The bill’s author, Rep. John Becker, said that the bill would ban coverage for IUDs but not birth control pills. When asked how the pill form is kosher but how progestin from a suppository is the same as abortion, Rep. Becker said:
This is just a personal view. I’m not a medical doctor.
This piece, then, is an honest attempt to get Rep. Becker to change his personal view on how pregnancies are prevented.
Where babies come from
In most instances, pregnancy occurs after sperm spends a week or so traveling through the uterus and fallopian tubes and fertilizes an egg. The fertilized egg then spends a few days traveling back toward the uterus. Around 40-65% of the time, it fails to implant; when it does implant, then pregnancy begins.
If you don’t want to be pregnant, you have two main ways of making sure this doesn’t happen:
- prevent sperm from reaching the fallopian tubes
- prevent an egg from reaching the fallopian tubes
Logically speaking, a third possibility would be to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. This is pretty impractical because it’s much easier to stop the sperm from meeting the egg at a lower cost with no side effects. However, it’s controversial because most people don’t care about a fertilized egg that doesn’t implant; it’s something that naturally happens 20-50% of the time. Anti-choicers mistake that nonchalance for support, and that’s how we get to HB 351.
How can I prevent sperm from reaching my fallopian tubes?
This is a question I ask myself all the time. Here are the answers:
- Thicken cervical mucus with progestin
- Paragard IUD
The first 3 strategies prevent sperm from entering the uterus, while Paragard IUD is a copper implant that is placed in the uterus. Copper is a spermicide, so Paragard prevents sperm from reaching the fallopian tubes.
Rep. John Becker, who is “not a medical doctor”, seems to believe that Paragard works by freely allowing sperm to fertilize a freely released egg, but shutting that whole thing down once the now-fertilized egg reaches the uterus. He is straight up wrong.
Why does he think that?
He thinks that all scientists are engaged in a liberal conspiracy. It is literally impossible to convince him that he is wrong about how Paragard works. The crux of Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius is whether or not there’s a constitutional right to be misinformed about Paragard.
How can I prevent my eggs from reaching my fallopian tubes?
- Don’t ovulate
All forms of hormonal birth control prevent ovulation by releasing progestin (or levonorgestrel). As a happy side effect, progestin also thickens cervical mucus (see above).
As an (often) unhappy side effect, progestin also results in a thinner uterine lining. The result of this thinner lining is “spotting”, or irregular uterine bleeding. To reduce this, combination birth control contains estrogen and regulates a normal menstrual period, albeit with no egg involved.
The most popular forms of progestin-only birth control are:
- progestin-only pill
- Mirena IUD
- emergency contraception
All of these methods of birth control are functionally identical. You can’t ban some but not others. Since it takes sperm a few days to get to the fallopian tubes, some these methods of birth control can be taken after sexual intercourse.
And the most popular estrogenic forms of birth control are:
- the pill
- Otho Evra patch
All of these methods of birth control are functionally identical. You can’t ban some but not others.
Rep. John Becker, who is “not a medical doctor”, seems to think that the thinning of the uterine lining is a primary method of contraception, rather than a side effect. He is wrong.
Why does he think that?
In his defense, the FDA still uses the original 1961 labeling for hormonal birth control, which covers basically all conceivable functions. The FDA does this because it costs taxpayer money to change a drug’s label rather than approve an off-label use.
In essence, the FDA exists to tell medical doctors how a drug works. If you are “not a medical doctor”, then it’s very easy to misunderstand something that the FDA says.
However, there is no evidence that birth control has ever prevented the implantation of a fertilized egg. After all, in order for the ovulation to happen, the birth control has to have already failed. As even the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists points out,
…there is no credible evidence to validate a mechanism of pre-implantation abortion as a part of the action of hormone contraceptives.
Why the fixation on IUDs and emergency contraception?
Let’s revisit something I said earlier:
“Since it takes sperm a few days to get to the fallopian tubes, some these methods of birth control can be taken after sexual intercourse.”
This is deeply problematic for moralists who view pregnancy as a punishment for illicit sex. They think that life begins at ejaculation, because your life is purely a cautionary tale for their daughters.
They’re also confused by the fact that RU-486 (an actual abortifacient) was introduced in America around the same time as the morning-after pill. They think that they’re the same drug, which is ridiculous (because then it would be the whenever-you-get-around-to-taking-it pill).
But what if all of the scientists really are lying? You know, the way they’re lying about climate change.
Even if we grant that:
- Hormonal contraception allows for ovulation frequently
- Hormonal contraception always blocks implantation of a fertilized egg
- Fertilized but unimplanted eggs are the same as human adults
Without Birth Control:Out of 100 fertile women not on birth control, 100 of them will ovulate in any given month Out of those 100 released eggs, 33 will become fertilized Out of those 33, 18% will be rejected by the uterus In a group of 100 women not on birth control: 6 zygotes will “die”
With Birth Control:Out of 100 fertile women on birth control, around 6 of them will ovulate in any given month Out of those 6 released eggs, only 2 will become fertilized Out of those 2, 100% will be rejected by the uterus In a group of 100 women on birth control: 2 zygotes will “die”
Read the whole post, because it’s great.
Ironically, this is an argument that I first encountered in an online term paper (sorry, can’t find the link) for a bioethics course at Cedarville University, which is a (terrifying) Christian fundamentalist school in central Ohio. Their bioethics faculty regularly testifies at legislative hearings, and is the source of most of the pseudoscience used by Ohio Right to Life.
The paper was written by a zygote-saving Christian fundamentalist, who is presumably pretty disillusioned with the fact that her professors chose to ignore her argument. Why did they ignore it?
Because, like myself, Rep. John Becker doesn’t give a shit about fertilized-but-unimplanted zygotes. Unlike me, he wants to make women suffer for having sex without his permission.