Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Anti-Birth Control or Anti-Women?

During my engagement, my fiancĂ© and I received a call from another young couple we knew. They had been married for about 5 years and already had 4 small children. I had mentioned in a previous conversation that I was considering some kind of IUD to prevent pregnancy for our first year of marriage, so I was not surprised when they revealed that they wanted to talk to us about birth control. “Any birth control besides a barrier method is basically an abortion” they told us. “We will come visit you tonight (it was a 15 hour drive) if you’re really serious about using BC, we feel that strongly about it.”

I took their passionate response as a sign from God: birth control is murder. They gave me the same argument I grew up hearing, but in more detail. If you haven’t heard the argument, it goes something like this: Birth control pills work by thinning the lining of the uterus. If your birth control fails to prevent ovulation (this happens in 2-10% of cases) and an egg becomes fertilized, the uterus will reject the egg, thus causing the “baby” to die and be expelled from the body. The argument continues by saying that millions of babies are murdered by birth control every year.

Some of you may have seen this video circulating on the Internet. It’s the one that claims birth control is responsible for adultery, homosexuality, divorce, murder, and a slew of other “evils.” I won’t even begin to address the dozens of lies and misleading statistics in the video. I just want to address the issue at the core of the anti-birth control. Namely, that birth control is murder.
  
Now, this whole position is ridiculous if you don’t believe that a zygote is a baby. Most people hear the anti-birth control argument and shrug it off. There are some, however, that believe life begins at conception. For those people, hormonal birth control seems to be completely out of the question. However, the anti-birth control crowd leaves out one very important fact: a woman’s body naturally rejects at least 18% of fertilized eggs. This means that if you have unprotected sex that leads to the fertilization of an egg (30% chance or successful fertilization), the resulting zygote has an 18% chance of being rejected by the uterus. The human body naturally performs “abortions” almost 20% of the time. So does taking birth control actually increase the chances of zygote abortion, or does birth control actually reduce the chances of this occurring? Let’s do the math.

Without Birth Control:
Out of 100 fertile women on birth control, 100 of them will ovulate in any given month.
Out of those 100 released eggs, 33 will become fertilized.
Out of those 33, 18% will be rejected by the uterus.
In a group of 100 women not on birth control: 6 zygotes will “die”

With Birth Control:
Out of 100 fertile women on birth control, around 6 of them will ovulate in any given month.
Out of those 6 released eggs, only 2 will become fertilized.
Out of those 2, 100% will be rejected by the uterus.
In a group of 100 women on birth control: 2 zygotes will “die”

So let’s get this straight, taking birth control makes a woman’s body LESS likely to dispel fertilized eggs. If you believe that life begins at conception, shouldn’t it be your moral duty to reduce the number of zygote “abortions?” If you believe that a zygote is a human, you actually kill more babies by refusing to take birth control.

How has such a massive flaw gone unnoticed all this time? Did anti-birth control advocates really just “miss” these obvious facts, or could it be that they like the result of this misconception? Denying women rights to their own reproduction is the oldest weapon in the war on women. Even if you believe that a zygote deserves the same rights as a full grown human, there is still no reason to oppose birth control other than to control women.

 I don’t know about you, but I’ve had enough of the “personhood” smokescreen. Let’s call the anti-birth control message by its real name: anti-woman.

22 comments:

  1. That's an incredible point. How did I not think of that before?

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  2. Statistically, there is a fraction of a percentage point of women who, while on hormonal birth control, will have fertilized eggs that not only implant, but sometimes carry through to a live birth. I point to my 17 year old son as evidence of this, as he was conceived while I was on (properly taken) hormonal birth control pills, AND using a condom. I also conceived many other pregnancies, including at least two instances of multiples while taking a variety of hormonal birth control (we were trying to find a brand and dosage that actually prevented my ovulation), but unfortunately, the same quirk of biology that prevented the pill from working well for me, also created a very high rate of non-viable eggs (my hormones are a bit wonky and sometimes I release an immature egg outside of the usual cycle. These eggs generally can be fertilized and will implant, but won't sustain a pregnancy for more than a few weeks). But that's a bit rambly... my original point was simply that there are children walking or crawling around today that were conceived while on birth control medications... further disproving the idea that hormonal birth control pills will absolutely, without a doubt, abort any conception that occurs.

