There is an area of some confusion about whether oral and emergency contraceptives cause abortions. The confusion in this issue arises from whether or not pregnancy begins at conception or implantation.
  • The main function of oral and emergency contraceptives is to prevent ovulation from occuring. (It also changes cervical mucus making it less receptive to sperm.)
  • A secondary function is to prevent implantation in the event conception has already occured.
  • Medical science recognises that human life begins at fertilisation.
  • Implantation has now become regarded as "clinically recognized pregnancy."
  • Physicians should provide detailed information to women of the post- fertilisation effects of contraceptives.
The meaning of words is important when it comes to understanding whether birth control pills (BCPs) are contraceptive (i.e. preventing conception/fertilisation) or abortifacient (i.e. causing an abortion).

By reducing the level of the hormones required for ovulation, BCPs suppress, but do not entirely eliminate ovulation.

If a sperm fertilises the ovum (egg) at this time, conception has taken place and the BCP was unsuccessful as a 'contraceptive.

Once conception has occured the zygote (the fertilised egg) spends the next 5 - 9 days travelling down the fallopian tube to the uterus. Eight of the total 45 total generations of cell replication have taken place by the time the zygote implants in the uterine wall.

Each month during a menstrual cycle, the lining of the womb thickens around the time of ovulation to prepare for the possible implantation of a newly-conceived human being. The developing human receives his oxygen and nutrition through the uterus.

Women who take birth control pills usually notice that the volume of menstrual loss each month is considerably reduced. If a woman is losing less menstrual contents each month, the layer of endometrium that is being shed must be thinner and less well developed, making if more difficult for implantation to occur.

The BCP users had endometrial linings that were 57% thinner in endometrial lining thickness for women using BCPs, compared to non-pill users. (Brown HK, et al. 1991 Uterine Junctional Zone: Correlation between)

Several studies have been described in medical journals concerning in-vitro fertilization (IVF) where it has been noted that the newly conceived child is much less likely to implant in a thin uterine lining than a thick one.

This means that when a woman is using artificial hormonal birth control, the newly conceived human is unlikely to be able to implant and starves to death. This is, therefore, an abortion.

Ambiguous Wording
  • “Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy after unprotected vaginal intercourse. It is also called post-coital or “morning after” contraception.”
  • “Emergency Contraception is used only if a woman is not already pregnant from a previous act of intercourse.
  • EC prevents pregnancy by stopping ovulation, fertilization, or implantation.
  • It will not effect an existing pregnancy. And it will not cause an abortion.”
The ambiguity in these “safe” sounding words is found in the presupposed meaning attached to them.
Oral and emergency contraceptives alter the lining of the uterus to prevent attachment of the embryo.

Emergency contraceptives are really a quadruple dose of the oral BCP which works by stopping ovulation, slowing sperm travel, and, if ovulation and fertilisation have occurred, by preventing implantation of the embryo.

However, the emergency contraception can only be said to prevent pregnancy by stopping implantation, if you define pregnancy as occurring after implantation, what is regarded as "clinically recognized pregnancy". This meaning of pregnancy is becoming more and more accepted.

The deception of these words is in implying that even though what would implant is a six-day-old developing human being, if he or she does not implant, there is no pregnancy.

There are women opposed to abortion who would never consider using BCPs if they were informed as to their abortifacient capability. If it is agreed that women should be fully informed about the medication and treatments prescribed them, then doctors and pharmacists should understand and respect the beliefs of patients who consider human life to be present and valuable from the moment of fertilisation, and provide their patients with the full information that will enable them to make a fully informed decision.

When life begins
The words used obscure the meaning of what EC really does when it prevents implantation. For many, the important question is not: “When does pregnancy begin?” The important question is: “When does life begin?”
No-one wanted to acknowledge that a child had begun his or her life in a petrie dish.

Re-defining life to begin at implantation was a change that came about, in part, to accomodate those involved with IVF. No-one wanted to acknowledge that a child had begun his or her life in a petrie dish. This change smoothed the way for BCPs to be classed as contraceptives.

Major embryology texts, such as Moore and Persaud’s The Developing Human (6th ed., 1998), say that a pregnancy — and therefore a new human life — begins at the precise moment of unification of sperm and ovum. This is a statement of embryological fact. This position is supported by evidence given in a Human Rights trial in Canada in 1983

Nine expert witnesses were called to provide scientific and professional evidence on foetology, genetics, obstetrics, neurology and ultrasound technology.

The scientific evidence presented at the trial was uncontested, and demonstrated beyond doubt that the preborn child is a human being whose life begins at fertilisation (conception). In the light of this scientific evidence most abortion advocates now openly acknowledge that life begins at conception and have changed the issue from "when life begins" to "when personhood begins."

In 1985, the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists re-defined pregnancy as beginning at implantation, rather than fertilisation. Prior to this change, all scientists and physicians considered fertilisation as the beginning of human life -- and many still do.

Note: Some medical organisations and legislative bodies have come to accept the new philosophical definition. Some Obstetrics textbooks have been rewritten to regard conception as synonymous with implantation.