Video: Why the Pill is an abortifacient

May 31, 2007 | 19 comments

This little video offers a short and to-the-point explanation of why modern birth control pills act as an abortifacient. This is one of the most clear explanations of this topic I’ve seen. (via Dom)


  1. Renee

    Good video, but the typical response from pro-choice pundits is that an embryo isn’t even a human being/baby, so who cares.
    Sad, huh? Once I was in a coversation with someone who was pro-choice, who compared the unborn child to a cancerous tumor. Makes you wonder what Planned Parenthood teaches.

  2. lyrl

    Hormonal contraceptives cause two major changes in cycles that breastfeeding also causes – short luteal phase (the time between ovulation and menstruation) and lower than normal progesterone levels. Embryos do not attempt to implant until 6-12 days after ovulation, so if the luteal phase is shorter than 12 days there is a chance the embryo will just be washed away. Low progesterone levels increase the risk of very early miscarriage. (These effects may have been covered in the video – I’ve read enough about this debate I didn’t feel up to trying to fix my speakers when I watched the video, I apologize if I’m repeating.) I believe breastfeeding is just as likely to cause abortions as hormonal contraception.

    Almost half of embryos don’t implant in natural cycles, and of those that do implant about one-third miscarry. As my husband says, “God must hate babies”.

    I’ve read arguments about the principle of double effect (the argument is that breastfeeding-caused abortions are morally OK because the primary intent is infant nutrition rather than preventing pregnancy). And I understand that natural things (like high miscarriage rates) are not good guidelines for ethical reasoning – but I just can’t wrap my mind around the anti-pregnancy effects of breastfeeding, the huge natural miscarriage rate, and the idea that earliest embryos have the value the pro-life movement puts on them.

  3. Radical Catholic Mom

    Lyrl: What is your source for your contention that “almost 1/2 of embryos don’t implant in natural cycles?” I have not seen that cited at all. Ever. And I have read on this for a long time.

    Also, breastfeeding does not shorten luteal phases. It prohibits ovulation if used correctly.

  4. Renee

    I’ve never heard of breastfeeding related abortions either, only that breastfeeding suppressing ovulation. I’m seven months post-partum, breastfeeding and I’ve still haven’t ovulated. I’ve read a lot about NFP/FAM, even read, Taking Charge of YOur Fertility and I’ve never heard of breastfeeding caused miscarriage.

    If we never put value on conception and human life in the embryoic stage, then no one will actually value human life to even have children in the first place. As much I love the information on TCOYF and the webstie Ovusoft, we have to be careful not to treat human life like a commodity. When we devalue the knowledge of how people are concieved in this world and only want the ‘end product’ of a baby, we forget how give unconditional love.

  5. lyrl

    Embryos emit a chemical named “early pregnancy factor” (EPF) within a few days of conception. It’s expensive to test for this chemical, so it isn’t done much, but one study of 18 healthy women seeking pregnancy found a 46% loss rate before implantation (pregnancy loss before 10 days post-ovulation). Abstract.

    Other studies have found high rates of conception per cycle – up to 80% in some populations (abstract), meaning no more than 20% could have resulted in pre-implantation loss. But the EPF study convinces me the loss rate is high, even though we don’t know the exact number from such small studies.

    Breastfeeding delays ovulation for months or years. But when ovulation does occur, luteal phases are most certainly shortened: abstract.

    I’ve never even seen pro-life groups argue against breastfeeding-caused abortions, just argue that those are OK: example.

  6. Radical Catholic Mom


    Thank you for all of the sources. I will get to reading them when I get a chance & respond if I have something to say. I appreciate you taking the time out.

  7. Radical Catholic Mom


    I have read all the reports and here is what I think.

    I wonder why your husband thinks that only God hates babies and instead doesn’t think that God doesn’t hate people, after all, every human being dies, right?

    I think you would agree with me that there is a difference between dying in your sleep from natural causes and being smothered in your sleep by another. If there are no distinctions between how the person dies than the conversation is over.

    But if there are indeed distinctions over how a human being dies then I think we can say that embryos who die due to natural causes, either from chromosomal issues or breastfeeding issues is very different than say, taking a known abortafacient such as hormonal contraceptions. Wouldn’t you agree?

  8. lyrl

    I believe my husband’s comment is just an expression of shock at the magnitude of these early losses, not a serious theological statement.

    In the case of intentional smothering, there is a morally culpable person (a murderer). In the case of a natural death during sleep, no one is responsible. In any death, though, there is a huge loss felt by friends and family of the deceased person.

    Regarding manner of death: First, intentional killing and natural causes are not the only two possible scenarios. If a parent puts an infant on a couch to sleep, and the infant smothers in the soft cushions because they can’t roll over strongly – that is not murder, but the parent has some moral culpability for putting the child in a life-threatening situation.

