Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Even Guttmacher recognizes the problem

As the 50th anniversary of commercially available OC (The Pill) has just passed us, there is lots and lots of information available, much more easy to find as folks are digging into The Pill's dark past. One of the less remarked-upon events in The Pill's timeline is the re-definition of pregnancy. This happened in 1965 in an ACOG "Terminology Bulletin" - an act of sheer hubris and Newspeak that would have made Orwell's Ministry of Truth blush - without pressure, discussion or any professional or scientific consensus. Previously, conception had been recognized as taking place at the moment of fertilization, when a single sperm enters the egg. The bulletin announced two new definitions:

  • FERTILIZATION is the union of spermatozoon and ovum.
  • CONCEPTION is the implantation of the fertilized ovum.
Now, decades later even ardent pro-life folks accept the new definitions and argue against a return to the former understanding. Arguments abound about the abortifacent result (or not) of The Pill's secondary effects. Evangelical leaders and others waffle on the possibilities of a silent death each month a woman is on OC. But even the Alan Guttmacher Institute recognized OC's abortifacent effects and worried about this and the efforts in some states to legally return to the previous understanding of conception and pregnancy. From their May 2005 issue of The Guttmacher Report, from the article, The Implications of Defining When a Woman Is Pregnant, here are some quotes:

Testifying about the potential impact of the legislation [then before the US Senate], George Ryan, then president of ACOG, said, "I believe that it is realistic to assume that the IUD and the low-dose oral contraceptive pills could be considered as abortifacents and therefor declared illegal."

Tom Coburn (R-OK) sought to "clarify" the discussion, by insisting that the measure would only affect IUDs and emergency contraception, but not any type of oral contraceptives, despite the clear statements by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that they [OC] also can act after fertilization to prevent implantation.

. . . Plan B, a year later, in a question-and-answer document developed in 2004, the FDA was explicit in describing the drug's method of action: "Plan B works like other birth control pills to prevent pregnancy. Plan B acts primarily to stopping the release of an egg from the ovary (ovulation). It may prevent the union of sperm and egg (fertilization). If fertilization does occur, Plan B may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb (implantation)." In short, despite the confusion that opponents have fostered surrounding emergency contraception's mode of cation, how the method works depends more on when during a woman's monthly menstrual cycle it is taken (and, specifically, whether she has ovulated) than on when she had sexual intercourse.

And, in an inset to the article, quoting the ACOG:

Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive drugs and devices act to prevent pregnancy in one or more of three major ways: by suppressing ovulation, by preventing fertilization of and egg by a sperm or by inhibiting implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine lining. Male and female condoms always act by preventing fertilization: however, the mode of action of any hormonal method may vary not only from woman to woman, but also for an individual woman from month to month, depending on the timing of intercourse in relation to ovulation.

. . .As with other hormonal contraceptives, there is no single mechanism of action for emergency contraception.

Pregnancy here is the Newspeak definition - after the completion of implantation.

Funny thing about language, though. The word, abortifacent simply won't go away.

1 comment:

Cristine said...

I find this interesting, and have done some research on the abortive affect of the pill. Did you know that breastfeeding has the same effect: to keep the zygote from implanting into the endometrium? It is established science, yet many Christian groups, particularly Catholic ones, encourage women to use breastfeeding as a mode of birth control, even when it has a higher chance of spontaneous abortion than the pill. So my question is, should we encourage couples to use condoms during this time in order to prevent this problem? Certainly we could say, "well, the pill is a drug, but breastfeeding is natural, so it must be ok," however, I believe that the very reality of our sin nature indicates that our natural self is sinful, therefore natural processes are not inherently moral. I am interested in this particularly because I am a young woman trying to figure out the best course of action with regards to birth control, and have found studies that indicate that even something as simple as NFP can have this same implanting problem (in the case of NFP, the gametes are aged by the time the couple enters the infertile period, meaning that they can still conceive, but are likely not to implant because of their age). Your thoughts are very much appreciated on this subject, and I promise this is not trolling, but actual query.