Pastoral Q & A: The Morning After Pill
Can a Christian woman use the “Morning After Pill” as emergency contraception?
Let’s first be clear what we’re talking about. The “Morning After Pill” is often marketed under the name “Plan B,” though there are other drugs and brands. This is not RU-486 (mifepristone), a drug that causes abortion typically later in pregnancy. The MAP is regarded as a form of emergency contraception — it’s for when other ways of preventing a pregnancy have either failed or been neglected. The question is whether this is something Christian women can take advantage of. To answer that, let’s imagine two scenarios.
A young unmarried woman has been having sex with her boyfriend. On one occasion, they forget to use their normal method of contraception. She’s concerned that she may get pregnant, so she goes to the pharmacy for “Plan B.” She takes the tablets and does not become pregnant.
A woman in her 30s (with four children already) believes it would be unwise for her to have any more children. She and her husband normally use a barrier method of contraception. On one occasion, they forget and she’s concerned that she may get pregnant. So “Plan B” is the answer. As in the first scenario, no pregnancy results.
In both situations, the MAP/Plan B seems to prevent an undesirable pregnancy. In both situations, the woman claims to be a Christian. In both situations, the woman first goes to the Health Direct website of the Australian government (or equivalent) and is relieved to read that the MAP does not cause an abortion. Instead, it simply stops or delays ovulation and it may also prevent sperm from reaching the egg. But “if the sperm has already fertilised the egg, it is too late and the pill won’t work.” So, going with the official information, neither scenario has caused an abortion. No life has been taken. Therefore, there is apparently no ethical issue with the Sixth Commandment (“You shall not kill”).
We need to think about this more carefully.
The first thing we need to reflect on is the actual facts regarding the MAP/Plan B. The Health Direct website (and others like it) does not tell the full story. The truth of the matter is that there are studies which suggest that the MAP can have an abortive effect (even the Wikipedia article acknowledges this — with sources). If an egg has been fertilized, the MAP can prevent that human life from continuing to live in the womb. No one can categorically say with 100% certainty that the MAP never causes early abortions.
That should change the way we look at this. In pro-life circles, we sometimes use the illustration of a building about to be demolished. Before a demolition company levels a building, they have to make absolutely certain there are no people in the building. If there’s a shred of doubt about whether somebody’s still inside, you don’t level the building. Similarly, if there’s any doubt about whether the MAP can cause an abortion, we would not want to take that risk. We would never want to have blood on our hands, even by accident.
So, let’s go back to those two scenarios.
The first one is the most ethically problematic. If the young woman in the first scenario claims to be a Christian, she is almost certainly self-deceived about her spiritual status. You cannot be a true Christian and be actively engaged in any premarital sexual relations (Hebrews 13:4, etc.). That would be living unrepentantly in sin — “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God” (1 John 3:9). And if a woman in a scenario like that takes the MAP, she could be adding sin against the Sixth Commandment to her sin against the Seventh Commandment. If she really wants to be a Christian, she must turn away from her life of sin, seek God’s forgiveness in Christ, and follow the Lord. That will include accepting the consequences for her sexual sin, including, if it so happens, any pregnancy which might result from it.
The second scenario is somewhat more challenging. I believe married Christian couples can have lawful reasons for using certain methods of contraception. For example, a woman may struggle with severe postpartum depression which may leave her incapacitated for months after a birth. She may feel suicidal or even homicidal. In such cases, couples are wise to limit the size of their family using lawful means God has made available. However, what if those means fail? One thing we can say with certainty: abortion of any sort or the possibility of an abortion is out of the question for Christian couples. The MAP is not the answer in this scenario. The couple has to prayerfully accept what God may bring. If he brings them the conception of a child and they cannot see themselves clear to caring for another child, then adoption (to another Christian family) may be the best option. But here again, using the MAP and possibly sinning against the Sixth Commandment must be ruled out.
Let me conclude with what I would say to someone who has taken the MAP. I’ll be direct: you may have caused an abortion. Perhaps you did it ignorantly, working only with the information provided on official government websites and so on. Perhaps what led you to take it was what the Bible describes as “sin with the uplifted hand,” deliberate and intentional living in sin (i.e. premarital sex). But, whatever, the case may, if you did cause an abortion, this is not an unforgivable sin. God’s grace in Jesus Christ is available for all who repent and believe. God’s grace is big enough to cover this too. However, let us respond to his grace with a hatred for all sin and a love for all life, even at its earliest stages.