Religious Groups Continue to Equate Birth Control with Abortion

When it comes to matters of birth control, it often seems like we're living in another time.

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When it comes to matters of birth control, it often seems like we're living in another time. Take, for example, Foster Friess's comment yesterday (just a joke, he claims now) that in the olden days gals put Bayer Aspirin "between their knees" for birth control. Har har. Joke or not -- and as a joke, it falls pretty flat -- it's attitudes like those that promote further antiquated (not to mention confused) thinking and, again, makes us wonder: Why are men still making the decisions regarding birth control for women?

In this vein, Roman Catholic bishops and other evangelical groups (men, most of them, if not all), continue to hold fast to the idea that certain forms of birth control are essentially the same thing as abortion, an argument they're making to fight against Obama's ruling that would give birth control to all women who need it, even those employed at religious institutions. This clearly scares certain religious organizations, so they're trotting out the A-word. The problem is, science has said over and over again that birth control --in this case, morning-after pills and IUDs -- is not the same thing as an abortion.

Pam Belluck and Erik Eckholm sum up the argument from the religious side in a piece in The New York Times:

They contend that methods of contraception including morning-after pills and IUDs can be considered “abortifacients” because, these advocates say, they can act to prevent pregnancy after a man’s sperm has fertilized a woman’s egg.

“We object to the use of drugs and procedures used to take the lives of unborn children,” the Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, president of the Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, said Thursday at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

But scientists and doctors say again and again that this is not how birth control works:

“There’s so much evidence for how these things work prior to fertilization,” said Diana L. Blithe, director of contraceptive development for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “And there’s no evidence that they work beyond fertilization.”

Because the entire purpose of birth control is to prevent fertilization, it's very unlikely for that to happen in the first place -- and if it does, "the embryo runs a high risk of not implanting for natural reasons." According to doctors, there's no scientific proof that the morning-after pill, for instance, affects implantation. Plan B blocks ovulation, while Ella, another morning after pill, delays it. They don't prevent fertilized eggs from implanting. And IUDs prevent fertilization. As The TimesBelluck and Eckholm note, "Thus many experts say it makes it no sense to call these contraceptives 'abortion agents.'"

Nonetheless, Catholic bishops and evangelical leaders continue to harp on this idea that certain forms of birth control are essentially abortion, and "if there is any chance that a method may result in the destruction of a fertilized egg they will oppose it."

Religion and science have never been the happiest bedfellows, and it's not surprising that conservative religious groups would continue to fight women's access to birth control with what they probably see as the strongest weapon in their artillery -- i.e., "killing babies is wrong." But calling something an abortion agent when it is not is dangerous, and just serves to keep us with one foot firmly planted in the dark ages.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.