Saturday, October 31, 2009

Does the birth control pill cause abortions? "PART 5"

When the first mechanism fails, how often does the second work?

We've seen that various sources put ovulation failure at rates of 7%, 2-10%, 4-10%, 4.7%, 20% and even Dr. Ronald Chez's whopping 50%. Let's take 5-10% as a figure to work with. That would mean in an average woman's cycle, she will have two to four breakthrough ovulations every three years.

The question then becomes, how many times when ovulation occurs does the second mechanism, the thickened cervical mucus, prevent sperm from reaching the egg? It is impossible to know, but studies on animals suggest this mechanism may not be as effective as Pill manufacturers seem to assume.

Drs. MC Chang and DM Hunt did experiments on rabbits what could not be done on human beings ("Effects of various progestins and estrogen on the gamete transport and fertilization in the rabbit," Fertility and Sterility, 1970; 21, p. 683-686.) They gave the rabbits estrogen and progestin to mimic the Pill, then artificially inseminated them. They then killed the rabbits and did microscopic studies to examine how many sperm had reached the fallopian tubes.

The progestin, the hormone that thickens cervical mucus, might be expected to prevent nearly all the sperm from traveling to the tubes. However, it did not. In every rabbit that had taken the progestin, there were still thousands of sperm which reached the fallopian tubes, as many as 72% of the number in the control group. This is noteworthy evidence that the progestin-caused increased thickness of cervical mucus does not necessarily significantly inhibit sperm from reaching the egg, and therefore does not serve as an effective contraceptive.

When ovulation takes place and the thickened mucus fails to prevent conception -- which may well be the majority of the time -- the significantly altered and less hospitable endometrium caused by the Pill comes into play. Given the observably diminished capacity of the endometrium to sustain life, it seems likely that implantation may be the exception rather than the rule. For every child that does implant, many others may not. Of course, we don't know the percentage that will implant in a normal endometrium unaffected by the Pill, but it is reasonable to believe whatever that percentage is, the Pill significantly lowers it.

Approximately fourteen million American women take the Pill each year. At the 3% rate, which is firmly established statistically, in any year there will be 420,000 detected pregnancies of Pill-takers. (I say "detected" pregnancies, since pregnancies that end before implantation will never be detected but are nonetheless real.) Each one of these children has managed to implant even in a hostile endometrium.

The question is, how many children failed to implant in that hostile environment that would have implanted in a nurturing environment unhindered by the Pill? The number who die might be significantly higher than the number who survive. If it was four times as high, that would be 1,680,000 deaths; if twice as high, 840,000 deaths. If the same number of children do not survive the hostile endometrium as do survive, it would be 420,000. If only half as many died as survived, this would be 210,000 -- still a staggering number of Pill-induced abortions each year.

In his brochure "How the Pill and the IUD Work: Gambling with Life" (American Life League, P.O. Box 1350, Stafford, VA 22555), Dr. David Sterns asks:

Just how often does the pill have to rely on this abortive 'backup' mechanism? No one can tell you with certainty. Perhaps it is as seldom as 1 to 2% of the time; but perhaps it is as frequently as 50% of the time. Does it matter? The clear conclusion is that it is impossible for any woman on the pill in any given month to know exactly which mechanism is in effect. In other words, the pill always carries with it the potential to act as an abortifacient.

Though they have been unable to cite studies indicating lower figures than these, physician friends of mine tell me they believe the highest figures I've cited here are too high. I hope they are right. It concerns me, however, that they have not provided empirical evidence that refutes such figures. (If any reader has such evidence, I would greatly appreciate seeing it.)

In any case, even if the numbers are lower, they could still add up to hundreds of thousands of child casualties per year. When pro-lifers routinely state there are 1.5 million abortions per year in America (I have often said this myself), we are leaving out all chemical abortions and are therefore vastly understating the true number. Perhaps we are also immunizing ourselves to the reality that life really does begin at conception and we are morally accountable to act like it.

