Sunday, November 1, 2009

Does the birth control pill cause abortions? "PART 6"

"Life is full of risks -- you can't avoid them all"

This is certainly true. We put ourselves and our children at risk every time we drive a car. If we let our kids go swimming we take risks. Our child's ability to grow and mature and gain confidence and trust in God in a world of risks partially depends on our willingness to take reasonable risks.

But we are also careful not to take unnecessary risks. Our risks are wise and calculated. Because we love our children we expose them only to a measured level of risk -- they ride in the car, yes, but we belt them in and drive carefully. As they grow up they learn to make their own decisions as to what level of risk is wise and acceptable.

And the younger our children are, the less risks we take with them. We might leave an eight year old free to roam the house, while we wouldn't a toddler. When we are talking about a newly conceived human being, if we take the Pill it is his life we are risking. The reason we're doing so is not for his growth and maturity, but for our convenience. We are unnecessarily putting him at risk of his very survival. Through the choice to take certain chemicals into our bodies via the Pill, we may be robbing him of the single most important thing we can offer a newly conceived child -- a hospitable environment in which he can be nourished and grow.

We would not consider withholding food and a home and physical safety for our children who are already born. We would not be careless about what we eat and drink and the chemicals we ingest and the activities we do that could jeopardize the child within when she's six months after conception. Then neither should we put our child at unnecessary risk when she's six days after conception. Yes, we can't know for certain she's there at six days. But if we've been sexually active we know she may be there. And therefore we should do nothing unnecessarily that could jeopardize her life.

A sexually active woman runs a new risk of aborting a child with every Pill she takes. Of course, the decision to take the Pill isn't just a woman's but her husband's, and he is every bit as responsible for the choice as she is. As the God-appointed leader in the home, in fact, he may be even more responsible.

How much risk is acceptable risk? Part of it depends on the alternatives. There is no such thing as a car or a house that poses no risk to your children. But there is such a thing as a contraceptive method which does not put a child's life at risk. There are safe alternatives to the birth control Pill that do not and cannot cause abortions.

"Can't we just take higher dose pills?"

At first, I'd hoped this was the case. But I kept running into materials showing that even when high dose estrogen was used the pregnancy rate of women on the Pill was still 1% and the effects on thinning the endometrium were the same as they are now. This means that breakthrough ovulation, perhaps at a little lower rate, certainly still took place. It may have added up to fewer abortions then, but not no abortions.

To double check on this, I asked the pharmacist at Ortho-McNeil if the higher dose pills were more successful in suppressing ovulation. He said, "Not really -- there's a ceiling point of estrogen, beyond which more isn't better. By the time you get to 35 micrograms, for most people you've reached the point of maximum ovulation suppression." (This appears to contradict some other sources I cited earlier. I include it for the sake of fully representing viewpoints.)

In any case, unless you were able to get three current "high dose" birth control prescriptions (50 micrograms) and take three pills a day, you could not equal the 1960s standard of 150 micrograms of estrogen each day. Even if you did, you would have to face the very serious side effects and risks to women that motivated pill manufacturers to lower the estrogen level in the first place.

"Without the Pill there would be more unplanned pregnancies and therefore more abortions"

A pro-life physician pointed this out in a letter to her pastor, stating that 50% of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion, and therefore a million more pregnancies each year could mean a half million more abortions each year.

Suppose this were true. The logic would be, "let's go ahead and kill some children now because at least if we do there may be other children, more of them, who won't get killed." The same approach could be used to deny drowning children access to a crowded life raft. This sort of pragmatism rings hollow when we put certain human lives at risk, without their consent, for the supposed good of others.

Ultimately, however, the premise itself is not true, since (unfortunately) it is only a small minority who would even consider not taking the Pill because it causes early abortions. The only people who will stop taking the Pill for this reason are not only pro-life, but deeply committed to their beliefs. The point of this booklet is not to attempt to ban the world from using the Pill, but to convince the people of God we should choose to live by a higher moral code than the world does.

A person who as a matter of conscience will not risk the life of a newly conceived child -- whose presence in her womb she cannot even yet feel -- will surely not turn around and kill a child just because she has an unplanned pregnancy. Among people who stop taking the Pill to protect unborn children, there may be more unplanned pregnancies, but they will result in births not abortions.

"But how can we exercise birth control without the Pill?"

Some will respond to this question by saying, "You shouldn't be taking birth control in the first place -- it's God who opens and closes the womb, and it's playing God to try to dictate your family size. The Bible says children are a blessing from the Lord -- not inconveniences to be avoided. Children are blessings sent from God. Which of his other blessings -- such as financial provision, a good job, a strong marriage, or a solid church -- are you desperately trying to avoid?"

