Matthew Lu

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Abortifacients, emergency contraception, and terminating pregnancy

Matthew Lu
By Matthew Lu

April 14, 2014 (Public Discourse) - One of the more controversial issues in the Supreme Court case concerning Hobby Lobby is the company's claim that some of the “emergency contraceptives” demanded by Obamacare and the HHS mandate are actually “abortifacients.” The mainstream denial of this claim, supposedly backed by science, has largely revolved around a tendentious use of terms and a confusion about the real moral issues involved.

The defenders of emergency contraception, such as Guttmacher’s Sneha Barot, like to claim that

major medical organizations . . . as well as U.S. government policy, consider a pregnancy to have begun only when the entire process of conception is complete, which is to say after the fertilized egg has implanted in the lining of the uterus.

So, according to this putatively scientific definition, conception is distinct from fertilization and pregnancy occurs only with the actual implanting of the embryo in the uterine lining. According to this definition of conception, anything that interferes with any part of this process, whether a physical barrier, hormonal regulation of ovulation (or sperm production), the destruction of the embryo prior to implantation, or prevention of successful implantation, can intelligibly be called contraceptive.

Similarly, if pregnancy only occurs once conception is complete with implantation, then it is intelligible to claim that abortion is best understood as the termination of a pregnancy—not the destruction of an embryo. This also explains the medical practice of calling early miscarriage “spontaneous abortion.” Along these same lines, a method could only properly be called abortifacient insofar as it can cause (from the Latin facio) an abortion, which, in turn, is only possible after implantation.

These definitions allow emergency contraception advocates such as the Office of Population Research at Princeton University to make blanket assertions such as: “There is no point in a woman's cycle when the emergency contraceptive pills available in the United States would end a pregnancy once it has started” (emphasis added). Using the definitions of contraception and pregnancy given above, that statement could very well be true, even if the “contraceptive pills” in question directly kill a living embryo or prevent its implantation.

The rhetoric sounds good. Emergency contraception does not prevent “pregnancy,” therefore no “abortion” is involved, and no “abortifacient” methods are used.

However, this tendentious exercise in lexicography leads these advocates to confuse the real issue. Consider Sneha Barot’s claim that

if pregnancy were synonymous with the act of fertilization, all of the most effective reversible contraceptive methods—including oral contraceptive pills, injectables and IUDs—could be considered, at least theoretically, to be possible abortifacients.

Barot apparently takes it as obvious that these methods are not abortifacients, and therefore that pregnancy is not synonymous with fertilization. But, of course, whether some of these methods are abortifacients is exactly what’s in question. It doesn’t matter whether pregnancy is defined as synonymous with fertilization, but whether the methods in question directly kill an embryo or prevent its implantation.

The Principle of Double Effect

Ultimately, the moral question of abortion has little to do with the proper understanding of pregnancy at all. We can see this by reflecting on the fact that terminating a pregnancy is not evil per se. Any time a child is delivered by caesarian section, the pregnancy is terminated, but obviously there is no direct moral evil in that procedure. In fact, some pro-life moralists have even argued that some terminations of pregnancy are morally legitimate even if they result in the death of the child.

This line of argument makes use of the Principle of Double Effect (PDE), which broadly holds that an act is morally permissible insofar as it meets four conditions (this formulation is derived from David Oderberg): (1) the intended effect of the act must not be intrinsically evil (e.g., aiming at the death of an innocent); (2) any evil side effects of the act must be unintended (though they may be foreseen); (3) the good intended effect must be at least as causally direct as any unintended side effect (i.e., one cannot do evil so that good may come of it); finally, (4) the intended good must be proportionate to any unintended evils (i.e., the good must “outweigh” the evil).