Let's make it more personal by bringing it down to an individual woman. If a fertile and sexually active woman took the Pill from puberty to menopause, she would have a potential of 390 suppressed ovulations. Eliminating those times when she wouldn't take the Pill because she wanted to have a child, or because she was already pregnant, she might have 330 potentially suppressed ovulations. If 95% of her ovulations were suppressed (it could be considerably less, but not much more), this would mean she would have sixteen breakthrough ovulations.

If she is fertile and sexually active, a few of those ovulations might end up in a known pregnancy because the second and third mechanisms both fail. Of the other fourteen, perhaps nine would never be fertilized (some prevented by the number two mechanism, the thickened cervical mucus). And perhaps, as a result of the number three mechanism, she might have five early abortions because conception took place, but the children could not be implanted in the endometrium.

If the same woman took the Pill for only ten years, she might have one or two abortions instead of five. Again, we don't know the exact figures, and likely never will. Some would say these estimates are too high, but based on my research it appears equally probable they are too low.

There is no way to be certain, but the truth is that a Christian woman taking the Pill might over time have no Pill-induced abortions, or she might have one, three or a dozen of them.

Our beliefs should be governed by the evidence, not by wishful thinking. But since the numbers cannot be decisively determined, based on what you do know, come up with an estimate you think might be in the ballpark. Now, whatever that figure is, ask yourself this question -- is it morally right to unnecessarily risk the lives of those children?

Questions & objections

In the process of research I've had countless conversations with Christians, including physicians, pastors and many others. These are some of the questions and objections people have most often raised.

"If this is true, why haven't I heard it before?"

There are many possible answers to this question. One is that concerns about abortions, especially early ones, are not widespread among researchers, scientists and the medical community in general. Since preventing implantation isn't of concern except to those who believe God creates people at the point of conception, it isn't terribly surprising the experts haven't gotten the word out. In their minds, why should they?

While the evidence for Pill-caused abortions is substantial, it is spread out in so many obscure and technical scientific journals, dozens of them, that relatively few physicians -- much less the general public -- have ever seen the most compelling evidence at all, or if they have, only piecemeal. It has effectively fallen through the cracks and failed to get their attention.

Many well-meaning physicians, including Christians, simply are not aware of this evidence. (I know this, because that's what they've told me.) When patients hear someone suggest the Pill causes abortions, they will often come to their physician, who may be pro-life, and ak if this is true. The physician may sincerely say, "According to my understanding, the Pill just prevents conception, it doesn't cause abortions. You have nothing to be concerned about." Physicians assume that if this were really true, they would surely know it. In most cases they are not deliberately misleading their patients, but unfortunately the bottom line is that their patients are indeed misled. Based on their physician's reassurances, they don't look into the matter further, and because the dedicated physician is so busy, and confident that the Pill only prevents conception, neither does he.

An isolated reference here or there simply isn't sufficient to change or even challenge the deeply-ingrained pro-Pill consensus of medicine, society or the church. If Time magazine -- or even a major Christian periodical -- devoted a cover story to the subject, the information would reach a popular level in a way it never has before.

Even when the information leaks out, so many Christians -- including pastors and parachurch leaders -- have used and recommended the Pill, that we have a natural resistance to raising this issue or looking into it seriously when others raise it. This is likely why so few individuals or organizations have researched or drawn attention to this subject.

Ultimately, the widespread ignorance and blindness on this issue among Christians may be largely attributable to supernatural forces of evil which promote the deaths of the innocent and lie and mislead to cover those deaths. (I address this in the Conclusion.)

We also cannot escape the fact that the Pill is a multi-billion dollar worldwide industry. Its manufacturers, the drug companies, have tremendous vested interests. So too do many physicians prescribing it. (I do not mean by this that most physicians prescribe it primarily for financial gain, but simply that it is a significant part of many practices.)

Those in the best place to disseminate this information are the Pill-manufacturers. The problem, however, is that they gain customers by convincing them the Pill works, not by teaching them exactly how it works. No one takes the Pill because she knows it prevents implantation, but many might stop taking it if they knew it does.