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  3. Great perspective....haven't thought of it that way before, but it totally makes sense! Although I guess the response to it is that the woman is attempting to "play God", but as the above poster commented, it is actually still possible to have a viable pregnancy while on birth control, so it seems like God can still be God after all, haha.

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  4. I had a friend once counter that type of argument by saying "I have the utmost faith in God's ability to overcome a tiny little pill I take daily if it is very important to Him and His plan that I conceive and carry a child. God is certainly more powerful than a round of antibiotics." Somehow she managed to say it with such heart-wrenching sincerity that it halted the argument then and there. Had *I* tried the same approach, I would have been hissed and spat at for blasphemy, I'm sure. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that she was on birth control pills to help regulate other health issues, whereas I specifically attempting to avoid getting pregnant. Ironically... I'm the one that got pregnant anyway and ended up spending the last 17 years joking that my kid was "meant to be'.

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  6. Hmmm I have a feeling I know this "couple"

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  7. I really like this blog and want to share the info but I'm a law student so I know I'm gonna need citations for my fellow students to take me seriously. Is there any chance that you could provide me with a link to your source for the info?
    thanks so much!

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  8. You should get together with Libby Anne and write this up (with citations) for a peer-reviewed journal. Get this out there!

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  9. It's a straw-man argument,

    If you phrase your argument in the terms of consequentialism, your argument misses the forest for the trees. namely, the central idea which is at the core of the position against contraception and abortion, namely, that these things and willed (with emphasis on willed) actions are the artificial subversion of an act which has as it's intrinsic end, procreation.

    A thing in itself may through the course of nature encounter obstacles which frustrate that same thing's natural end. This does not in any way lessen the intrinsic natural end of said thing. In addition (if we must be theological about it) it requires knowledge and an act of the will to be considered abortion and thus sinful. the writer of this article makes a severe deductive fallacy when she uses the term abortion loosely. All natural deaths carried out cause death, and all abortions cause death, but natural deaths are not abortions. in the same sense, natural death cannot be considered murder because natural death carries no willed act. therefore a natural death is not immoral and thus is concurrent with the defense of life “from conception to natural death”

    Having missed the point, respectfully, your argument rests on Utilitarianism as it's moral basis, the only problem? Utilitarianism can quantify it's moral suppositions but has no means to qualify them.

    ....to be continued

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    1. Dear JF

      You state: "the central idea which is at the core of the position against contraception and abortion, namely, that these things and willed (with emphasis on willed) actions are the artificial subversion of an act which has as it's intrinsic end, procreation."

      If this is indeed the true, then I fail to see how this argument against contraception/abortion may ever be posed without absurdity or self-contradiction. This is because it rests on the archaic notion of 'intrinsic ends' and equally problematic concepts of 'natural' and 'artificial.' Arguments that start with these conceptual suspects are usually so shoddy it's difficult to know where to begin a critique. Here are a few thoughts:

      1) Your moral standard is something like the following: An act is unethical if it is a willful subversion of the intrinsic or natural ends of an object/action.

      In this case the act is sexual and the intrinsic ends are procreation. On this logic, every sexual act that is not willfully done with the purpose of procreating becomes unethical. Not only does this rule out the withdrawal technique and condoms, but also sexual acts that terminates with oral sex or 'hand jobs,' or any sex that may accidentally lead to procreation but was willfully done for other reasons - like having fun.

      2) You glibly ignore the 'natural' elephant in the room: the naturalistic fallacy. Just because something can be the case, doesn't mean it should be the case. Personally, fallacious argumentation naturally produces a righteous indignation in me that leads to a fist which has as its 'natural end' the jaw of the perpetrator. That does not make hitting people for producing invalid arguments ethical. To the contrary, with the application of signification willpower I can subvert this natural inclination for a more ethical solution.

      3) Casting the net wider: I challenge you to articulate a working definition of 'natural' (and 'artificial') that does not within a few steps of reasoning lead to self-contradiction and absurdity.

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  10. But let us play devil's advocate for a moment and suppose your argument did not include this remarkable error. Let us assume you make the distinction between natural death and artificially administered death. This brings up important moral questions: do her means justify the end? Or even are these two ends really related? your idea is this:

    in scenario A:

    Without Birth Control:
    Out of 100 fertile women on birth control, 100 of them will ovulate in any given month.
    Out of those 100 released eggs, 33 will become fertilized.
    Out of those 33, 18% will be rejected by the uterus.
    In a group of 100 women not on birth control: 6 zygotes will “die”

    in scenario B:

    With Birth Control:
    Out of 100 fertile women on birth control, around 6 of them will ovulate in any given month.
    Out of those 6 released eggs, only 2 will become fertilized.
    Out of those 2, 100% will be rejected by the uterus.
    In a group of 100 women on birth control: 2 zygotes will “die”

    and also let us assume as in the original scenario life begins at conception.