    Second, even with natural causes, there is (if medical technology allows) a moral obligation to help. If a person experiences a heart attack in (general you) your presence, the moral thing to do is call an ambulance, not figure, “well, it’s a natural event, I won’t worry myself over it.” Current medical technology offers no help for chromosomal-caused miscarriages. However, there are a few options for mothers if they want to avoid breastfeeding-caused pre-implantation loss. I don’t believe these two situations can be lumped together under the category “natural” and treated as if they are morally the same.

    Regarding the loss felt by friends and family when a loved one passes away: One woman on a message board I read has stated that she will not have intercourse with her husband if she’s expecting to have her first postpartum ovulation soon. Not that she wants to avoid pregnancy – but she finds the idea of possibly creating an embryo, only to have it unable to implant because of her breastfeeding, too painful to risk.

  9. lyrl

    I thought it relevant to point out that the Catholic Church’s opposition to hormonal birth control is not related to any abortifacient side effects. Rather, like the Church’s opposition to barrier methods and withdrawal, their argument rests firmly on the damage these methods do to the couples using them and to society at large. Any effect on embryos may be used to try to sway undecided people to the Church’s position, but such effects are not the overriding reason for Church opposition.

    The push to have hormonal contraception recognized as abortifacient seems more central to Protestant movements that reject the Catholic Church’s theological stance on contraception.

    Also incidentally, there is not agreement that hormonal contraceptives actually have an abortifacient back-up mechanism. There is a school of thought that ovulations that result in luteal phase problems involve eggs that are defective and not capable of being fertilized. Also see this statement by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

  10. Renee

    Thanks for the explanation. My first cycle after pregnancy always goes ‘ka-plunk’ after ovulation. In both cases my luteral phase is two days, I still haven’t had a period after my third child so far. I’ve known women who did become pregnant while breast feeding though, it just never cross my mind that someone while having intercourse in their fertile phase, intently wants a shorten luteral phase through breastfeeding to avoid implantation.

  11. lyrl

    It never cross my mind that someone having intercourse while on hormonal contraception, intently wants any embryos created to avoid implantation. I don’t think anyone else is arguing that, either. I just find it incongruous that women are told to not take hormones because they might accidentally cause the death of babies (which would be avoided if they were not on hormones), but it’s fine to accidentally cause the death of babies while breastfeeding (which would be avoided if the women were not breastfeeding, or abstained from intercourse during breastfeeding).

    The Principle of Double Effect can be argued here, with primary contraceptive intent of hormone-takers vs. primary intent of feeding their babies of breastfeeders. But one of the requirements of this principle is that “The good effect outweighs the bad effect in a situation that is sufficiently grave to merit the risk of that bad effect“. Is a certainty of the highest quality nutrition for an infant worth more than the potential death of a human being?

  12. Radical Catholic Mom

    Lyrl, what exactly is your point? I am not sure what you are advocating here. Is it just to get the word out to be careful? If that is the case, thank you. Good information to know, although it dawned on me that at least in the Billings method they always say don’t ever assume one cycle will be like the other so I am not sure how much control we have over this. Unless, you know, people just stop having sex because they have to worry that their luteal phase may be a day short. Who knows if their luteal phase will indeed be a day short? No one, not if you are practicing NFP, because my luteal phase was NEVER short even when I breastfed.I breastfed for 20 months before my daughter weaned herself.

    The Church says this, You are practicing God’s will when you use NFP. That is the fact. So, let God worry about the details in regards to His will.

    The Church says contraception goes against God’s will. Likening them as the same affects I find a little, um, absurd. They are not.

  13. Renee

    The difference is a woman who has intercourse during her fertile period while breastfeeding intend to have a baby, the women taking the pill doesn’t. It’s the intent.

    Radical Catholic Mom is right, we can’t predict the future on luteral phases, my luteral phases aren’t the best and it takes me several cycles to become pregnant, I’ve never used my short luteral phases as ‘back up’ natural family planning when I need to avoid pregnancy. I follow the rules no matter what, which means abstaining during the fertile phase.

  14. Radical Catholic Mom

    Renee, that IS a really good point. If you ARE having sex during your peak then obviously you are intending to get pregnant.

  15. lyrl

    From my perspective, the Catholic Church has good arguments against all contraceptives. While I do not believe them personally, I have great respect for Church theology in this area.

    By contrast, I do not believe that arguments (such as this video) specifically against hormonal contraceptives hold water. With both LAM or ecological breastfeeding (methods of avoiding pregnancy), and hormonal birth control, the same potentially abortive effects happen to any embryos that might or might not be created. However, the breastfeeding woman is benefiting herself, her infant, and (according to Catholic theology) her relationship with her husband. The woman using hormonal birth control is likely doing harm to herself and (according to Catholic theology) her relationship with her husband.

    I see the arguments for the health of the woman and the relationship between the spouses, and believe these are good arguments. I do not see the argument for the embryo (which was the point of this video).

  16. antonia

    Just a few thoughs (from a Catholic 5th year medic)

    I believe that the point of the video is to highlight the fact, unbeknown to the majority of society, that pill doesn’t just work by “stopping ovulation”, as many people believe.