Hence, a pharmaceutical company has nothing to gain by drawing attention to this information, and potentially a great deal to lose. There are many people in America who profess to believe life begins at conception; companies do not want these people to stop using their pills. This concern for good public relations was very evident to me in my conversations with staff at four major Pill manufacturers. It is also demonstrated in the fact that their FDA-monitored disclosures in the fine-print professional labeling, and in Physician's Desk Reference, all mention that the Pill prevents implantation, but this is stated in very few of their package inserts and none of their colorful consumer-oriented booklets.

Dr. James Walker, in his paper "Oral Contraception: A Different Perspective" (Pharmacists for Life, PO Box 1281, Powell, OH, 43065), points out the Pill's potential to cause abortion. He then says,

A large percentage of consumers would undoubtedly refuse to use this form of birth control if they were aware that oral contraceptives worked in this way. Also, a large number of physicians would refrain from using this method of contraception if they were aware of the abortifacient mechanism of oral contraceptives . . . why is the medical (or prescribing) and consumer population so poorly informed? It could be that the pharmaceutical industry is interested in making large profits without regard for the sanctity of human life. Or it could be that the medical community has become so conditioned to supply means for instant gratification, that our eyes have been blinded to the eternal consequences of our daily action.

"If we don't know how often abortions happen, why shouldn't we take the Pill?"

We can be certain that the Pill causes some abortions. But since we are uncertain about the actual numbers of abortions, how should we act on our uncertainty?

If a hunter is uncertain whether a movement in the brush is caused by a deer or a person, should his uncertainty lead him to shoot or not to shoot?

If you're driving at night and you think the dark figure ahead on the road may be a child, but it may just be the shadow of a tree, do you drive into it or do you put on the brakes?

Shouldn't we give the benefit of the doubt to life? Let's say that you are skeptical of all this research, all these studies, and all the Pill manufacturers' claims that the Pill sometimes results in the death of a child. (You might ask yourself if the reason is because of your bias and vested interests, but for the moment let's just say you're genuinely uncertain.) Is it a Christlike attitude to say "Because taking the Pill may or may not kill a child, I will therefore take it"? If we are uncertain, shouldn't that compel us not to take it?

My research has convinced me the evidence is not uncertain, but compelling, in the single most important sense -- the Pill does result in abortions. Only the numbers are uncertain. Can we really say in good conscience, "Because I'm uncertain exactly how many children are killed by the Pill, therefore I will take it"? (How many dead children would it take to be too many?)

It seems to me more Christlike to say, "Because I know there is a widespread understanding of the most informed scientific and medical people (including the research departments of those manufacturing it) that the Pill does sometimes cause abortions, I will therefore not take the Pill and I will encourage others not to."

"But spontaneous abortions happen frequently anyway"

One physician pointed out there are many spontaneous abortions and miscarriages. Because of this, he felt we should not be troubled by pre-implantational abortions caused by the Pill. I've heard the same logic used to defend fertility research and in vitro fertilization in which embryos are conceived outside the womb. Three to six of these may be implanted in a uterus in the hopes one may live, but the majority die, and some are frozen or discarded. (In the best case scenario, two to five die in the attempt to implant one, and often all of them die.)

When, even under optimal conditions, physicians attempt to implant an embryo conceived in-vitro, it is true that there is a low success rate. According to Dr. Leon Speroff, the success rate in any given cycle is 13.5% and since typically three to six embryos may be used to attempt implantation, the actual survival rate is just over 3%. This means that 29 out of 30 embryos die in the attempt to implant a child (Clinical Gynecologic Endocrinology and Infertility; Williams and Wilkins, fifth edition, 1994, page 937-39). This confirms that in the natural process of a woman's cycle there are likely many early miscarriages, perhaps considerably more than there are live births.

Since this is true, however, does it therefore follow, "Because God or nature causes millions of early abortions a year, it's okay if we cause some?"