    Firstly, I will address the issue of correlation. the two arguments seen side by side insinuate a correlation between both scenarios, but as both situations happen necessarily apart from each other, the argument that they hold direct correlation is weak at best and purposefully leaves out contributing factors which provide a direct impact on the statistics cited.

    Secondly and more importantly, the argument stripped down asks “Is it moral to purposefully engage in acts which by their intrinsic nature prevent life and cause death if it may mean preventing natural death from occurring?” Let us take this same question out of birth control for a moment and apply it to other fields. For example: “Is it justifiable for a biologist to willfully cause the death of their test subject so that they may formulate a cure for a disease?” and “What if this test subject either does not or cannot for one reason or another, consent to their death?” How many people is it considered OK to kill in order to achieve the end of curing said disease? Or, at what point do the ends justify the means? If we are talking about the intrinsic wrong of taking an innocent life, the answer should be “never”. Just as it was wrong to drop the atomic bomb on innocent japanese to end world war II, and just as it is wrong to kill human beings in the name of science as Mengele did, thus is it more apparently less justified (if there were any less than never) to kill the unborn for the sake of convenience, or to the same logical extent, to make ourselves the judge of the innocent of who should live and who should die. or to use such tools to take an act which is naturally ordered towards life and through will, subvert it towards death.

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    1. Dear JF

      Now for a reply to your 2nd comment...

      You write: "the argument stripped down asks “Is it moral to purposefully engage in acts which by their intrinsic nature prevent life and cause death if it may mean preventing natural death from occurring?”"

      Including the prevention of life is a red herring. There are in fact many notable arguments for the morality of preventing a potential human life which does not currently exist from existing, and the immorality of willfully or accidentally creating a human life (See Benatar's "Better never to have been" for an interesting discussion). I will therefore ignore this clause.

      So your moral standard reads: It is immoral to purposefully cause death in order to prevent natural death from occuring.

      This is where your misplaced distinction between what is 'natural' and what is 'purposeful' or 'willed' by a person raises its ugly head again. Your argument can only work if by 'natural death' you mean 'not the cause of purposeful behaviour.' What you fail to recognize is that purposeful behaviour is a double-edged sword, so to speak. If a woman's decision to take the pill is willful, so is her decision to abstain from it. In the one case she is purposefully killing 2 zygotes (for every 100 ovulations), in the 2nd scenario she is purposefully killing 6 zygotes (for every 100 ovulations). The crux is this: armed with the the technology of contraceptive pills (and the knowledge of the zygote deaths caused with and without them) 'forces' women to be purposeful agents in the destruction and creation of human life. Using your own notion of what is 'natural': Science and technology has brought this facet of the 'natural' world within the sphere of human control, which renders both scenarios 'unnatural' due to the purposive power of women. That's on your own logic.

      The rest of your argument (i.e. the rest of the paragraph after the quoted extract) simply begs the question of whether a zygote is a person. In your biologist analogy you use the term 'test subject,' but then conveniently switch to 'people' and 'human beings' in the following passage. Without a further argument for why a zygote is a person there is nothing to comment on here.

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  12. Jean Pierre. If you believe so strongly in hume's guillotine, what rational defense can you give for why should you feel you ought correct me? if it is because you want to defend what you believe to be true, you yourself must concede an ought for your is.

    You ask why it is that I begin with the given that an embryo is a human being. While I believe it to be true, I had no need to establish it as thus because it was one of the starting axioms of the author's thought experiment. If you decide to mock me for taking the writer's proposition at face value then I'm afraid I am guilty of accepting her offer to give the benefit of the doubt. So... asking whether or not an embryo is a human being is itself is an attempt to distract from the original question.

    You state:
    In this case the act is sexual and the intrinsic ends are procreation. On this logic, every sexual act that is not willfully done with the purpose of procreating becomes unethical. Not only does this rule out the withdrawal technique and condoms, but also sexual acts that terminates with oral sex or 'hand jobs,' or any sex that may accidentally lead to procreation but was willfully done for other reasons - like having fun.

