonexistent.”
Though I would very much like to believe this, the scientific evidence does not permit me to do so. Alcorn, surprisingly, found that the greatest resistance to recognizing the abortifacient quality of the pill comes from the Christian community. Dr. Walt Larimore has told me that whenever he has presented this evidence to audiences of secular physicians, there has been little or no resistance to it. But when he has presented it to Christian physicians there has been substantial resistance. Since secular physicians do not care whether the Pill prevents implantation, they tend to be objective in interpreting the evidence.
After all, they have little or nothing at stake either way. Christian physicians, however, very much do not want to believe the Pill causes early abortions. Therefore, I believe, they tend to resist the evidence. This is certainly understandable. Nonetheless, we should not permit what we want to believe to distract us from what the evidence indicates we should believe."
It's easier to be pro-life when we limit the discussion to the abortion industry. The inclusion of artificial birth control complicates and confuses people. With so many opinions even among Catholics, how is a person to know what to believe? I understand the confusion. While living in Montana, I had a doctor who was also a priest, who told me it was not realistic to expect a couple to follow the Catholic teaching on birth control. He prescribed birth control pills to many of his female patients. So, is it any surprise there are many Catholics, ones like me, ignorant of the true teaching?
Yet, we must cut through the false teachings and erroneous opinions to reach the truth. Our lives, our bodies and our souls are all we have. They are gifts that must be safeguarded. Christopher West, author and speaker, has written books and articles explaining the beauty and truth of God's plan for men and women. In his book, Good News about Sex and Marriage, he asserts that the Church's teaching on sex and marriage is good news because it's the truth about love and true love is the fulfillment of the human person. He also admits that the news is challenging. "This is so because the truth about love is always challenging."
Note: Patti Maguire Armstrong is the mother of ten children including two Kenyan AIDS orphans. She is a speaker and the author of Catholic Truths for Our Children: A Parent's Guide (Scepter). She is also the managing editor and co-author of Ascension Press's Amazing Grace book series.
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