Is the IUD an abortifacient?

Here are the answers from the top 5 search results at on 2018-08-09:

1. What an abortifacient is — and what it isn’t (National Catholic Reporter) Feb 20, 2012 by Jamie Manson

“The reality is that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that the IUD and Plan B work only as contraceptives. Since Ella is new to the market, it has not been studied as extensively. But as of now, there is no scientific proof that Ella acts as an abortifacient, either.”

Jamie Manson, in an article for National Catholic Reporter, claims that emergency contraceptives and the IUD are not abortifacient. Here is his reasoning:

“Now, just because an egg is fertilized doesn’t necessarily mean that it will develop into an embryo. For that to happen, the fertilized egg must be implanted into the endometrium that lines the uterus. Implantation happens seven days after fertilization, if it happens at all. Scientists estimate that, at a minimum, two-thirds of fertilized eggs fail to implant. Some scientists estimate that the number may even be as high as 80 percent, according to Discover Magazine.

For this reason, according to the medical definition, a woman is not considered pregnant until the developing embryo successfully implants the lining of the uterus.

Some church officials argue that a woman is pregnant at the moment of fertilization. If that is the case, then it follows that 60 to 80 percent of the time, this natural process results in a massive loss of life.”

Is the 60 to 80% loss figure high? Sources on this topic:

Wilcox 1995: 33%
Wilcox 1988: 31%
Macklon 2002: 70%
Stanford 2002: 46.7%
Wang 2003: 32.5%

The claim of 80% failure to implant is not supportable. The correct figure is as low as one third for all natural losses, or as high as 40% for failure to implant. Losses can occur before or after implantation. But no matter what the number is, it does not justify the use of abortifacients, nor direct induced abortion.

The idea is that, since the natural loss rate is high, human persons can deliberately kill prenatals in the womb. That is like saying that many people die from car accidents, so it is okay to deliberately run someone over with your car. Morally, such an idea is absurd. When a human person, even a very young one, dies as a direct result of a deliberate knowing choice that you make, you are responsible for that death, even if the person who dies was already at high risk of death. If an elderly person is terminally ill, and will probably die within weeks, you are still guilty of murder if you smother him to death with a pillow. It doesn’t matter if his impending death was certain. And if he had a 40% chance of surviving his illness, your action would certainly be condemned, morally and legally.

2. Life Issues Institute

They quote a pro-abortion researcher and physician who works with Planned Parenthood:

“To make an informed choice, women must know that [emergency contraceptive pills] … prevent pregnancy primarily by delaying or inhibiting ovulation and inhibiting fertilization, but may at times inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg in the endometrium,”

The Church teaches that life begins at conception, so the inhibition of implantation of a fertilized egg means that a conceived human person dies. Many researchers, including the one quoted above, Dr. James Trussell, claim that pregnancy begins with implantation, and therefore any device or chemical that prevents implantation is not causing the termination of a pregnancy.

But that is just a convenient redefinition of pregnancy in order to justify abortifacients. We all know that a woman does not become pregnant unless she has sex. And sex does not result in pregnancy unless sperm and egg unite. The implantation stage of development occurs days after fertilization, when the prenatal has developed through several earlier stages.

3. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists

Click to access FactsAreImportantEC.pdf

This source redefines all of the terms used on this subject — pregnancy, contraceptive, abortifacient — as if life begins at implantation. They also make the argument that a low percentage of blastocysts (a stage of prenatal development) successfully implant: “no more than 40% of blastocysts eventually implant in the endometrium”.

4. COMMENTARY IUDs are Contraceptives, Not Abortifacients: A Comment on Research and Belief by Irving Sivin

Click to access Sivin.pdf

This study makes a patently false claim: “No studies show that IUDs destroy developing embryos at rates higher than those found in women who are not using contraceptives.”

This study — Stanford, “Mechanisms of action of intrauterine devices,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2002;187:1699-708 — found a high rate of post-fertilization loss from every type of IUD [Table III]. And the study is not alone; it relied on a review of past studies on the topic. So the “no studies show” claim is factually untrue.

Then the study makes a self-contradictory claim:

“To be sure, if an IUD is left in situ after a woman recognizes she is pregnant, the chances that the recognized pregnancy will end in a spontaneous abortion are about 50 percent (Vessey et al., 1976), which are higher than in normal pregnancies (20-27 percent) (Roman and Stevenson, 1983; Casterline, 1989).”

So the study cites other studies showing that the IUD kills, even after implantation! And yet many “authorities” continue to assert that IUDs are not abortifacients because they don’t kill after implantation, only before.

5. Huffington Post, “How IUDs Really Work (No, They Don’t Terminate Pregnancies)” by Erin Schumaker

This article makes the claim that pregnancy begins at implantation. But it also asserts that IUDs do not have any post-fertilization effects, such as preventing implantation. Then the article contradicts that assertion by saying that the IUD “thins out the uterine lining”. This effect prevents implantation, and so the conceived prenatal dies, rather than being implanted so as to continue development. The article also makes the argument that natural losses early in development are high.