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This method of moral reasoning has allowed some of these pro-life moralists to argue that in certain extreme circumstances it is morally permissible to terminate a pregnancy in a way that results in the death of the innocent child, so long as that death is not directly intended. Rarely, an embryo will implant within its mother’s body outside the uterus (an ectopic pregnancy). While there have recently been extremely rare cases of ectopic pregnancy that were safely brought to birth (through caesarian section), it had traditionally been considered a death sentence for both the mother and child. For these reasons, some adherents of PDE have argued that it is permissible to remove the child surgically from the mother (intact) even though this foreseeably results in the death of the child. Simultaneously, these same moralists argue that the use of a chemical abortifacient to destroy the embryo is impermissible.

They reason that the surgical removal of the intact child is a medical treatment directly intended to save the mother’s life. Killing the child is no part of that treatment (even as a means); were the technology available to save the child’s life that would certainly be done. So the child’s death is a foreseeable but unintended side effect of the surgery to treat the mother, and that foreseeable death is proportionate when weighed against the life of the mother. On the other hand, a chemical abortifacient would violate the PDE because, in treating the mother, the death of the child would be directly pursued. In other words, in the abortifacient case, the mother is being treated by means of killing the child. The child’s death is not merely foreseen, it is actively pursued. That is also why the surgeon must remove the child intact; otherwise, the child’s death would be directly pursued as a means.

Whether or not this particular analysis of ectopic pregnancy is ultimately correct, and we must be careful not to misuse the PDE as has sometimes been done, these examples clearly show that the moral defect of abortion lies not with the termination of the pregnancy, but with the direct killing of the child. In fact, one leading pro-life philosopher has argued that the ultimate solution to the abortion problem might lie in the technological development of artificial wombs. This would, at least in theory, allow the intact removal of “unwanted” embryos without necessarily resulting in their deaths.

If we return to the emergency contraception case, then it is apparent that the real issue is the mechanism by which they work, not what counts as pregnancy. While there are good reasons to think that contraception (understood merely as the prevention of fertilization) is itself morally defective, it is clearly a lesser evil than the destruction of an innocent human being. So I will mostly set the contraception question aside and focus on the destruction question.

The Unintended Evil: Killing an Innocent Human Being

On the one hand, the advocates of emergency contraception are quick to claim that “emergency contraceptive pills prevent pregnancy primarily, or perhaps exclusively, by delaying or inhibiting ovulation.” Obviously, if no ovum is released, then fertilization is impossible. In that case, the moral concern is solely with contraception, not homicide. However, as Donna Harrison previously argued at Public Discourse, there are good empirical reasons to believe that some of the methods in question in the Hobby Lobby case “can and do cause embryos to die after fertilization.”

It seems fair to say that the emergency contraception advocates’ hedge that emergency contraception works “primarily, or perhaps exclusively, by delaying or inhibiting ovulation” (emphasis added) reflects lingering doubt about exactly how the methods work, even among those committed to promoting their use. This is a telling hesitation, a kind of residual honesty in admitting the possibility that, in at least some of the cases, these methods directly result in the death of embryos. (Hedging phraseology of this sort occurs on numerous online discussions, including both of those previously linked and the Mayo Clinic. The New York Times approvingly notes a recent movement to remove these hedges.) I suspect this hedging represents a kind of bad faith, and this in turn explains their repeated appeals to authority and attempts to take refuge in medical definitions of pregnancy and abortion that are morally irrelevant.

In the end, of course, none of the linguistic hairsplitting matters. What really matters in the morality of abortion is not whether a pregnancy has been terminated, but whether an innocent human being has been murdered. Understanding the mechanism of how these methods work is an empirical, scientific question about which there seems to be controversy within the medical community itself. However, I think it is significant that even the advocates of emergency contraception admit uncertainty about how the methods work and whether they kill embryos or prevent implantation.

From a moral perspective, if there is any plausible reason to believe that one of the consequences of the drugs is—even occasionally—the death of embryo, then they are morally equivalent to abortifacients that work after implantation. The fact that the intended purpose of the drugs is to prevent ovulation is ultimately immaterial if their actual consequence is to kill living embryos or prevent implantation.