    One of the pill’s major mechanisms of action (as I am certain you are aware) is to make the uterine lining unfavourable for implantation.
    Thus should conception occur, the embryo is unable to implant.

    Many people don’t realise that the pill can actually cause this embryonal death, and, in my experience, are actually shocked when they find it out.
    The pill suddenly becomes a lot less palatable.

    It is therefore important that people know.

    Point number 2; some people may say that the intentionally killing of embryos is morally acceptable, because they are embryos.
    This is an arbitrary stance and one which is not logical.
    At what point does a human start having worth if not at the beginning of its existance?

    Point number 3; the underlying intrinsical morality of embryonal death resulting from taking the pill, and the death of embryos due to any ‘shortened luteal phase’ are cosmically different.

    In the former the person is intentionally taking a drug to ensure that they do not get pregnant. They are actively *doing* something against life.

    It the latter the deaths are unintended and out of the control of the individual.

    Beastfeeding does not CAUSE abortion, in the way in which society uses the term abortion.

    An abortion implies an intended death of an unborn human.

    The woman is not breastfeeding so that she won’t get pregnant. That’s not the REASON people breast-feed. She is breastfeeding to feed her child.
    The other women IS taking to pill so that she won’t get pregnant.

    The difference is huge.

    Finally; the reason why the Catholic Church is not opposed to the pill specifically because of its abortifacient action is because when the oral contraceptive pill first came out on the market and the Catholic Church publicaly reiterated her 2000 year teaching against contraception, the specific mode of action of the pill had not been clearly defined and thus reference to it was not made.

    and furthermore, any ‘additional’ reasons not to use the pill are unnecessary because the Church’s teaching against contraception already cover it.

    Also, I would like to point out that it is well-known in medical circles that the statistics quoted as huge numbers such as “80% of all concieved embryos die before implantation” are regarded with MUCH skepticism because

    a- the (very few) direct studies they are based on have some serious methodological flaws and difficulties

    b- they are also based on IVF embryos, and the artificial culture medium in which the embryos are grown is different to in vivo
    (in addition the quality of sperm obtained by mastrubation used to fertilise these eggs is different to those sperm that actually fertilise eggs in vivo).

    just a few thoughs

  17. antonia


    You may like to read this article.

    A (non-medical) sociologist wrote an absolultely appaling article in August 05 about LAM, NFP & embryonic death.

    The article was so poor in its understanding of NFP and of Catholic moral theology one cant help but get irritated by reading it.

    None-the-less a large number of Catholic doctors wrote in their responses to the article and totally refuted the fact that NFP/LAM are responsible for many (if any) embryonic death, and that the occurances of such death is, at any rate, not morally akin to those caused by the pill:

    here is the article and the responses are very interesting and they are at the end of the article:

  18. lyrl

    Antonia, thanks for the link to the Bovens article, I had not read the comments before. I had seen the article when it was first published, and commented on its many flaws in this discussion (mine is the second comment in that section). I agree that the creation of non-viable embryos has no moral taint, and cannot be compared to actively doing something that is known to increase the risk of death of viable embryos. I don’t find this relevant to my views I attempted to express in this series of comments, although I appreciate all the commentators who have kindly and reasonably shared with me the reasoning behind their beliefs.

    I apologize for the confusing wording of my earlier post – I in no way intended to say that 80% of embryos die before implantation. The study I linked to (here) found an implanted pregnancy rate of 80%, meaning the maximum rate of embryo death would be 20%. I agree studies of couples undergoing IVF cannot be held to be representative of embryo death rates – that is why the other study I linked to (here, found a pre-implantation embryo death rate of 47%) was of healthy women seeking pregnancy the usual way. While these small studies do not yield an exact number, to me they are strong evidence that the pre-implantation loss rate, while definitely less than half, is significant.

    The specific mode of action of the pill has still not been clearly defined. While women in non-ovulatory cycles on hormonal contraception have thinned uterine lining, ovulatory pill cycles – the only ones relevant to the theorized increased risk of embryonic death – have never been studied. The hormonal events necessary for and following ovulation have a powerful effect on the endometrium, and they have a week or more to act before the embryo ever tries to implant. There is a significant group of medical professionals who believe there is no scientific evidence for abortifacient effects of hormonal birth control, and that the anti-pregnancy effects of these treatments are entirely contraceptive (see this article)

    A non-invasive study could be done to answer this debate. Such a study has been proposed. Until such a study is conducted, I’m not convinced either side has solid scientific backing.

  19. AutumnRose

    lyrl ~ Breastfeeding does suppress ovulation. My daughter has been breastfeeding for 16.5 months, and it wasn’t until 3 months ago, when she stopped night feeding (hence reduced prolactin levels), that she had her first period.

    For the first few periods after breastfeeding has stopped or been reduced, an embryo may not implant, and be lost, as it takes a few cycles for the womb lining to become receptive to the implant of an embryo. Anyone worried about this could find out when they were about to ovulate through NFP, and abstain. I can’t see a problem with this.

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