Bad Answers

Four of the top 5 search results gave essentially the wrong answer to the question about IUDs and abortifacient action. The only correct answer was from the Life Issues Institute. And the other answers were not merely a different point of view on when life begins, they often gave misinformation or drew conclusions that are unjustified.

There is a strong push within the scientific and medical communities to approve of abortion and abortifacients. How can sinful secular society continue to promote and approve of grave sexual sins, if people had to take responsibility for the way that they use the procreative faculty? Contraception and abortion are the means that are used to maintain sexual promiscuity and a lack of responsibility. And it is particularly alarming when physicians and scientists present biases and false information in order to please the narcissistic culture, in contradiction to truth.

Studies Show

The Stanford study cited above — Stanford and Mikolajczyk, “Mechanisms of action of intrauterine devices,” American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, 2002;187:1699-708 — reviews many past studies to reach some remarkable conclusions about IUDs.

First, there is ample evidence that IUDs not only prevent conception, they also destroy the conceived prenatal prior to implantation. Stanford found several mechanisms of action of IUDs that operate between conception and implantation: “slowing or speeding the transport of the early embryo through the fallopian tube, damage to or destruction of the early embryo before it reaches the uterus, and prevention of implantation.” These same mechanisms also apply to many types of chemical contraceptives, other than IUDs. So the claim made in the Huffington Post article, above, is false.

Often, pro-lifers argue that abortifacients work by preventing implantation. But that is only one of a few post-fertilization effects that kill the conceived prenatal. Sometimes the chemical or device prevents the fertilized egg from traveling from the fallopian tube to the uterus. This occurs by preventing smooth muscle contractions and the action of cilia lining the tubes from causing transport. The fertilized egg then is destroyed in that location. The device can sometimes attack the fertilized egg itself (especially the copper IUD). And finally, the uterine lining is thinned and otherwise made averse to implantation.

Stanford and Mikolajczyk found that, when conception occurs, there is a greater than 99% chance that the IUD — any type of IUD — will destroy the conceived prenatal. What are the chances, per woman per year, that the IUD will act as an abortifacient? They used several different criteria, based on past studies, to produce 10 different estimates. The high was one to two abortifacient losses per woman per year. The average was 80.2% [Stanford, Table III]. If a woman uses the IUD for 10 years, this implies anywhere from 8 losses to as many as 20. The IUD is truly an abortion device implanted in the womb.

Note: that 80.2% average rate of abortifacient loss from IUDs is almost certainly low. The study authors state: “Physiologically, it is likely that the true rate of post-fertilization loss attributable to the IUD is closer to the higher-limit estimate because the bulk of the evidence suggests that the post-fertilization effects of the IUD occur at a very early stage of embryonic development.” That would put the true rate at 100 to 200%, meaning 1 or 2 abortifacient losses per woman per year.

Worldwide Numbers

According to the United Nations, Population Division, “Trends in Contraceptive Use Worldwide 2015“, there are 1,191,823,899 (1.19 billion) women ages 15 to 49, who are married or in a “union” (i.e. a sexual relationship). The percentage using IUDs worldwide is 13.7% or 163,279,874 (163 million). Given the average abortifacient loss (80.2%) determined by Stanford — not the high of 1 to 2 losses per year — that results in 130,950,459 abortifacient deaths of prenatals per year worldwide: 130 million. The worldwide death toll from induced abortion is only 55.9 million. And that doesn’t count the deaths from oral contraceptives, which is another 50.4 million.

Total losses from abortifacients per year worldwide: 236.3 million. And what is the worldwide birth rate? About 137 million births worldwide per year. We are killing over 60% of our unborn children in the womb.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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7 Responses to Is the IUD an abortifacient?

  1. Dora says:

    So many lies! Not to mention crucial information is being withheld. Patients are often unaware that part of how an IUD works is by producing a “minor” infection… “Women’s health activists fear that former IUD users may have undiagnosed infertility problems due to ongoing low-grade infection…The body produces more white blood cells and produces scar tissue to protect the area… and this process may continue undetected. The woman may never feel pain or become ill, yet damage to the uterus, tubes or ovaries is being done. Women who want children in the future should reconsider using the IUD.”

    Today there are iPhone apps that make it easy to chart your fertility for purposes of NFP. Your doctor will of course never mention them.

  2. What would the rate have been, say, fifty years ago?

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t know what you mean. The earlier formulations of the pill had higher amounts of hormones.

    • Total losses from abortifacients per year worldwide: 236.3 million. And what is the worldwide birth rate? About 137 million births worldwide per year. We are killing over 60% of our unborn children in the womb.

      Were such abortions more common in the Sixties compared to today?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Fewer persons used abortifacient contraception the further back in time you go. However, the IUD was available and promoted in the 60’s and 70’s, when little was known about its abortifacient effects.

    • I went to Parochial school 1964-1976.
      I was taught IUDs cause abortions.

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