Birth Control: A Few Words

These points were born out of a conversation about birth control on my facebook page, in response to this article: http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/privilege-and-the-pill.  The article, by the way, is fantastic and everyone should read it.

1. Population control. It’s certainly no surprise that the world’s population may reach unsustainable levels in the near future.  This is a multi-pronged problem and cannot be addressed by birth control alone (please note that when I say “birth control” I include all forms in a general manner, not just the pill).  Part of the problem is our consumption levels.  The entire world cannot consume at the level that the West consumes without wreaking havoc on the earth and our ability to exist on it.  For example, the entire world cannot eat animal products like Americans do.  It’s not sustainable already.  Birth control cannot hope to fix the problem of overpopulation, but I feel that it is an important tool.  Less babies = less people.  There is evidence to support that those who have the most children are the most unable financially and socially to care for them.  In poor countries (and even poor America), free contraceptives could alleviate some of the burden placed on welfare.  Note that I said “some.”  Just as I previously stated, birth control is not a catch-all.

2. Why is birth control “vitally important” to women’s health?  I can speak from both personal experience here, and from my relationships with many women my own age.  I am rather psychopathic for about a week and a half every month without birth control.  That in itself might be manageable, if it were not for the debilitating cramps and migraines that come along with the emotions.  Prior to to starting a birth control regimen, my cramps would be so bad some days that I could not stand up straight, and could barely get out of bed.  Birth control has all but eliminated these issues.  I am actually terrified of going off the pill when I am ready to have children because I remember how awful it was before.  For me, birth control is “vitally important” to my health (and the sanity of my husband and those around me).  Many women I know share a similar story and could not imagine going back to life without birth control.  Yes, some women cannot handle the pill as it causes adverse effects on their bodies.  My own sister-in-law was hospitalized from a blood clot caused by birth control.  There are very real and potentially deadly side effects from the pill, just as with any medication.  Nevertheless, to the majority of women who have access to it, the pill is somewhat of a lifesaver.  Some medical conditions can be treated or made manageable with the pill.

3. Birth control as a “chemical assault” on a woman’s body.  I do not agree with this sensationalism, unless we are prepared to call every medicine a “chemical assault.”  Obviously the pill effects changes inside a woman’s body.  These changes do need to be, nor should they be, classified as an assault, unless related to one of the aforementioned women who cannot take the pill for adverse health effects (just as there are people who cannot take other medicines).  I do not feel “assaulted” by the pill.  In fact, I feel much better when I’m taking it, as it prevents my body from assaulting itself.

4. Does birth control lower the rate of abortions?  I do not have any studies to cite here, though I am sure there are some to be found if one is interested in doing enough research.  I can, again, only speak from personal experience and that of my female friends.  There was a time in my life in which I thought I was pregnant, and I was not yet on birth control.  I can say without a doubt that I would have gotten an abortion if I had indeed been pregnant.  I did not have the emotional, financial, or personal stability/resources to handle the birth of a child or pregnancy, and I was terrified.  Of course I do not pretend to discuss the situation lightly and I would not wish that decision on anyone, but I do understand both sides of the argument.  I know women who have chosen to keep their children, and women who have chosen to have an abortion.  In all of the cases I can think of right now (6), the pregnancies could have been prevented had the female been on the pill or used another form of birth control.  Four out of the six women chose to have an abortion.  So four abortions could have been avoided if contraceptives had been available and utilized.  I firmly believe that a female’s access to birth control is inextricably linked to the abortion rate.

5. Are all abortions the same?  Or, what do we mean when we say “abortion”? Clearly the answer to this question depends on your view of when life begins.  If you believe life begins the moment the sperm reaches a woman’s egg, then anything that causes that embryo not to reach full-term could be considered an abortion (incidentally, as is pointed out in the linked article, a female’s body has the ability to abort its own embryos).  The question is, does potential for life equal a soul?  Yes, an embryo is a living organism with the potential to grow into a human form.  But at what point is an embryo endowed with a soul?  If it is at conception, what about the embryos that a woman’s body self-aborts?  Will we have hundreds of children dancing about in heaven that we’ve never met before after we die?  If so, will they be children, or will they be adults?  In what form will these potential souls exist?  And if these souls include the embryos that woman’s body self-aborts, there must be billions of them.
Alternatively, if you believe that life begins at implantation, or when the heartbeat begins, or at any other point further down the line, then a contraceptive that does not allow implantation would not be considered an abortant by you.  Clearly our society feels very strongly that preventing an embryo from implanting is different than taking the life of a nearly fully formed baby in the third trimester.  There is no easy answer to this question, but each individual will likely have to form her/his own opinion.

6. If we are to adhere to the belief that life begins at conception, is the abortion of these countless pregnancies by birth control a genocide?  Perhaps in the sense that living organisms have been killed, yes.  But it is folly to suggest that this is on the same level as an actual killing of a person or group of people.  For one thing, an un-implanted embryo cannot feel or process thoughts.  It cannot be afraid of its own demise, feel pain or mental anguish, or even know that it is being terminated.  In effect, it is the potential for life that is terminated.  Obviously it is preferable to terminate a life that doesn’t know it exists over a life that does.  In the same vein, quantity is not the decider of qualitative differences.  Qualitative differences themselves can act as a decider.  The simple fact that an embryo can’t feel makes it significantly easier to terminate it.

7. Should businesses be forced to provide contraceptives?  This is also a difficult question, particularly amid the sensationalism the media has placed on it.  It is not as simple as “If you don’t like that they don’t provide birth control, don’t work there.”  as we have previously seen, contraceptives are desperately needed among the poor, who may not have the privilege to just “work somewhere else.”  In my opinion, unless the business is willing to provide insurance that completely (or very nearly completely) covers pre-natal and post-natal care, paid time off for maternity leave, and some form of child-care assistance after birth, contraceptives should be provided.  I will make an exception for churches and parachurch organizations (but only those who serve a specifically religious purpose), although I feel that they should state in their constitutions or charters their belief that life begins at conception.


Civil discussion is welcome, as are questions.

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