Convocation: Pro-Life v. Pro-Pill

Last Wednesday, Dr. Christopher Stroud, an OB/GYN here in Fort Wayne where he and his wife run the Fertility and Midwifery Care Center, spoke at convocation hour on “Pro-Life v. Pro-Pill.” This video is a recording of that lecture. We have included a brief summary of his points here for those who prefer reading or like to have a guide to follow while listening. Please note that this is the second time he has spoken on this topic at CTSFW; you can find the summary of his original presentation at http://blog.ctsfw.edu/2019/03/14/convocation-contraceptives/.

Dr. Stroud is a Catholic, but made it clear at the beginning of his lecture that he was not here on campus to talk theology or even morality; he was here to present the facts of menstruation, ovulation, fertilization, how the pill works, and through that scientific lens answer the question of whether chemical birth control is compatible with the pro-life view. His job, he explained, was to give these future pastors and deaconesses the tools to not only make informed decisions for themselves, but to be able to serve the people God will place in their care who ask for guidance on the topics of fertility and contraception. “I’m no ethicist,” he said, “but you are.”

We live in a very pro-contraceptive culture. Our society is biased in its favor. For example, insurance pays to stop fertility (contraception) but balks at fixing fertility issues and diseases, while the CDC counts contraception as one of the top 10 health achievements of the 20th century (alongside penicillin, organ transplant, and other life-saving discoveries and medical developments). Since the late 50s, one of the gods of our contraceptive culture is personal autonomy as the supreme ethical principle. My independence—my self—trumps all other considerations. My body, my choice.

So is artificial contraception linked to abortion? To answer this question, Dr. Stroud began by explaining how the menstrual cycle works (“Be not afraid,” he said to the men in the crowd, to laughter). In short, the cycle works as follows:

      1. Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates the development of an egg in a cyst located in the fallopian tube. As it develops, it produces estrogen.
      2. When the follicle reaches 2 cm it explodes, releasing the egg; ovulation is essentially a ruptured ovarian cyst. Some women can actually tell when they are ovulating by the pain of the rupture.
      3. The remains of the cyst become known as the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. This hormone preps the cervical mucus needed for sperm to travel up the fallopian tube and stabilizes/thickens the lining of the uterus in preparation for implantation of an embryo.
      4. If fertilization—when sperm and egg meet—does not occur and thus no embryo travels the length of the tube for implantation in the prepped uterus, after 14 days the body sheds the lining and the menstrual cycle starts over.

“This is not theology but biology,” Dr. Stroud stated. “Fertilization occurs before implantation. That’s biology.” In one instance there are two genetically distinct entities, sperm and egg; in the next, only one. The sperm and egg are gone and a newly created human being remains. It then takes 10 days for the baby to travel down the fallopian tube for implantation in the uterus, which is why it’s imperative that the lining be stabilized.

The most common causes of infertility involve either endometriosis (which causes mechanical issues, as sperm and egg are unable to meet) or ovulation issues; i.e. hormonal signals aren’t sent. Pill contraception, then, is about inducing infertility through three different mechanisms:

      1. Flood the system with estrogen, which tricks the body into thinking it’s already pregnant; FSH isn’t released, the follicle doesn’t develop, and thus ovulation never occurs.
      2. Dries up the cervical mucus, making it difficult/impossible for sperm to travel up the fallopian tube to a dropped egg; no meet-up, no fertilization.
      3. Creates a hostile uterine environment by thinning the lining to a point where implantation is impossible. If an embryo was created despite mechanisms 1 and 2, it has nowhere to go; the child is lost.

IUDs (or intrauterine devices) work in similar ways to the pill. They mechanically block sperm from traveling up the fallopian tube and/or release hormones or copper to prevent sperm passage, but cannot stop the release of an egg; in case sperm does make it, IUDs also thin the walls of the uterus to prevent implantation. On the other hand, emergency contraception pills, like Plan B, can only work by the third mechanism. Because it comes in after the fact, it cannot stop the sperm or egg from meeting. It can only make implantation of a fertilized egg impossible. “It has to be an abortifacient or it doesn’t work,” Dr. Stroud explained. “That’s just biology. That’s not politics.”

If you read the packaging of any of these contraceptives, one of the similarities across the board is the vagueness with which they speak about how they work, particularly by mechanism 3. While they say they prevent or stop implantation, they never clearly answer the question: the implantation of what?

There is a 54-year-old reason that these companies are allowed to mask the possible and heavy consequences of these contraceptives: in 1965, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists redefined pregnancy in humans by separating fertilization and implantation. In all other mammalian biology courses, scientists teach that pregnancy begins with fertilization; implantation is a step, not a starting point. Only in humans do we say that pregnancy begins at implantation.

Though there’s no question about how Plan B “prevents” pregnancy by terminating it, it is possible with other pills and IUDs that pregnancy truly has been prevented by keeping sperm and egg separated. Even without artificial contraception, most of the time intimacy doesn’t result in pregnancy. The window of fertilization each cycle is a very small one.

The question, then: if you are pro-life, what percentage of a chance of loss of life are you comfortable with?

Dr. Stroud said that increasingly he finds that, as he teaches his patients about menstruation, fertility, and artificial contraception, the response is often, “I never knew. I’m sorry. I’ll stop.” And there’s a reason that many people don’t know: contraception is an $11 billion market. By 2022, it’s predicted that it will be a $31 billion market. There is an incredible amount of money tied up in keeping people uninformed about the full weight of the decision that they are unknowingly making.

There is also validation in the pro-life views. When a woman miscarries even in early days (ectopic pregnancies, for example, which briefly came up in the QA portion of the convocation), she is in mourning. She—and her husband—have lost a child. Their child. It hurts, and it will likely continue to hurt for a long time.

As pro-life people, we remember and care for all life, from the moment life is created to our last breaths. From “That They May Have Life,” a statement of the LCMS:

Human life is not an achievement. It is an endowment. It has measureless value, because every individual, at every stage of development and every state of consciousness, is known and loved by God. This is the source of human dignity and the basis for human equality. It must therefore be asserted without exception or qualification: No one is worthless whom God has created and for whom Christ died.

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