The Pill Debate

The debate over hormonal birth control, particularly the pill, is whether it results in the taking of a life by destroying a fertilized egg. Author, pastor, and pro-life leader Randy Alcorn has written a great deal on this subject.69 Alcorn writes, “The Pill is used by about fourteen million American women each year. Across the globe it is used by about sixty million. The question of whether it causes abortions has direct bearing on untold millions of Christians, many of them prolife, who use and recommend it.”

Alcorn goes on to point out that there is not one but rather three purposes for birth control pills. First, the pill exists to inhibit ovulation, which is its primary means of birth control. Second, the pill thickens the cervical mucus so that it becomes more difficult for sperm to travel to the egg. Third, the pill thins and shrivels the lining of the uterus so that it is unable or less able to facilitate the implantation of the newly fertilized egg. On this last point, Alcorn says, “Reproductive endocrinologists have demonstrated that Pill-induced changes cause the endometrium to appear ‘hostile’ or ‘poorly receptive’ to implantation.” 70 Furthermore, “Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) reveals that the endometrial lining of Pill users is consistently thinner than that of nonusers—up to 58 percent thinner.”71

The bottom line is this: the first two purposes of birth control pills are contraceptive in nature and therefore acceptable for use by a Christian couple. However, the third function of birth control pills is potentially abortive in that it seeks to disrupt the ongoing life of a fertilized egg. That potentiality is incredibly controversial; thus, faithful Christians who are staunchly prolife and believe that life begins at conception are divided over the issue.

To help provide some clarity, Focus on the Family’s Physicians Resource Council (PRC), under the leadership of James Dobson, examined the issue for two years. The PRC is comprised of prolife Christian doctors from a wide variety of fields. They sought to thoroughly study the issue of whether combination oral contraceptives (those with both estrogen and progesterone) cause abortion. Ultimately, even they were undecided:

Pro-life physicians who have carefully and conscientiously studied this issue have come to different conclusions regarding the interpretation and implications of the relevant scientific data. After two years of extended deliberation and prayer, the PRC has not been able to reach a consensus as to the likelihood, or even the possibility, that these medications might contribute to the loss of human life after fertilization. The majority of the experts to which Dr. Dobson has spoken feel that the pill does not have an abortifacient effect. A minority of the experts feel that when conception occurs on the pill, there is enough of a possibility for an abortifacient effect, however remote, to warrant warning women about it.72

Similarly, the statement from the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA) on this issue reads:

CMDA recognizes that there are differing viewpoints among Christians regarding the broad issue of birth control and the use of contraceptives. The issue at hand, however, is whether or not hormonal birth control methods have post-fertilization effects (i.e., cause abortion). CMDA has consulted many experts in the field of reproduction who have reviewed the scientific literature. While there are data that cause concern, our current scientific knowledge does not establish a definitive causal link between the routine use of hormonal birth control and abortion. However, neither are there data to deny a post-fertilization effect.73

Therefore, whether to use birth control pills is a very complicated issue about which faithful prolife Christians and doctors disagree. As a result, it seems legalistic and inappropriate to declare that use of the pill is sinful. Conversely, it seems that Christian couples need to be informed of the potential abortive nature of birth control pills so that they can study the matter further and prayerfully come to an informed decision according to their own conscience and the leading of God the Holy Spirit.