Holy Community
Do Morning-after Pills Cause Abortions?

Burk_Denny. . .  critics are telling me to "check my facts" and realize that morning-after pills are not abortifacient. This erroneous objection reveals that there is some confusion out there about what the "facts" really are

Burk is an associate professor of Biblical Studies at Boyce College
(Louisville, Kentucky)

In my previous post, I made the claim that the government will fine Hobby Lobby $1.3 million dollars per day until it complies with Obamacare’s abortion mandate. In the comments, I have received a good bit of push-back from readers claiming that the HHS mandate does not require coverage for abortifacient drugs. In particular, critics are telling me to “check my facts” and realize that morning-after pills are not abortifacient. This erroneous objection reveals that there is some confusion out there about what the “facts” really are. For this reason, I think a response is warranted.

First, pro-lifers define abortions as any measure that causes a fertilized egg or fetus to be destroyed. Pro-lifers believe that all human beings have an inalienable right to life from conception to natural death. Notice that it’s not from implantation to natural death, but from conception to natural death. When sperm unites with an egg, a new human life comes into being. In the normal course of events, that new human life travels down the fallopian tubes and into the mother’s womb where it implants into the uterine wall. Pro-choicers often say that an abortion can only occur after implantation. Pro-lifers contend that abortion can occur before or after implantation. Human life is at stake from the time of conception, and anything that destroys that life is abortifacient.

Second, Obamacare mandates coverage not only for morning-after pills, but also for intrauterine devices, also known as IUD’s. According to the FDA, IUD’s have three mechanisms of action, one of which is preventing the fertilized egg from implanting to the uterine wall. In other words, IUD’s cause the destruction of human life before implantation. Whatever your views are about morning-after pills, the abortifacient effect of IUD’s is not in dispute, and Obamacare requires coverage for these devices.

Third, despite recent controversy about morning-after pills (“Plan B” and “Ella”), recent studies contesting the abortifacient effect of morning-after pills are less than conclusive than some suggest. The FDA says that both Plan B and Ella have more than one mechanism of action. The primary mechanism is the prevention of ovulation—a truly contraceptive measure. A secondary mechanism of morning after pills prevents a fertilized egg from implanting—an abortifacient measure. This means that morning-after pills cause the destruction of human life whenever this second mechanism comes into play.

Last summer, the FDA’s labeling came into dispute after the New York Times published an article alleging that morning-after pills are not abortifacient. Citing recent scientific studies, the article claimed the FDA labels are wrong. All of this came out in the midst of a heated political campaign in which President Obama was under fire for the unpopularity of Obamacare—including the controversial contraception mandate. The Times article attempted to show that this criticism of the President’s signature healthcare law was ill-founded. There appeared to be an overt political motive behind the reporting.

In any case, evidence from within the report itself showed that the scientific evidence did not conclusively favor the thesis of the article. In fact, the studies cited only related to Plan B, not to Ella or IUD’s. Also, several of the scientists that were interviewed said that “absolute proof” was elusive. One of the scientists cited favorably in the article is Dr. James Trussell of Princeton University. Yet he produced a paper over the summer that says morning-after pills must have some other mechanism of action besides the delaying of ovulation. One possible mechanism is of course prevention of implantation. So even one of the Times‘ own experts is less than conclusive on the matter.

Fourth, after the controversial Times article was published last June, the FDA updated its Birth Control Guide (August 2012) Even after all the controversy, the updated guide continues to list the abortifacient mechanism of morning-after pills. This fact alone is telling. It calls into question the accuracy of The New York Times‘ reporting. One can’t help but wonder if some other agenda was in play with the New York Times report besides an accurate reporting of the facts.

If it were ever proven that morning-after pills have absolutely no abortifacient effect, then the pro-life moral calculus would change with respect to these devices. But no such thing has ever been proven. Here’s the bottom line. Taking into account the best scientific research and laboratory tests, the FDA still says that morning-after pills can prevent human embryos from implanting—thus causing the destruction of human life. That’s the main fact that every party to this debate needs to get straight.

First published on the DennyBurk.com website on December 29, 2012.  Reprint according to policy.


Reprint by policy.  First published on the DennyBurk.com website on December 11, 2012.  Reprint by policy.  The Worldview Church staff encourages you to visit our “Doing the Right Thing” resource page for small group study materials.