The proper response to this is that there is a big difference, a cosmic difference, between God and us! What God is free to do and what we are free to do are not the same. God is the giver and taker of life. God is the potter, we are the clay (Isaiah 45:9-11). He has the right to take human life, we do not. Nature is under the curse of sin and as a result there is widespread death in this world, both inside and outside the womb (Romans 8:19-22). God is the Superintendent of nature and can overrule it when he so chooses. But none of this permits us to say "because God lets so many people die, I'll go ahead and kill some of them myself!"

It is one thing for God to take a human life. It is an entirely different thing for us to do so. His prerogatives are unique to Him. He is the Creator, we are the creatures. (See Appendix D: God is Creator and Owner of all people.) The same principle applies when someone says that since a baby will probably die within a few days or weeks of his birth, we may as well abort him now. The difference is between losing a child to death (by God's sovereign choice) and choosing to kill that child. This is a fundamental and radical difference. (See Appendix E: God has exclusive prerogatives over human life and death.)

To justify using a chemical that takes some lives by saying it really causes fewer abortions though preventing conception again puts us in the place of God. The logic seems to be that God is letting many children die, so when we will kill some ourselves we can take consolation in knowing that the chemical that kills some children prevents many children from ever being conceived and therefore from ever dying.

But God has never delegated the right to us to unnecessarily risk the lives of our children. Furthermore, if there are fewer miscarriages because of the Pill it is not because the Pill brings any benefit to a preborn child, but only because it results in less children. This is all an illusion -- it is not that lives are truly being preserved, but simply that there are fewer lives to preserve! There is less death only because there is less life.

Using this logic, the most pro-life thing we could do would be to eliminate all pregnancy and thereby all children. We could congratulate ourselves that we eliminated abortion by eliminating children. (The number of people with cancer could also be lowered by reducing the number of people in society, but we would hardly think of that as a cure -- especially if the means we used to have less people meant killing some of them!)

We may indeed lose through early spontaneous miscarriages several children we don't even know of. But that in no way justifies our choosing to take something into our bodies that puts the lives of other children in danger.

"But Pill-takers aren't intending to have abortions"

I've been told several times that because most people's intention in taking the Pill is to prevent conception, not to have an abortion, it's therefore ethical for them to continue taking the Pill.

I certainly agree that most women taking the Pill don't intend to get abortions. In fact, I'm convinced 99% of them are unaware this is even possible. But the fact remains that while the intentions of those taking the Pill may be harmless, the results can be fatal.

A nurse giving your child an injection could sincerely intend no harm to your child, but if she unknowingly injects him with a fatal poison, her good intentions will not lessen the tragedy of the results. Whether the nurse has the heart of a murderer or a saint, your child is equally dead. The best intentions do nothing to reverse the most disastrous results.

In this sense, taking the Pill is analogous to playing Russian roulette, but with more chambers and therefore less risk per episode. In Russian roulette, participants usually don't intend to shoot themselves. Their intention is irrelevant, however, because if they play the game long enough they just can't beat the odds, and they die.

The Russian roulette of the Pill is done with someone else's life, a new and unique creation of God. Each time someone taking the Pill engages in sex, she runs the risk of aborting a child. (Instead of a one in six chance, maybe it's a one in thirty or one in a hundred or one in five hundred chance, I'm not sure, but it's certainly a real risk -- the scientific evidence tells us the chemical "gun" is loaded.) The fact that she will not know when a child has been aborted in no way changes whether or not a child is aborted. Every month she continues to take the Pill increases her chances of having her first -- or next -- silent abortion. She could have one, two, a half dozen or a dozen of these without ever having a clue.

A word that continuously surfaced in my research and my dialogue with the birth control pill manufacturers was the word "primary" as opposed to "secondary." A pro-life physician told me he felt comfortable still using the Pill because "It's primarily contraceptive and only secondarily abortive."

But how would you respond to someone who says "here, eat this hamburger -- the meat we use sometimes causes fatal food poisoning, but its primary effect isn't to poison you, so don't worry about it." Or more to the point, what would you think if a doctor said to you, "This chemical I'm about to inject in your child has the primary effect of curing his allergies; it also may kill him, but that would only be a secondary effect."

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