    Procreation is the primary end. And is not mutually exclusive to secondary ends like strengthening a marital relationship or enjoyment for the couple. Of which these ends are perfectly acceptable insofar as they do not violate the primary end. You rightly give here some of the logical conclusions of the principle.

    You argue that my proposition is invalid because it is too old or not to your taste, or makes you uncomfortable. It's a clear appeal to modernity. And is an attempt to dismiss the points by insulting them and hoping they go away. But fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.

    I'll restate the question, with the givens provided. If an embryo is a human being, and if introducing these services or products terminate their lives, How many people is it considered OK to kill in order to achieve the end of preventing people from succumbing to death despite reasonable attempts to preserve them. At what point do the ends justify the means?

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  13. Jean-Pierre: I applaud your ability to reason through JF's arguments on the argument's own terms. Although I am not sure about the utility of engaging in logic exercises in such a forum about such a subject matter, I think what you have written is both compelling and civil. I saw no insults to which JF later referred, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this thread. Thank you for that.

    If I may, I'd like to contribute to this discussion by saying that my own position is that the "pro-life" argument widely and cavalierly disregards the multitude of ways that women are subjected to violence and real, material oppression as a result of being denied the ability to control if, when, and how many times to become pregnant. All women, from the college girl to the soccer mom to the childfree by choice. It is, as the original poster said, anti-woman. I am certain that there are many sincere individuals within the "movement" (it pains me to call it a movement, but I recognize that is how they are framed in the media and thus how most people understand it). I am certain they believe they are saving "unborn children." But they are not, and most do not at all understand what the roots and consequences of their beliefs are. They must recognize how central the punishment of women is to their ideology, and until they do I cannot and will not engage with the likes of the "couple" in this post. I will never stop working to strengthen women's ability to control their bodies, whether through combating rape culture or helping women's health initiatives grow or any of the other things available to us.

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  14. I was thinking the same thing as Family Doula Way pointed out: People can still conceive despite being on birth control. Then, there are also people who cannot conceive at all, even without birth control.

    The argument against this would be: At least we have allowed it to be God's will whether we procreate or not. And on whether the zygote dies or lives.

    I can't help but think of other things that seem relevant, too. For example, cochlear implants. People were either born or became deaf. The argument for cochlear implant is that they deserve no rights if they reject the ability to hear with it (despite the dangers and extra hard work that comes with it -- it is not a natural hearing nor a 100% cure for deafness). The argument against cochlear implant is that they became/are deaf for a reason and are subverting that reason (despite the fact that ears are made for hearing). Neither is wholly true. What's true here, among other truths, is the deaf person's decision. Not the hearing person, the insurance person, or the audiologists.

    It's a choice. And neither choice has 100% guarantee of their intent being realized. So it is with procreation. It isn't men's decision for the woman to be on birth control. It isn't the law-makers, the gynecologists, the people who made the birth control products, nor anyone who is not living inside that body making the decision.

    I believe women have the right to choose whether or not they want to have birth control. My choice is not to be on it, though it would help certain health issues. I'm against birth control personally, but I would never make that choice for someone else.

    Thanks for pointing out the flaw in the math! It makes a lot of sense. Great post.

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  15. Well you can count me, as a woman, amonst those who think that hormonal birth control is a bad idea, and trust me, I've got a LOT more reasons than just the abortion aspect. But it was my original reason, I've just learned a lot more about the negative health impacts of hormonal contraceptives since I made that decision 14 years ago. I actually think that women have been sold a completely messed up "bill of goods" when it comes to hormonal birth control and our physical health. Now the ideas that it leads to adultery, homosexuality, divorce, murder, and a slew of other “evils.”...well that is crazy talk. But increased risk of high blood pressure, strokes, weight gain, decreased libido...yeah, those are real.

    You do post a very interesting theory, however you are cherry picking data that is most supportive of your theory.

    In citing stats for breakthrough ovulation while using birth control, I believe that you are using stats that pro-life websites use...though I don't know for certain. since you do not give your sources. While it is laudable for you to use the people holding the opposite view as you for this reference point, unfortunately many of them have false data based on older contraceptives that had higher estrogen levels. It is the estrogen that blocks ovulation.