Though this is not the point of view I've embraced over the years, and for various reasons my wife and I "stopped" after two children, I still cannot take this position lightly. Frankly, as I tell the students in my Bible college ethics class, I think we must look at both sides of this issue seriously and be sure we are not succumbing to our society's "Planned Parenthood" view of children rather than God's view of children. Appendix G: How God Sees Children.) I believe God is grieved by the anti-child mentality that surfaces with every negative comment made to and about families with more than three children. I believe large families should be seen as a blessing from God. (My own father was the tenth of thirteen children. Am I glad his parents didn't stop after nine children? If they would have, I wouldn't be here to write this article, and my daughters wouldn't be here to make the difference for God's kingdom they're making.)

However, this article is not motivated by a hidden agenda in which I'm trying to persuade people that all attempts at family planning are wrong. My only agenda here is an open one that I believe all Christians should agree on regardless of their position on family planning -- namely, that no "family planning" which sacrifices the lives of a family member can be morally right and pleasing to God.

For genuinely pro-life Christians who believe in family planning and the use of contraceptives, the question is, "what are the non-abortive alternatives to the Pill, Minipill, IUD, Depo-Provera and Norplant?" The answer is, the barrier methods, such as condoms and diaphragms. Though they can have their own problems and inconveniences, they are not abortive.

There is also Natural Family Planning, which is not simply the old "rhythm" method, but a very thoughtful and scientific approach. The Couple to Couple League is a good source of information on natural family planning. They cite a number of studies showing their methods to be extremely effective. Detailed information can be found on the Couple to Couple League's website at, or they can be contacted e-mail at or at P.O. Box 111184, Cincinnati, Ohio 45211-1184, or telephone 513-471-2000. Though I am not a student of this method, everything I have seen suggests it is certainly worth exploring.

"But these methods aren't as effective -- we may have an unwanted child." In fact, the barrier methods, especially when used in combination with spermicides, are highly effective, though not as effective as the Pill and certainly less convenient. Natural Family Planning, practiced by informed couples, can be just as effective as the Pill. Some studies suggest it is actually more effective.

But let's look at the "worst case" scenario -- you conceive and give birth to an unplanned child. Consider how many people have been richly blessed by children who were unplanned. These are not "accidents," they are precious creations of God. Babies are not cancerous tumors to be desperately avoided and dramatically removed. That they are unplanned by us does not mean they are unplanned by God.

We have to weigh the greater "risk" of having a child (whom God calls a blessing) against the possibility of killing a child (which God calls an abomination). No matter where a Christian stands on the birth control issue, we should surely be able to agree that the possibility of having a child is always better than the possibility of killing a child!

I know a man whose married daughter recently stopped taking the Pill when she learned it sometimes causes abortion. She got pregnant soon thereafter. He said to me with a smile, "thanks to my daughter not taking the Pill, God gave us a wonderful grandchild!" Is that really so bad? I am convinced God was pleased by their choice to not place children at risk for the sake of their convenience.

There may also be some health benefits to women who choose not to take the Pill. As anyone who has read the inserts packaged with birth control pills knows, there are serious risks to some women associated with oral contraceptives, including increased incidence of blood clots, strokes, heart attacks, high blood pressure, sexually transmitted diseases, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, breast cancer, cervical cancer, liver tumors, and ectopic pregnancy. These and other risks are spelled out under each bcp's listing in The Physician's Desk Reference. (The health issue is not my central concern in this article, but the life issue. Still, health issues are worth considering.)

There are some benefits in taking the Pill that have no relation to issues of pregnancy. It is prescribed by doctors to regulate hormones connected to such conditions as ovarian cysts. It is used to treat acne, and to get women "on schedule" who desire ultimately to go off the Pill and have children. If one was careful to use a nonabortive contraceptive in addition to the Pill, perhaps it could be reasonable to use the Pill briefly to regulate her periods in preparation for a pregnancy. If a single woman has had certain ovarian problems, as long as she does not engage in sex her doctor's prescription of the Pill to treat her condition might be very appropriate.

As long as sexually inactive women are aware of the physical risks to themselves, which they may well determine are acceptable, they are certainly free to take the Pill for its other benefits. The moral problem is when, regardless of the reasons for taking it, a sexually active woman takes the Pill and thereby runs the continual risk of aborting a child.

One Ob/Gyn told me that years ago, after coming to realize the Pill causes abortions, he decided he could no longer prescribe it. He informed his patients why. At first, he lost a significant number of patients and income. Ultimately his practice started thriving again, since many pro-life people who respected his stand and believed they could trust him on matters of principles and ethics, came to him as their physician. Of course, even if he had never regained the lost patients and income, the important thing is that he believes he made the decision that honored God and the sanctity of human life created by God.

Similarly, there are pharmacists, including those who are part of Pharmacists for Life, who are committed not to distribute the Pill because of their convictions. This can create difficulty and controversy, but sometimes taking a stand for what is right inevitably does that, and people are ultimately informed, challenged and benefited.

"I never knew this about the Pill -- should I feel guilty?"

I know exactly what you're experiencing. If we had known, I believe Nanci and I would never have used the Pill. But we didn't know, and there's nothing we can do now to change that. If we were still using the Pill, upon discovering these realities, we would immediately stop using it. But I also must deal with my failure in recent years (long after we stopped using the Pill) to investigate the occasional reference I heard to the possibility that the Pill causes abortions.

