A Dangerous Pill to Swallow

By Katie Young

For many people, the conversation about abortion becomes pretty simple when they realize the preborn are, in fact, living and growing humans.  Even those who disagree can often understand the logic:  The preborn are people, killing people is wrong, abortion kills the preborn, therefore, abortion is wrong.

Things get a little trickier when the person we’re speaking with brings up contraception.  The signs we bring to campus carry images of abortion victims on one side and information on various issues relating to abortion on the other.  Topics include prenatal development, abortion methods, overpopulation, and even harder subjects like rape and incest.  One section is titled “Birth Control.”

Many times I’ve had conversations with pro-choice and “personally pro-life” students that lead to that panel. It usually goes something like this:

Student:  Okay, I think I can see where you’re coming from. Oh, hey, look, birth control. I’m so glad you guys talk about that and don’t just preach abstinence like those other pro-life groups.

Me:  Oh, actually, this panel talks about some of the problems with hormonal birth control.

Student:  Oh.

Talking about hormonal birth control with students can sometimes be harder than talking about abortion.  Many students only know about its ability to prevent conception, and immediately see us as killjoys who just want to control women’s sex lives.  Unfortunately, this usually comes just after we’ve demonstrated to them how much we care about both women and children.  We explain the risks to the woman, and the danger it poses to a child conceived despite the best efforts of the hormones she’s taking, and sometimes the person sees how hormonal birth control and abortion go hand in hand.

Talking about emergency contraception, however, can be even more challenging.  Often, emergency contraception comes up in the context of rape.  A woman who, for all we know, wasn’t engaging in extramarital sex, who had no need to even think about a possible pregnancy much less look into family planning, is raped.  She goes to the emergency room, gets an exam, speaks to police, and is given Plan B.  

Would we really tell her not to take it?  

First, we have to ask, is there anything wrong with emergency contraception (“the morning after pill”)?  There is, if you believe the life of an individual human begins at conception.  

The Plan B One-Step website claims that Plan B “will not harm an existing pregnancy.”  Yet, on the “Healthcare Professionals” side of the website (which can be accessed by clicking the small, grey link in the upper right-hand corner), the “Taking Plan B One-Step” page says that Plan B (which uses the same active ingredient as the hormonal birth control pill) can work in three ways:

  1. Preventing ovulation
  2. Possibly preventing fertilization by altering tubal transport of sperm and/or egg
  3. Altering the endometrium, which may inhibit implantation

Woah, implantation?  What are we talking about there?  The first two mechanisms prevent conception, and thus no existing, living human child is harmed.  Implantation, however, happens after conception, when a living human child has already come into existence with his or her own DNA and his or her own path of growth and development.  Without implantation, that new child starves and dies.

How often does this happen?  We don’t know for sure.  What we do know is that, if the woman has already ovulated, Plan B can’t very well prevent ovulation.  If ovulation occurs either prior to or in spite of taking Plan B, conception can occur.  In fact, conception may have already occurred before the woman takes Plan B, in which case preventing ovulation and altering tubal transport are moot points.  However, it may take around a week after conception for implantation to occur.  Hormonal birth control, which can cause the same problem, is more likely to prevent ovulation since it’s supposed to be taken continuously.  Plan B, while delivering a much higher dose of hormones, may not get there before the woman ovulates, and is very unlikely to take effect before the sperm gets to the fallopian tubes (especially if the woman doesn’t take it until the 72 hours she has are almost up).  Which means that, while Plan B may be out of time to prevent conception, there is plenty of time to cut the new child off from the nutrition and protection he or she needs to continue living, growing, and developing.

So how can the website tell panicking women that Plan B “will not harm an existing pregnancy?” They simply define pregnancy in a different way.  If a woman is not pregnant until the new human embryo implants, then preventing implantation prevents pregnancy.  It’s an easy trick, and if your consumers don’t know how human reproduction works (or, in their panic and distress after being brutally attacked by a rapist, understandably don’t think to check out the Frequently Asked Questions or the Healthcare Professionals side of the Plan B website), they may not realize they’re being misled.  

Essentially, women need to know that the emergency contraception pill they’re being offered can cause an abortion.  Even in a pro-choice mindset, communicating this to a woman about to take Plan B is important if she’s going to make her own decision.  

As pro-life advocates, we need to be especially careful to tell the woman what happens during the first week of a child’s life, and what Plan B could do to that child if she has already conceived. Not only should we not put the child at risk, but we should not put the mother’s health or conscience at risk either.

Side effects of Plan B include:

  • Menstrual changes
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Tiredness
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Breast pain
  • Vomiting

Plan B uses the same hormones as the hormonal birth control pill, which means taking it too often can increase risks for breast and cervical cancer as well as benign (and, according to some research, malignant) liver tumors.   

Is all that necessary?  Do women need Plan B, even though it can subject them to uncomfortable side effects and possibly kill a new human child?  No, because chances are the woman won’t even conceive.  For a woman in her twenties, there’s only a 20-25% chance of pregnancy each cycle, and that chance starts to go down after age 27.  And that’s assuming the intercourse (whether it’s consensual sex or rape) happens during the fertile part of the woman’s cycle.

In that case, if the woman isn’t even fertile when she takes Plan B, she subjects herself to a high dose of unnecessary hormones and all the related side effects.  If she is fertile, she still subjects herself to those hormones and also creates a situation in which an already-conceived child starves and dies without his or her mother ever knowing.

Also, we are too quick to assume that pregnancy is some horrible outcome to be avoided at all costs.  At least, that’s the mentality of organizations like Planned Parenthood who treat pregnancy like a disease that should be prevented if possible and “treated” with abortion should it occur.

That’s not a healthy way to look at the process through which a new human life comes into existence and prepares to enter the world outside his or her mother.  Is pregnancy stressful? Yes. Can it be really hard?  Of course.  Is the child growing in his or her mother’s womb still beautiful and precious?  Absolutely.  

What instead can we offer the woman traumatized by rape?  We should first offer a listening ear. Next, we should offer a genuine promise of support, backed up by our actions, whether she asks for help right then or months or years down the road.  That support should always be unconditional and offered in love.  

Should we offer a pill that could harm her and possibly kill her child if she conceives?  No.  Should we offer love, compassion, understanding, and support?  Yes.