Ultimately, even if one thinks that the prevention of fertilization is morally indifferent, surely it is not worth pursuing at the cost of innocent human life. That is, it would not meet the proportionality requirement (4) of PDE. Furthermore, if contraception is itself an evil, then there is absolutely no good to set against even the possibility of killing an innocent human being, so proportionality would not even enter into it.

Reprinted with permission from Public Discourse

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Congressman: Give us Nucatola or we’ll subpoena

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By Ben Johnson

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - Dr. Deborah Nucatola has become awfully shy since she became the first national Planned Parenthood figure featured in an exposé of its practice of harvesting, and allegedly profiting from the sale of, the organs of aborted children. Within hours of the video release by the Center for Medical Progress, she removed her social media accounts. 

Now, she is considering dodging a call to testify before a Congressional committee investigating whether she admitted to breaking the law during her covertly recorded cameo with actors posing as agents of a human biologics company.

The House Energy and Commerce Committee called her to address the committee by month's end. 

Roger K. Evans, Planned Parenthood's Senior Counsel for Law and Policy, responded by saying that asking her to speak to Congress "no later than July 31 ... is short notice given the number of questions raised." 

He instead offered to substitute Dr. Raegan McDonald-Mosley in Nucatola's place.

Faced with the possibility that Planned Parenthood would refuse to send its star witness, at least one congressman has said he will take steps to ensure the abortion provider shows up.

Rep. Joe Pitts, R-PA, responded to Evans' letter by saying that the committee has called Dr. Nucatola to the witness stand before the end of the month, and she will comply or face the consequences.  

“If they say no, we’ll subpoena her,” the pro-life Republican said. 

The committee is focused on whether the process Dr. Nucatola - the doctor seen in the first video, eating salad and sipping wine - amounts to a violation of federal felony law forbidding the sale of human organs for "valuable consideration." 

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Why selling ‘baby body parts’ has captured America’s attention (VIDEO)

By Pete Baklinski

WASHINGTON, D.C., July 23, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) - A key player in last week’s startling video exposé of Planned Parenthood says that it took 30 months of strategic planning from numerous pro-life organizations to give the story the hard-hitting power with which it has walloped the abortion industry over its practice of harvesting the body parts of aborted babies. 

“We are seeing the fruit of a lot of careful thought, a lot of disciplined activities, and a lot of undercover work,” Rev. Frank Pavone, executive director of Priests for Life, told LifeSiteNews in an interview in Washington. 

Since breaking Tuesday of last week, the story has trended first place in social media platforms such as Facebook and has been given top priority on mega news aggregation websites such as Drudge Report. The first of now two undercover videos has been viewed over 2.5 million times on YouTube. 

Pavone said that this is not the first time Planned Parenthood has faced the heat for what many considered to be a barbaric practice of harvesting human organs for profit. Similar investigations in the late 1990s into the practices of Planned Parenthood found that aborted babies were being dissected alive, harvested, and sold in pieces for research. 

“Now this is fresh evidence. Now this is evidence going to the highest levels of Planned Parenthood. We know that people at the national level of Planned Parenthood are aware of and are admitting that these baby body parts are being harvested, that transactions are taking place, that money is changing hands. And so, this is catching the attention of the American public because it brings the abortion issue down from the abstract level to the concrete,” he said. 

“This is not just about viewpoints, it’s about victims. It’s not just about beliefs, it’s about bloodshed. When people see and hear terms like ‘eyes, livers, hearts’ it’s like, ‘What are we talking about here? This is ghoulish disgusting activity,’” he said. 

Pavone praised pro-life activists such as Operation Rescue president Troy Newman and Life Dynamics president Mark Crutcher for helping the exposé along, giving “strategic input, guidance, and advice.” Pavone highlighted the hard work of lead investigator David Daleiden of the Center for Medical Progress for going undercover to film meetings with high profile Planned Parenthood employees and attending numerous Planned Parenthood conferences.

