11.04.2005

Cruising for Pill info on the info Super-High-Way..

So you've got a parishoner, she and her fiance are preparing to be married, and they're on the hunt for the contraceptive that will best suit their needs. He just wants for her to get 'The Pill', but she's remembers hearing once from a friend that maybe there is something bad about it. So, she asks around, reports to him. Together, they decide to check out what the church says about it all. So they hop on www.lcms.org and after a quick search they come up with the following article:

The claim that hormonal contraceptives such as the birth control pill include an abortioncausing effect is being widely spread by well-meaning, but misinformed prolife people. The rumor claims to be based on scientific fact when there is no such evidence to support it. It may be that those in the Christian community who are against the use of birth control contraceptives for other reasons are furthering the confusion by championing this rumor. Whether birth control pills are or are not a legitimate means of determining the size of one’s family is not the issue in this article. The issue here is a concern for the credibility of the pro-life witness. At present it is being compromised by misinformation and is causing divisiveness within that same community.
Twenty-one pro-life physicians, in 1998, jointly studied the claim that birth control pills cause abortions and concluded that it is unfounded. They offer as their case much medical evidence that is beyond the scope of this brief article and the reader is directed to the footnote below. Much of the birth-control-pills-cause-abortions argument among prolife, non-medical people is based on the printed claim of abortifacient-effect on the packaging of the contraceptive product. This packaging claim however appears to be more a marketing strategy (encouraging buyers to trust their product to do the job) than
actual fact. The manufacturer’s claim is that, in addition to preventing ovulation, the pill produces an effect on the lining of the uterus (endometrium) that is hostile to implantation. According to the twenty-one prolife physicians who have studied this, there is no evidence for this being the case. They conclude that even where there is a thinning of the lining of the uterus, the fact that a fertilized egg (blastocyst) can implant on the lining of the fallopian tube (ectopic pregnancy), the body cavity itself, and elsewhere where there is nothing but a hostile environment, and can still thrive until disrupted by outgrowing its space (thus endangering the life of the mother), indicates that a thinning lining of the uterus does not per se cause rejection of a blastocyst. Further, the fact that there are occasional "contraceptive births" where pregnancy does occur even when the woman is on the pill seems to further erode the claim of abortifacient effect.
These pro-life physicians are neither promoting nor discouraging the use of
contraceptives, and they are united in opposition to abortion by any means. They are also concerned, as informed men and women in the field of medicine that a bogus claim discredits the pro-life cause and lowers credibility in the real fight against abortion.

So what's the result of their reading of this brief paper by Dr. Eyer? Well, quite frankly she feels foolish for ever having had concerns about 'The Pill'. He's just glad that the conversation is over. They can resume the course they have set for their upcoming wedding and the first several years of marriage.

But I've got to tell you, as a pastor I read that article and I get upset for the hypothetical couple I have described, and for every other real couple that desires to be married in the Lutheran church. Here are a few things that bug me in particular:

First, how dismissive this brief paper is very concerning to me. And what is that concern? That 'The Pill' may at times act as an abortifacient -it may cause 'micro abortions'. How? The primary way it seeks to work is to stop ovulation, thus preventing sperm from reaching and fertilizing the egg - a true contraceptive mechanism. If that fails we have thickened cervical mucous, thus slowing down sperm in their journey - a true contraceptive mechanism. If that fails, not to worry.... the uterus lining for the woman on 'The Pill' is much thinner than it normally would be if she weren't on it. Thus, even if sperm does meet egg and conception takes place the uterus will be "inhospitable" to the 5-7 day old child when it has finished it's journey to the uterus and is looking for a new home for protection and nourishment - an abortifacient mechanism. These are the 3 mechanisms of 'The Pill' as recorded by the drug companies in their full prescribing information. And why do they record these 3 mechanisms? Because the FDA requires of drug companies to report how their drugs work.

Clearly that third mechanism is disturbing for any Christian to hear about. Even if it isn't the primary mechanism, and even if it only rarely comes into play it is disturbing information and it would serve as a deal breaker for the Christian/Pro-Life couple. They would not use any contraceptive that does or even could cause an abortion - particularly when there are other truly contraceptive motheds to choose from.

Yet how does Dr. Eyer respond to this concern. He references a group of 21 doctors and a paper they wrote but never shares any of the goods of that paper. (Nothing like a little name dropping to intimidate you into falling in line.) Furthermore he takes advantage of his reader. Why? Because we are taught to be trusting of our doctors. Well maybe we're also taught to get a second and even a third opinion at times. But golly, if 21 doctors have come to the same 'scientific' conclusion it must be true! What the paper fails to tell the reader is that there have been other papers written and signed by other numerous doctors (OBGYN's primarily in both cases) who have come to the exact opposite conclusion - that the third mechanism of the pill does come into play causing these 'micro abortions'. Then, after strongarming the overly trusting reader with the good reputation of 21 'pro-life' doctors he then goes on to suggest that the 3rd mechanism is only and advertising ploy on 'The Pill' packaging to boost the consumer's trust in the product. The problem is that you simply won't find how 'The Pill' works on the packaging of any birth control pill. You will find it, when supplied, on the full prescribing info.... you know, that small piece of paper in 6pt. font with all of the medical stuff and warnings on it.

