Revised LCMS Report on Contraception

Last summer we discussed an LCMS position paper. Entitled "Christ in Your Family", the paper was published in June, 2008, by the World Relief and Human Care Sanctity of Human Life Committee in answer to LCMS Resolution 6-10, which requested: "That the Board for Human Care Ministries review the various birth control products, clarifying which ones act sometimes or all the time as abortifacients."

The committee's original report was in error on many points of fact. However, as of January 9, 2009, I am pleased to report that the original paper has now been replaced by a vastly improved document entitled: "
Guidance on Contraceptive Methods". Thanks be to God!

Among other positive changes, this revised document no longer addresses the broader issue of contraception in general. For that reason, it is two pages shorter (18 rather than 20). While I am happy to report that the revised document is significantly better than the original, it still contains serious errors.

The most egregious error that remains, in my opinion, is a one-sentence statement claiming that the anti-implantation effects of ECPs ("emergency contraceptive pills") have been "refuted" by an endometrial study. This is NOT a factually true statement. Studies of ECPs thus far still cannot fully explain ECP's rates of "success" without taking anti-implantation effects into account. There are anti-implantation effects that the endometrial study wouldn't even address. Some of the research suggests abortifacient effects arrising not from failed implantation, but rather from such things as luteal phase dysfunction. The whole section on ECPs should have been re-written.

For this reason and others, this new report is still not a document I would direct anyone to for an accurate evaluation of the abortifacient properties of various birth control methods. However, it is not as grossly misleading as it was before on most counts.

Below is an important excerpt from the new report showing a vast improvement in the language of this revision as compared to the original document. While the third (one-sentence) paragraph in the snippet below is absurd (as I already abundantly informed them), it is at least offset by the context.
Concluding Remarks on hormonal contraception

Insofar as no hormonal contraceptive can suppress ovulation all the time there is some risk, whether great or small, of breakthrough ovulation, thus creating a scenario in which the egg may or may not be fertilized. If fertilized (which would lead to a pregnancy) it may or may not be able to successfully implant in an altered endometrium (which would either lead to a pregnancy or a chemical abortion).

The LCMS has historically determined that human life begins at conception. This position is firmly grounded on the science of embryology and on Holy Scripture.[1] Because of this confession on human life, some people have ethical concerns about the use of hormonal contraception. Some pro-life medical organizations have not taken a stance against hormonal contraception.[2] Other pro-life medical organizations emphasize “that the pill and similar birth control products act, part of the time, by design, to prevent implantation of an already created human being. These products clearly cause an early abortion and are - despite the semantic gymnastics of their ardent apologists - abortifacient.”[4] Nearly all scientists and medical professionals agree that this is a possible action of the pill; however, scientific data does not exist to state with certainty how frequently such events occur. Therefore, the scientific data does not allow one to state definitively that hormonal contraceptive methods are abortifacients, but the possibility that this can occur must be acknowledged.

There are also some pro-life health care providers and theologians who believe that the Pill works solely by preventing ovulation.

The LCMS Sanctity of Life Committee following the mandate given to it by the Synod in Convention, cannot state definitively that hormonal contraception does not at least some of the time cause a chemical abortion. The medical and scientific community acknowledges this possibility but cannot state how frequently or if in fact this does occur. In light of this, some Christian couples may have concerns about hormonal contraception. Rather than defaulting immediately to the Pill or other hormonal methods, they should keep an open mind and make themselves aware of all forms of contraception including natural family planning, barrier methods, and sterilization in certain exceptionally difficult situations.
So, read the new report and then comment below as to what you think of the revision.


Gauntlets said...

Possible addendum: "The authors recognize the authority of medical science but reject the authority of the Church. Please keep an open mind about this; we did mention Scripture, after all, and we'd hate to have our feelings hurt."

Christopher Gillespie said...

"The Sanctity of Human Life Committee was not given the task to ask whether or not married, Christian couples should or should not use contraception. We believe that a broader discussion in the church regarding marriage and its purpose would be beneficial. We have sought to free the consciences of Christian couples struggling with the question of what types of contraception cause abortions. We hope that this document accomplishes that goal."

What an unfortunate get-out-of-Jail-free card. Paraphrase: presuming people are already using contraception and since Synod has not rejected their use, here's a scientific study by some scientists and theologians.

I second the Gauntlets. Come way may (or may not) just make sure its not an abortion.

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

I certainly share your frustration with the fact that the LCMS is currently unwilling to return to the historic biblical teaching on procreation. However, we should not criticize the Committee for limiting the paper in question to the medical science of birth control.

The abortifacient question was the only question that the Committee was asked to address in Resolution 6-10. I appreciate the fact that the Committee limited their discussion in this paper to that important issue. In fact, it was my suggestion to the Committee that their revision should avoid all discussion of the broader question of family planning.

Lutherans obviously disagree on whether family planning should be used at all. Fortunately, the synod still holds that abortion is a sin. And, I think everyone on this blog agrees that there are rare circumstances in which contraception may be the lesser evil. Therefore, we can still all agree that whenever family planning is employed, only a non-abortifacient method should be employed.

It is important that we evaluate all birth control methods scientifically in light of the proper definition of when life begins. That is the limited task this paper attempted to achieve, and is of interest to those on both sides of the broader question.

I believe limiting the report to the abortifacient question asked in Resolution 6-10 was the right decision. Doing so keeps the abortifacient issue from being confused with the broader topic of family planning.

I hope and pray that some day the broader topic of family planning will be publicly debated at length in our synod, resulting in a much greater number of people becoming aware of the biblical doctrine of procreation.

Gauntlets said...

Oh, sure. I just enjoy pointing out the irony. :D

Erich Heidenreich, DDS said...

It is, indeed, a sad irony. However, I believe Lutherans are beginning to wake up to the truth. Recognizing the abortifacient nature of the most popular methods of birth control is often the first step toward rejecting all birth control.