Pavone believes the story has received so much traction in social media outlets like Facebook because it gives people a platform to express outrage over the injustice of abortion in response to mainstream media’s unwritten rule of silence and apathy on abortion. 

Traditional media outlets are “in the pocket” of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry, he said, adding that they “don’t want to say a bad word about Planned Parenthood.”

“Social media has become the engine for those who feel so frustrated that things we have known for years that the abortion industry is doing, and yet we can’t seem to get the word out, now these people are taking this and running with it. And I think you’re seeing years and even decades of frustration being channeled in productive ways to say, ‘We’ve got to shout this from the rooftops.’ And social media is the perfect rooftop,” he said. 

When asked what the undercover videos released so far reveal about the abortion industry and the people who work in it, Pavone responded: 

When an abortionist dehumanizes the baby that he or she is about to kill, the abortionist also dehumanizes himself. And this is what we are seeing in these people. We see it in Deborah Nucatola sipping the wine and eating the salad and talking about the body parts. We see it in the newest video [about] Dr. Mary Gatter. We saw it in [jailed abortionist] Gosnell.

What’s wrong with [these people]? There are two things wrong. Number one, these people are dehumanized. They are deeply damaged by the abortions they perform. Because when you perform your first abortion, a voice of protest rises up within you saying, ‘No. Stop. You can’t do this.’ But then if you ignore that voice, and go ahead and do that abortion, then the next time you have to explain to yourself, and to everybody else, why you ignored that voice. And so, the voice of protest gets buried under layer, and layer, and layer of excuses and rationalizations. And in doing that, you are becoming disconnected from your own conscience.

How can these people talk about this with apparent peace on their face? It’s because they are disconnected from themselves, from their own conscience.

Pavone said that new undercover videos to be released in the coming days will continue to shed light on the gruesome practices happening at Planned Parenthood abortion centers across the nation. 

“We want to defund Planned Parenthood and get them to stop what they are doing. This is a very concrete way of doing that. We want to end Planned Parenthood because they are the largest abortion business in the world, and we want that to stop,” he said. 

Already a Congressional investigation is underway, but so far, Planned Parenthood is refusing to cooperate with the demands of the Committee investigating. 

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The Planned Parenthood scandal shows the power of exposing abortion’s grotesqueness

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By Jonathon van Maren

July 23, 2015 (UnmaskingChoice) -- If there’s one thing that confuses me about how many pro-lifers decide on strategies to change hearts and minds on abortion, it’s the fact that they seem to believe that we have to approach the most controversial issue there is without controversy—that somehow, we have to take an issue that people have incredibly strong feelings about and ensure that none of those feelings surface during a discussion.

As our postcard campaign nears our record-breaking mark of one million postcards delivered to one million homes, reactions have been widely varied—we have phone calls from people “horrified” by the postcard, who don’t seem to realize that the action depicted is much more horrifying. We have people who demand to know what they are supposed to say if their children see the picture of “the dead baby”—who don’t seem to realize that with their own words, they have admitted that we live in a country where dead babies are tossed in garbage cans behind government-funded clinics. We also have people who call us to thank us for the information, and express anger that such barbarism could be happening in Canada. We have people who phone to tell us that the postcard has changed their vote, and the votes of their neighbors. And we have people like the old man who wanted to shake my hand because he was encouraged to see that “some people cared about things.”

Huge numbers of Canadians have no idea that abortion decapitates, dismembers, and disembowels a pre-born human being. Huge numbers of Canadians are being exposed to that tragic and horrifying fact.

By the polling numbers, we see many people influenced against abortion—even if they don’t like us, the image stays with them, and they like abortion even less. Even if only ten percent of people were influenced against abortion because of postcards depicting abortion imagery, I would point out that that is still a far bigger number than any other pro-life strategy even claims to impact. For the first time, statistically significant portions of the population are being exposed to the reality of abortion—and they are reacting to that reality.