Second, I take great objection to Dr. Eyer's choice of words, and yet I don't believe that he could have chosen any other. In particular I take objection to that fact that the word "seems" is found in his article. He writes, "Further, the fact that there are occasional 'contraceptive births' where pregnancy does occur even when the woman is on the pill seems to further erode the claim of abortifacient effect.

I would neever dream of standing before my or any congregation on a Sunday morning saying, "It seems that your sins are forgiven." It is a weak word. It is a word of uncertainty. It is not a word that can deliver the Gospel. No, it leads to doubt, uncertainty, the law.

I could go on and on. I'm just so disappointed that such a weighty subject is addressed on our synodical website in such a flippant, one sided manner. It's time for some more serious conversation on the subject. I hope you'll join in.


7 comments:

Devona said...

Sign me up. I'll join in this debate.

signed: the mother of one, and who knows how many other blessings to come.

Christopher Gillespie said...

Dave,

I sure hope those parishioners come to you and not the LCMS website on a myriad of issues. The parenting resources are woefully inadequate. They also link to Focus on the Family, a reasonable group albeit marred by Dr. Dobson's political lobbying. They try to integrate child psychology with biblical understandings and so are inconsistent in result.

We discussed these family issues over lunch here in Fort Wayne last week. I found a significant variance of response and opinion on both child discipline and "family planning." It became obvious that this is an area we do not teach and rely on fundamentalist viewpoints.

Chris

Eric Phillips said...

I think I've read the article Eyer references, and he is not using it properly. What the article actually says is:

1) The thin endometrium could conceivably be rendered hospitable to implantation anyway, by the hormones that accompany ovulation.

2) Ectopic and "break-through" pregnancies prove that implantation is possible even in the most hostile of environments.

3) THUS FAR there is no conclusive statistical proof that the thinned endometrium does cause abortions.

In other words, Eyer is going far beyond the legitimate scientific conclusions that can be drawn from this study when he calls claims of this abortifacient effect "misinformation" and "bogus." The correct interpretation of this article is, "It seems that the Pill _should_ cause abortions, but maybe it doesn't due to offsetting considerations, and so far we haven't been able to prove things one way or the other."

J. Conner said...

Dave,

I recently wrote Dr. Eyer (haven't heard back from him yet and don't know if I will). I picked up on the lack of certainty in his brief paper. In three separate places he used words like "seem." That's very unstable grounds upon which to approve the use of contraceptives given the potential consequences.

I too lament the inadequate material available on our synod's website.

It gives me great hope, however, to see so many people unified on this topic. Together we can provide helpful and biblically faithful resources to guide our people down a God-pleasing path.

J.Conner

Tina said...

Ask any self-respecting reproductive endocronologist in this country if they would transfer an embryo into the uterus of a woman who was on the Pill, and they would probably laugh at you. The odds of success would be way too low to even make the attempt.

The fact that some tenacious babies DO manage to hang on in such circumstances is the true miracle.

It would seem to me that the number of those that don't make it might conceivably be higher than those that do.

Glad to hear the subject being discussed!

Kat Sullivan said...

Thanks for your response to Eyer's article David! It makes me feel better to know I'm not the only one disappointed and frustrated that his article is the information provided by our churches website.
The amazing thing to me about his article is that it is the Human Care department's only response to the LCMS Resolution 6-10 from the 2004 convention and that Eyer's article is contradictory to the very resolution that prompted the Human Care department to take action!
Resolution 6-10 clearly states that it is the LCMS Human Care department's responsibility to evaluate which hormonal contraceptives act as abortifacients sometimes or all the time and then make that "infomation available to the pastors and laypeople of the LCMS".
The Human Care department has failed to do this in the year and half since the 2004 convention. They have only provided Rev. Eyer's article which does not consider this issue as important as it is and does not appear to have enough research to back it up.
I believe the LCMS Human Care department should be sounding off about this issue so that pastors and church members are made aware of the pills abortifacient or potential abortifacient nature. This should have been done immediately. Most pastors and laypeople seem completely unaware that there is even an debate going on about the pill.

Pr. David Rufner said...

Kat,

Thanks for the comments. It's fun to have someone mulling over the origianl post on this blog.

I don't mean to further discourage you as to the ongoing work going on in this area concerning resolution 6-10, yet I am concerned about it as well. One of my greatest concerns is what transpired at the Bioethics Conference (a discussion on later posts in November '05). There, a pannel was put together to discuss hormonal contraceptives and their implications on pastoral care and family life. To put it plainly, the pannel discussion was somewhat of a disappointment. (Consider reading some later posts on this blog.) My fear is that it somehow represents the work that is being done on 6-10. We will see.

I hope you will continue to contribute comments to this blog. It is a great place to meet new brothers and sisters in the Lord and join in conversation and debate over this wonderful and weighty topic.