The Pill and very early miscarriage…again

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?

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2 responses to “The Pill and very early miscarriage…again

  1. There’s a lot of good information in this post. A couple of thoughts spring to mind:

    1) From my prematurely-halted legal education, I can tell you that the question of informed consent is most likely moot in the case of hormonal contraceptives. These days, it’s less a recommended treatment than something women seek out for themselves. That in and of itself doesn’t eliminate the issue, but since the law does place a certain burden of responsibility on individuals, the fact that the pharmaceutical company printed information in that absurdly small-print insert means that the person taking the medication is expected to read it.

    2) You’re absolutely right to err on the side of caution. Some people have the benefit of religious conviction to tell them that live absolutely begins at conception. To my way of thinking, you don’t need any divine revelation to tell you that; the fertilized egg is genetically unique and separate from the mother; it has a heritage, and just because it lacks limbs and a nervous system does not make it any less alive; and if alive, then human – after all, it is most certainly not a duck.

    3) I always took “pro-life” to imply that one comported oneself in such a way as to be open to life, period. I think that if people realized what trying to artificially control their bodies did to them, they would probably want to stop. We already know that hormone replacement therapy can drive women’s bodies to develop tumors; I see no reason why it should be safer earlier in life. What the pill has on natural methods of family planning – and there are most definitely methods that are both effective and not hokey – is that the pill does not demand self-discipline. If you’re regulating your family naturally, it means that there is a certain time each month wherein sex is absolutely out of the question. Sadly, there seem to be people who can’t handle that.

    Anyway, this is getting to be more than a little rambly, so I’ll leave off. Hopefully this was the sort of thing you were looking for.

  2. Oh hi, kindred spirit. There are serious problems with giving the embryo such moral status that any acts which starve it of what it needs to thrive are tantamount to murder. It puts such draconian limitations on sexually active woman that to regard it as such would probably constitute a reductio to most people, even to the most committed pro-lifers. Things that probably mess with the luteal phase/thin the uterine lining include but are not limited to (according to my Googling efforts): caffeine, alcohol, vigorous exercise, dehydration, breastfeeding. Should culpably thinning the uterine lining (i.e, you don’t intend it but you’re knowingly doing things that do it, e.g. taking the pill or drinking coffee) be on par with doing things that inadvertently leave a two-year-old locked in the house alone with no food for a week? If so, pro-life women are going to need to be much more restrictive about what they do with their bodies.

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