Pro-lifers are often tempted to run scared because they believe what the pro-abortion movement says about our best evidence—that it will “turn people” off. It will, of course. In the words of one abortion activist: “Your pictures turn people off of abortion.” If people get angry with us, but are still influenced against abortion, we have accomplished exactly what we set out to do. That being said, people only focus on the angry commenters that they see—a handful of social media posts, and the same tired news story from each and every single media outlet. I’m not sure if most journalists are unimaginative or just lazy, but most seem unwilling or incapable of even visiting a few websites and trying to find out what the rationale behind the strategy is. Most of them, I suspect, have pre-written stories and just call around to get the quotes they want. We know, for example, that reporters have specifically ignored people who have received the postcard and offered to comment positively—that is not, they openly say, the story they are looking for.

The abortion movement, on the other hand, can’t decide whether the imagery we use is extremely effective, or very ineffective. Canadian abortion blogger “Fern Hill” is usually babbling the talking points about how what we’re doing is so counter-productive, and that we’re obsessed with “gore porn,” and then calling us a bunch of names. (If pro-abortion groups really did believe that what we were doing strengthened support for abortion so much, I suspect that they’d be a lot less angry about what we’re doing—after all, we’re just doing their job!) But a couple of days ago, after responding to pictures of the dozens of lovely young women on our staff by snapping that they were all one unplanned pregnancy away from being pro-choice (such a depressing world these people live in), she tweeted an article at me that I found interesting.

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It was a piece on David Daleidan of the Center for Medical Progress, the man behind the recent exposes of Planned Parenthood. He’s captured video of Planned Parenthood employees casually discussing not only the abortion procedure, but also how to best pillage the corpses of these dead children in order to sell their body parts for profit. The videos have horrified people across North America, and reaction has been swift. Amanda Marcotte, a pro-abortion blogger who often writes for Slate, has responded to the new scandal in an article called “Grossing people out can have short-term impact, but does it matter in the long-term?” She quotes Michelle Goldberg over at The Nation:

Further, it’s a way for the anti-abortion movement to focus the abortion debate on the graphic details of rare, late-term procedures, about which there is less public consensus than there is about early abortion. It serves the same purpose as the ban on so-called “partial-birth abortion,” and as blown-up pictures of bloody fetuses. It induces disgust, a very politically potent emotion, since most people associate things that are gross with things that are immoral. In his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt describes how researchers asked students at Cornell University to fill out surveys about their political attitudes while standing either near or far from hand sanitizer. Those standing closer to it became temporarily more conservative. If something that minor can affect people’s politics, then a video like this one is sure to have a visceral impact.

Amanda Marcotte goes on to say that while abortion imagery and exposes are very potent, that the impact of them is not long-lasting. Why? Because, she writes with hilarious immaturity, most things in life are gross—sex, going to the bathroom, surgery—and we all get over those things, don’t we? So surely abortion pictures will also be forgotten.

She’s forgetting something—abortion pictures aren’t powerful because they’re “gross.” Abortion pictures are powerful because they show the results of abortion—a dead, butchered human being. The power in the imagery is that people recognize that, and something in them responds to this injustice. It’s why even the people angry with our postcards have responded to the media by talking about the postcards depicting the “dead babies” or the “slain babies” or the “torn-up babies.” No-one thinks that what they’re looking at is a removed appendix. No one thinks that what they’re looking at is bodily waste. Everyone knows, almost immediately, that what they’re looking at is a dead human.

That is why the impact of abortion pictures doesn’t just disappear. One more piece of evidence? Almost everyone I know in the pro-life movement was convicted to join the pro-life fight because they saw a picture or a video of abortion, including myself. As Marcotte herself pointed out, that was what convicted David Daleidan as well. We now have over forty young people on our staff, all convicted by seeing what abortion does to babies and what they can do about it.

The movement is just getting started.

Reprinted with permission from the Canadian Centre for Bioethical Reform.

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