    Today's "high dose" combo pills have much less estrogen than the "low dose" combo pills that many prolife advocates draw their statistics from--typically 35 mcg in today's high dose pills compared to 50 mcg in the "low dose" pills of days gone by. One expert cites a 20% breakthrough ovulation rate for these pills, while a study puts it at anywhere from 10% (perfect use) to 28% (missing 2 pills in the cycle). http://www.epm.org/static/uploads/downloads/bcpill.pdf

    "Mini pills" have no estrogen at all, and thus have less effect at blocking ovulation. In the study, "Norplant Implants: The Mechanism of Contraceptive Action" published in the journal "Fertility and Sterility" in 1991 found a 45% breakthrough ovulation rate. Norplant, since it does not have estrogen, would be more similar to "minipills" than "combopills," but since it is implanted and thus does not need daily action, would be less likely to have "user error" that would further elevate the break through ovulation rate.

    Looking at these data, I think it is very reasonable to say that as a whole, the breakthrough ovulation rate in women utilizing hormonal birth control is easily 20%. Much likely higher, but I'll settle with 20%. So...

    (continued in next post)

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    1. With Hormonal Birth Control:
      * Out of 100 fertile women on birth control, around 20 of them will ovulate in any given month.
      Out of those 20 released eggs, 6-7 will become fertilized. (not sure where you got the 1/3 fertilization rate either...but okay...)
      Out of those 6-7, 100% will be rejected by the uterus
      In a group of 100 women on birth control: 6-7 zygotes (actually, they are embryos by the tiem they reach the uterus) will "die" per month, or 72-84 per year.

      Okay then, moving on to those who (like myself) will not use hormonal contraceptives...you make the assumption that "no hormonal birth control" is the same as "no birth control." Which is simply not the case. There are many other types of birth control that people such as myself can, and do avail ourselves of. My husband and I choose to use a combination of Natural Family Planning to detect ovulation, condoms (on my fertile days) and VCF contraceptive film (every time we have sex). Now there is not specific data on this particular combination, but each of these methods used alone have a "typical use" annual failure rate of 18-26% (http://www.contraceptivetechnology.org/CTFailureTable.pdf). So assuming that people who object to hormonal birth control would be willing to use just one of these forms of birth control, the numbers we get are:

      With Non-Hormonal Birth Control:

      Out of 100 fertile women on birth control, around 25 of them will get pregnant in any given year.
      Back calculating from the 24 established pregnancies, by your "18% not implanted" figure, there would have been 5 zygotes/blastocysts/embryos that did not implant.
      Out of those 24 pregnancies, 5-6 embryos/fetuses will be miscarried.
      Out of those 100 women, in one year, 10-11 zygotes/blastocysts/embryos/fetuses will have died.

      So 75-ish deaths per year with hormonal birth control compared to 10 deaths with non-hormonal birth control. Even using your numbers for the number of deaths caused by hormonal birth control its 24 vs. 10. I'd say that from a pro-life perspective, you pretty effectively made the case for avoiding non-hormonal birth control rather than hormonal.

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    2. Sigh...TYPOS! I don't know why I switched from 25 to 24 pregnancies in the "non-hormonal birth control" category...I was basically just picking a number between 18-26, and going for the "generous" side to favor your position that hormonal birth control leads to fewer deaths...so either of them would be fine.

      And in the final line I should have said "made the case for avoiding hormonal birth control rather than non-hormonal."

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  16. This argument comes down to two things;
    1. Natural law ethics; final cause of egg/sperm is to become a baby.
    2. Birth control actively causes the miscarriage.

    If a person believes that life begins at conception then the pill is responsible for killing that 'baby' and as you have knowingly taken the pill you are thus responsible for killing that 'baby' - the ethical thing is not to save babies that will naturally miscarry as Gods will, but not to go against Gods will by taking something you know could kill a 'baby'.

    If someone is against birth control themselves then dandy, against it for other people...not okay. As a side note hormonal birth control or IUD's aren't the be all and end all of birth control, those against such methods can also use withdrawal or FAM - withdrawal when used correctly is reliable as birth control (contrary to what many people have been taught to think), and FAM is highly reliable as it's not the same as Rhythm Method...plus it's very much pro-woman. Just saying.

    I'm not exactly disagreeing with your points, anti-BC is anti-woman, but I am pointing out that you misunderstand the ethical issues involved in this particular case.

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  17. We must remember that when a woman's body naturally rejects a zygote, this rejection most likely occurs because there are genetic abnormalities or some other disorder present. This is a very different from hormonal birth control which forces a woman's body to reject a zygote.

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