The Article: The Pill: Contraceptive or Abortifacient?
The Source: The Atlantic
The Author: Karen Swallow Prior, a professor of English and chair of the English and modern languages department at Liberty University
The Gist: It's time to distinguish clearly---in terminology, thinking, and public policy---between contraception and abortion.
In addition to the linguistic clarity about contraception, clearer scientific understanding of how the pill works is needed. Many years ago, as a teenager, I decided to go "on the Pill," as they say. I remember clearly my physician's explanation of how the birth control pill worked: first, it was supposed to prevent ovulation; second, in case ovulation did occur, the pill's backup mechanism was designed to prevent the sperm from fertilizing the egg; finally, the backup to the backup was to render the uterine wall inhospitable to any accidental zygote that may have formed if the first two steps failed. At the time, I shrugged off the last part almost as easily as the first two, having not yet arrived at the strong pro-life convictions I hold today.
But now I---along with about half of the nation---am pro-life, and the distinction between contraception and abortion is the difference between life and death. The labeling of birth control pills, in their various forms, for years has included information similar to that given to me by my doctor, information that has caused strongly pro-life people, as I am, to consider the birth control pill---and the morning after pill, which operates on the same principles---to be, potentially, an abortifacient and, therefore, to be rejected within a pro-life philosophy. My own relationship with the birth control pill is a picture with more strokes of gray than black and white. I didn't go off it immediately after adopting my anti-abortion view but did in time with increased knowledge and conviction about its potentially abortifacient elements. Many conversations with like-minded friends reveal similar inner conflicts and downright confusion.
The Bottom Line: Many pro-life evangelicals who oppose the use of abortifacients such as RU-486 (Mifepristone) are comfortable with oral contraceptives, i.e., the Pill (a combination of estradiol and progetin). But what if the Pill is a potential abortifacient?
Currently, there is not enough scientific evidence to sufficiently resolve that question, which leaves the bioethical implications murky. Should Christians err on the side of caution and oppose the Pill since it may destroy life? Should we apply the principle of double effect and claim that since the intent is not to terminate a pregnancy use of the Pill is morally licit?
As Prior says, it is crucial for women to have as much knowledge as possible about how medication works and affects their body's functioning: "It's a medical issue. It's a moral issue. It's a political issue. It's a women's issue. It's a human issue." It's also a Gospel issue, with eternal significance. It's time we evangelicals start considering such questions with due gravity.