There has been a small flurry of news about misinformation and outright lies women hear at crisis pregnancy centers, including pieces at Salon, Think Progress, and NARAL‘s new Tumblr blog Exposing Fake Clinics. Salon identifies 4 medical myths women heard:

  1. Birth control is a mini abortion every month.
  2. Abortion causes breast cancer.
  3. Abortion causes infertility.
  4. Birth control causes cancer.

Rather than just calling a lie a lie, let’s also look at the truth.  This post will cover the myth of the monthly mini-abortion.

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Unless they are pregnant, healthy women of reproductive age menstruate regularly.  While there are extreme religious perspectives that advocate eschewing contraception so that (married) women will get pregnant as often as possible, even these groups do not call normal menstruation a “mini abortion.”  And while some religious groups hold to the “Every Sperm is Sacred” philosophy derived from the sin of “onanism” (Onan got in trouble with God for “spilling his seed”), the sin there is the spilled sperm, not a “mini abortion.”

So where does this statement come from? Barrier methods of birth control kill sperm (e.g. spermicides), block the cervix (e.g. diaphragm and cervical cap), or collect the sperm for disposal elsewhere (e.g. condoms).  The only way to perceive using these methods as a mini-abortion would be to consider the prevention of potential pregnancy as somehow aborting.

There are those who believe the moniker “pro life” means constantly trying to get pregnant in order to produce more “life”  (otherwise you are just “anti-death”), but as there is no fertilization involved in barrier methods, there is no basis for their being considered abortifacients. The only other way to tie barrier methods to abortion would be the argument that contraception leads to an abortion mentality.  Arland Nichols at the Catholic Magazine Crisis explains:

Blessed John Paul II observed in Evangelium vitae, “[t]he life which could result from a sexual encounter thus becomes an enemy to be avoided at all costs, and abortion becomes the only possible decisive response to failed contraception.” A solution had to be found; abortion access was necessary to “clean up the mess.” Ironically, it is often claimed that contraception reduces the need for abortion, but the sordid history and abortion numbers that climb with contraception access tell a very different story. The expansion or legalization of abortion in a country is almost always preceded by introduction or acceptance of contraception. Contraception is the proverbial Trojan Horse.

If contraception is a Trojan Horse that brings abortion with it, then any method of birth control would somehow be an abortion “carrier.”  This view is not limited to Catholics.  So the idea is that contraception is like abortion because certain religious groups mentally link the two.  That still doesn’t mean that barrier methods in any way cause a physical abortion.

The more typical anti-contraception, anti-abortion crowd primarily gets revved up over hormonal contraception (e.g. the Pill, the Shot, the Implant, and particularly the “morning after” pill) and IUDs. Hormonal methods (including the morning after pill) work primarily by preventing ovulation.  The IUD works primarily as a spermicide (there’s the sacred sperm problem again) or by thickening the cervical mucus to block sperm. The problem comes when caveats like these, from the International Planned Parenthood Federation, are raised:

In very rare case, IUDs prevent implantation which is considered a contraceptive not an abortifacient effect.

Injectables also make the endometrium unfavorable for implantation if fertilization does occur.

Science tells us that pregnancy does not begin until implantation.  Even if one wishes to ignore this definition, there is an increasing body of evidence indicating that hormonal methods in particular do not prevent implantation.  Still, these caveats lead to proposals like an Ohio bill that would ban both abortion and many contraceptive “drugs or devices”:

The bill’s definition of “abortion services” also includes “drugs or devices used to prevent the implantation of a fertilized ovum,” which could effectively ban coverage of birth control pills, intrauterine devices (IUDs), and emergency contraception.

People at the extreme end of the anti abortion movement get very, very upset about un-implanted fertilized eggs (which are actually blastocysts by the time they implant, which some anti-abortion extremists believe gives the cells more moral legitimacy). They regard the un-implanted cells as a dead baby.  Except they really don’t, because if they did, all vaginal discharge would have to be inspected so that proper funerals could be held for the millions of “dead babies” that don’t implant, regardless of whether or not a woman is using birth control.

Even more to the point, the prevention of ovulation and the prevention of sperm meeting egg prevent millions of “dead babies”–according to the anti-abortion set, no fertilization=no “baby.”  The best explanation of this paradox of opposing birth control and mourning un-implanted blastocysts comes  from Sarah via Libby Anne’s amazing blog, Love, Joy, Feminism:

  • In a group of 100 women not on birth control: 16 zygotes will “die” each month
  • 85 dead zygotes per 100 women by the end of the year
  • In a group of 100 women on birth control: 0.15 zygotes will “die”
  • 2 dead zygotes per 100 women by the end of the year

Sarah concludes,

[T]aking birth control makes a woman’s body LESS likely to dispel fertilized eggs. If you believe that life begins at conception, shouldn’t it be your moral duty to reduce the number of zygote “abortions?” If you believe that a zygote is a human, you actually kill more babies by refusing to take birth control.

In addition to the dead zygotes, women naturally expel a large number of fetuses through “spontaneous abortion”–aka miscarriage.  Depending on when the blastocyst implants, up to 80% of fetuses can be spontaneously aborted.  Though miscarriage can be very difficult and sad, very few people have full-fledged funerals for a fetus in the way they would for a baby who had been born (the Duggars excepted).

If the fetus were really a “baby,” we would consider miscarriages to be preterm births and we would regard a miscarried fetus as we would a deceased child.  But even anti-abortion extremists don’t generally view a fetus this way.  In fact, people don’t even refer to un-implanted blastocysts as “miscarriages.”

So to sum up,

  1. Barrier methods do not allow for fertilization
  2. Hormonal methods and IUDs  are designed to prevent fertilization
  3. Un-implanted fertilized ova/blastocysts are naturally expelled among women not using birth control much more often than among women using birth control, and no one in the anti-abortion community seems to care.
  4. Abortion, spontaneous or not, is only called abortion (or miscarriage) after implantation has occurred.

Thus, when it comes to birth control, there is no abortion involved, mini or otherwise.

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