What about guilt? There is true guilt and there are guilt feelings that plague us even when we are not guilty, or no longer guilty because of Christ's promise of forgiveness. Whenever we have done something in ignorance, it is hard to discern our level of responsibility, but Scripture makes clear we are capable of doing wrong even when not consciously aware of it.

When a person commits a violation and sins unintentionally in regard to any of the LORD's holy things, he is to bring to the LORD as a penalty a ram from the flock . . . It is a guilt offering . . . If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the LORD's commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible. He is to bring to the priest as a guilt offering a ram from the flock, one without defect . . . In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the wrong he has committed unintentionally, and he will be forgiven. (Leviticus 5:14-18)

We are to seek out before the Lord unintentional and unknown sins:

How many wrongs and sins have I committed? Show me my offense and my sin. (Job 13:23)

Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults. (Psalm 19:12)

Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind. (Psalm 26:2)

I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to your statutes. (Psalm 119:59)

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24)

Scripture clearly teaches we will each stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give an account of what we have done in our lives on earth (Romans 14:10; 2 Corinthians 5:10). While our salvation doesn't depend on this, our rewards in heaven do.

The Bible teaches that by coming to terms now with our sin and our responsibility, we can to a certain extent preserve ourselves from having to face judgment later: "But if we judged ourselves, we would not come under judgment" (1 Corinthians 11:31).

All of us who have used the Pill may have unknowingly caused abortions, and we certainly ran a risk of doing so. All of us who have recommended it are also accountable.

Because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf, God freely offers us pardon and forgiveness for everything -- known sins, unknown sins, and actions taken in ignorance and sincerity that have terrible and unintended results.

He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. (Psalm 103:10-14)

Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. (Micah 7:18-19)

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

To be honest, I haven't quite known exactly how to respond to our years of our using the Pill and my recommending it to others. My prayer has gone something like this -- "Lord, I'd like to think this wasn't a sin, given our ignorance, but based on your word I suspect it probably was. Since I am usually more guilty than I think, not less, I would rather assume I have sinned rather than presuming I have not. Please forgive me. I thank you that the price you paid means I need not labor under the guilt of my wrong choices in the past. Help me now to demonstrate the condition of my heart by living out consistently my convictions about the sanctity of human life. Help me never to dare to play God by usurping your sole prerogatives as the giver and taker of life. And help me do what I can to encourage my brothers and sister not to do so either."

I have been told that it would be better to be silent, to not raise the issue of the Pill's being able to cause abortions. Why? Because it will make people feel guilty, and it will make them more accountable. But sometimes a greater sense of guilt and accountability is exactly what we need, for then we can deal with them in God's way, and be relieved of them rather than ignoring or stuffing them. The same "don't make people feel guilty" logic prompts people not to say what the Bible really says. But ultimately it is never in people's best interests to keep them in ignorance and give them no opportunity to respond to the Lord.

Our mission must be to tell the truth, not to hide it. We are here not simply to help each other feel good, but to help each other be good. Ultimately, the greatest kindness we can offer each other is the truth. The Christian life is not based on avoiding the truth but hearing it and submitting to it. Far better to feel guilty, repent and become obedient than to not feel guilty, and continue to disobey our Lord, endanger the lives of the innocent, and lay up judgment for ourselves.

I've given my understanding of it, but whether we consider ourselves innocent or guilty due to our past ignorance, I believe we ought to agree that in light of our knowledge of the truth that the Pill can cause abortions, we should no longer use or recommend it, and should take the opportunity to explain, especially to our brothers and sisters in Christ, why we cannot.

Let us examine our ways and test them, and let us return to the LORD. (Lamentations 3:40)

He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy. (Proverbs 28:13)

"Let's not get sidetracked from fighting real abortions"

One pro-life physician read a few of the citations in this booklet, and wrote me this in an email: "I think pro-lifers should stay away from these theoretical arguments and stick with fighting what we know to be wrong: elective induced abortions. We defeat ourselves if we get carried away on tangents arguing about bcps."

But when I examine the evidence, I do not see it as theoretical, I see it as actual. We don't know how many children are dying from the use of oral contraceptives, but we know that some, and likely many, certainly are.

As to sticking with fighting "what we know to be wrong," the question is whether we know that early abortions are wrong, just as we know later ones are. Or whether we know killing children by chemicals is wrong, just as we know killing them with surgical tools is wrong. The answer to both these questions, I believe, is yes. Both really happen, both result in the deaths of children created in God's image, and both are surely worthy of our attention.

Will we "defeat ourselves" by speaking up for children killed by chemicals as we do for children killed by surgeries? Or will we just become more consistent (and less hypocritical) advocates of the unborn? Is pointing out the abortifacient nature of birth control pills a "tangent," or is it just staying (or getting) on track by obeying God's command to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves?

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