Women have used different methods of contraception for thousands of years. With the ease and effectiveness of modern contraception comes a culture that treats sex casually, with the knowledge that pregnancy does not have to be a side effect. That line of thinking continues when contraceptives aren’t in use and pregnancy is more likely. Sometimes sex is taken lightly, and sometimes the contraception malfunctions. In other, tragic, cases, sometimes a woman is assaulted against her will. Either way, emergency contraception is available to prevent pregnancy after sex has already occurred.
Emergency contraception is medication or chemicals introduced into a woman’s system after she has had sex to prevent pregnancy. Emergency contraception does not include mifepristone—RU-486—which is a chemical abortifacient specifically designed to cause the non-surgical abortion of a fetus implanted on the uterine wall. There are two basic types of emergency contraception: pills and the copper IUD.
Emergency Contraceptive Pills (ECPs) contain various chemicals designed to prevent or delay ovulation and/or limit the mobility of sperm so they cannot reach the egg. Progestin-only ECPs are available over the counter and have a higher effectiveness rate than estrogen/progestin ECPs, but estrogen/progestin ECPs are just carefully calculated doses of birth control pills and may be more convenient. Effectiveness may be limited by the weight of the woman, the number of days since she had sex, and whether ovulation has already occurred. Ulipristal acetate (“ella”) uses a lower dosage of the chemical found in RU-486. It is not designed to be an abortifacient, but it’s not to be used by pregnant women. It is more effective over a wide variety of factors and may have fewer side effects.
Copper-bearing IUDs are usually used for long-term birth control (they can be left in for ten years), but, if implanted shortly after sex, they also act as emergency contraception. Copper IUDs do not affect ovulation; their primary method is creating an environment toxic to sperm. They are very effective (as high as 99 percent) but can have some serious side effects, including pelvic inflammatory disease.
The Problem with Emergency Contraception
The controversy with ECPs and copper IUDs is that, along with preventing or delaying ovulation and limiting sperm mobility, the chemicals are also known to change the lining of the uterus so that a fertilized egg cannot implant. To secular medical and government authorities, this is not a problem; many do not consider a woman pregnant until the fertilized egg implants on the uterine wall. They hold that, if an implanted egg is artificially induced to release, then it’s an abortion; if a fertilized egg never attaches, it’s not.
This line of thinking is convenient. The medications and chemicals that affect ovulation and sperm mobility just happen to also affect the uterine wall; with medication that can prevent pregnancy after sex has occurred, there is currently no way to get one without the other. The belief is especially easy to adopt because reduced chance of implantation is not the medications’ primary birth-control method. It’s a second- or third-tier possibility.
Making a distinction between a fertilized egg and an implanted fertilized egg may be convenient, but that doesn’t mean it’s logical. The fertilized egg is still a mass of cells containing the DNA of an individual. It just happens that the implanted egg has access to resources needed to survive and the other doesn’t.
The Bible makes no distinction, either. In Psalm 139:16, David acknowledges that God knew him as an individual when he was still an “unformed substance.” The imagery is of a lump of clay with no structure or organization. No limbs, no head, no spinal column or heart. This certainly describes the cell cluster of an embryo before implantation.
Should a believer use emergency contraception? To do so is to take chances with a baby’s life. Beyond the exhortation for couples to “fill the earth” and the larger discussion about birth control, there is nothing specifically unscriptural about preventing ovulation or preventing the fertilization of an egg. Neither an egg nor a sperm is a person. But to deliberately do anything that has the possibility of keeping a fertilized egg from implanting is like refusing to give a newborn milk. The cells are no less an individual life before they are connected to the womb than they are when they are released after birth.