Many of you among my…what’s fewer than tens? Fives? My fives of readers?…know that I’ve been stressing lately about the potential abortifacient effect of hormonal contraceptives. I’m not sure why this is bothering me now– I’ve known about it for a couple of years– but it is, and I wanted write something constructive and not-confined-to-the-inside-of-my-head about it. So here goes.
Apparently one of the levels of protection against birth that the birth control pill provides is actually to thin the uterine lining to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting. In other words, although the Pill usually acts as a contraceptive, it can– it’s unclear how frequently- also act as an abortifacient. This is apparently true of all hormonal contraceptives, and it can even happen if you start hormone replacement theory too early in menopause.
I find this really disturbing, for a couple of reasons: first, so few people who are taking the pill actually know about it. It’s not a secret or anything– you can find the info in the Physician’s Desk Reference and on WebMD and even in the insert for the pill itself, although it’s part of the small-print-stew that I at least don’t read for my prescriptions, and it’s not stated very clearly. It seems to me that this isn’t really even a matter of traditional pro-life/pro-choice stuff: it’s a question of informed consent. Women should know what the potential effects of chemicals they are putting in their body are.
Second…so many people who are pro-life take the pill– I mean, it’s just what people take, right? And if you believe life begins at conception, you ought to be able to use something labelled a contraceptive and not find out later that, well, it’s not JUST a contraceptive.
Which brings me to third. How can it possibly matter if a bundle of a hundred or so busily-dividing cells doesn’t get a chance to keep dividing? How can an embryo possibly have the same moral status as an 8.5 month fetus, or a two-week-old baby?
I’ve thought a lot about this, obviously. And I’ve gone back and forth in my head. But I guess what it comes down to for me is this: I don’t know for sure that “personhood,” the you-ness of you, begins at conception. But the stakes seem so high that I don’t want to bet that personhood doesn’t begin then. What it is to be a person at all is so mysterious to me, and the history of people denying the humanity of other people is so awful, and results in such horror, that I want to be as generous as possible with my definition of who gets to be considered a person.
It seems to me that the great social advances of the last however-many-centuries have all been in the direction of seeing and embracing the humanity of a wider and wider group of people. I guess what I hope is that we as a culture end up following the logic of social justice where I can’t help but think it leads.
Um. Be nice to me. But anyone have any ideas about this? Can you at least see where I’m coming from?