Bush Administration on Abortifacient Birth Control

This news comes on the heels of our recent discussion of the LCMS Sanctity of Human Life Committee's report on contraception.

According to the New York Times, the Bush administration has made a move to further help healthcare workers avoid discrimination for refusing to participate in abortions, including those produced by the Pill and IUDs. To protect these pro-life workers, the Department of Health and Human Services has drafted new rules that would affect hiring decisions.

Here's the most important point: On pages 17 and 30, the proposed HHS rules define abortion as “any of the various procedures — including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action — that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

In a letter to the editor in the NY Times, Joan Malin, President and Chief Executive of Planned Parenthood of New York City, rightly states that this proposed federal rule:

"...radically redefines abortion to include some of the most common and effective methods of birth control..."

Unlike many Christians, Planned Parenthood understand that hormonal birth control and IUDs are not purely contraceptive but rather also work as abortifacients.

Mary Jane Gallagher, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, states: “The proposed definition of abortion is so broad that it would cover many types of birth control, including oral contraceptives and emergency contraception.”

To give the complete context, the "Definitions" section (pp 16-17) of the HHS proposal reads as follows:

III. Provisions of the Proposed Rules
§ 45 CFR x.1 Definitions

Abortion: An abortion is the termination of a pregnancy. There are two commonly held views on the question of when a pregnancy begins. Some consider a pregnancy to begin at conception (that is, the fertilization of the egg by the sperm), while others consider it to begin with implantation (when the embryo implants in the lining of the uterus).17 A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that 49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception.18 Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term "abortion."19 Those who believe pregnancy begins at implantation believe the term "abortion" only includes the destruction of a human being after it has implanted in the lining of the uterus.

Both definitions of pregnancy inform medical practice. Some medical authorities, like the American Medical Association and the British Medical Association, have defined the term "established pregnancy" as occurring after implantation.20 Other medical authorities present different definitions. Stedman's Medical Dictionary, for example, defines pregnancy as "[t]he state of a female after conception and until the termination of the gestation."21 Dorland's Medical Dictionary defines pregnancy, in relevant part, as "the condition of having a developing embryo or fetus in the body, after union of an oocyte and spermatozoon."22

Because the statutes that would be enforced through this regulation seek, in part, to protect individuals and institutions from suffering discrimination on the basis of conscience, the conscience of the individual or institution should be paramount in determining what constitutes abortion, within the bounds of reason. As discussed above, both definitions of pregnancy are reasonable and used within the scientific and medical community. The Department proposes, then, to allow individuals and institutions to adhere to their own views and adopt a definition of abortion that encompasses both views of abortion.

Therefore, for the purpose of these proposed regulations, and implementing and enforcing the Church Amendment, Public Health Service Act §245, and the Weldon Amendment, the Department proposes to define abortion as “any of the various procedures—including the prescription and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action—that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.”

17 Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines pregnancy as “the condition of being pregnant,” and defines “pregnant” as “containing a developing embryo, fetus, or unborn offspring within the body.” MERRIAM-WEBSTER’S DICTIONARY at http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pregnancy
19 Medical dictionaries support this view. For example, Stedman’s Medical Dictionary Defines “abortion” as the “[e]xpulsion from the uterus of an embryo or fetus before viability[…]” STEDMAN’S MEDICAL DICTIONARY 4 (28th ed. 2006).
20 See e.g., FDA Rejection of Over-The-Counter Status for Emergency Contraception Pills, AMA House of Delegates Resolution 443, (2004), at http://www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/15/res_hod443_a04.doc (The Plan B pill is a post-coital contraception method which […] induce(s) minor changes to the endometrium to inhibit ovum implantation; therefore, it cannot terminate an established pregnancy…”); BRITISH MEDICAL ASSOCIATION, ABORTION TIME LIMITS: A BRIEFING PAPER FROM THE BMA 1 (2005) (“The term “abortion” is used […] to refer to the induced termination of an established pregnancy [i.e. after implantation].”) at http://www.bma.org.uk/ap.nsf/AttachmentsByTitle/PDFAbortionTimeLimits/$FILE/Abortiontimelimits.pdf
21 STEDMAN’S MEDICAL DICTIONARY 1553 (28th ed. 2006).
22DORLAND’S MEDICAL DICTIONARY at http://www.mercksource.com/pp/us/cns/cns_hl_dorlands_split.jsp?pg=/ppdocs/us/common/dorlands/dorland/seven/000086088.htm

The full text of the HHS document, which states that it is "a confidential, deliberative, pre-decisional document and does not necessarily reflect current policy efforts or plans. For official use only", is available at:

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