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Could Birth Control End Abortion?

People who support abortion often claim that to decrease the number of abortions we should embrace artificial contraception. While Grand Rapids Right to Life doesn’t take a position on birth control, it does play some role in the matter of abortion that cannot be denied.

Could artificial contraception be a solution to the problem of unwanted pregnancies and could it help women avoid abortion?

According to Guttmacher Institute, about half of women who procure an abortion had used a contraceptive in the month they became pregnant. “The pill” — considered a “highly effective” method of contraception — is 91% effective in real-world use, meaning that every year, 9 of 100 couples using it will become pregnant with a child. Taking the same statistic further, within eight years a couple using the pill with typical effectiveness has a 50% chance of achieving pregnancy.

To explore if and how artificial contraceptives can prevent abortions, there must be an honest assessment of what artificial contraceptives actually promise to do. Given that all contraceptive (even sterilization) methods have some rate of failure, it cannot be said that any of them will absolutely prevent pregnancy. They cannot even be counted on to prevent pregnancy at a particular time.

If a woman starts using one method and then becomes pregnant two months later, we cannot say that the contraceptive didn’t perform as expected. All we can really say about it is that artificial contraception will likely to reduce the number of children a woman will get pregnant with over a period of time.

Another consideration is what “prevent abortions” means. Practically everyone agrees that all women want to avoid abortion. It is not by merely reducing the number of abortions a woman has, then, that we can say a measure has “prevented abortion.” Only by letting her avoid abortion altogether can we say that a measure has “prevented abortion” with any degree of real satisfaction for a woman.

A woman who uses a contraceptive while accepting its limitations effectively accepts the possibility of having a child at any time. The only thing we can say she doesn’t accept is ending up with as many children as she might have had without using contraceptives. If a woman perceives that her contraceptive has helped her avoid having some children, and that she would have aborted one or more of those children had she not avoided getting pregnant with them, then we can say that the contraceptive has indeed “prevented abortions.” In other words, an artificial contraceptive can only “prevent abortion” for a woman if she is open to having some children in the first place.

So the problem with contraceptives as regards women who use them and then procure an abortion is not so much that they’ve accepted them as it is that they haven’t accepted them completely. Essentially, they’re using them off-label, for they are trying to use them to achieve something the manufacturers haven’t claimed they can do.

This also has implications for anyone involved in providing them. For example, an OB/GYN who prescribes a contraceptive to a woman who does not accept it entirely — including its limitations, which means the possibility of pregnancy — is essentially prescribing an abortion. And if they haven’t first encouraged such a patient to take a different, more effective course of action — which is always available — then they could even be guilty of malpractice. This should be kept in mind when considering how the government requires practically all employers to promote contraceptives to their employees.

Any debate about the effect of artificial contraceptives on abortion must take into account whether and how many women really accept contraceptives’ limitations. Given the implication by many of those who promote artificial contraceptives as able to prevent pregnancy altogether, including so-called “comprehensive” sex-ed programs that make abstinence and sex-with-contraceptives appear as equally-effective means to the same end, it’s doubtful that many young women growing up in today’s culture even understand those limitations, let alone accept them.

If we’re going to be completely prolife, we cannot shrink from discussing something that is such a major factor in the demand for abortion.