The most obvious and severe effect of Amendment 48 would be a total or near-total ban on abortion. Perhaps more importantly, it would profoundly affect the day-to-day sex lives of couples by restricting birth control. If a fertilized egg is a person with full legal rights, then any action that prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus must be considered murder. Thus, if fully implemented, Amendment 48 would ban any form of birth control that could prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, most notably, the birth control pill–the most popular type of birth control–as well as emergency contraception and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Such a ban would force couples to resort to more difficult and less reliable forms of birth control, thereby increasing the number of unwanted pregnancies. (Amendment 48 would not ban all birth control: methods that only prevent fertilization of the egg, such as the diaphragm, sterilization, and condoms, would still be permitted.)
Significantly, natural or spontaneous abortion is a routine occurrence. Most fertilized eggs fail to implant; they are flushed out of a woman’s body. Due to the difficulty of detecting when a woman’s body rejects a fertilized egg, estimates of prevalence range widely. However, some researchers estimate that as many as 80 percent of fertilized eggs fail to implant.7 Even after a woman becomes pregnant with the implantation of the embryo, the risks of losing it by natural causes still hover around 10 to 25 percent.8 Nature is by far the greatest cause of death for fertilized eggs. (Notice that such natural deaths of fertilized eggs are not lamented, nor regarded as a public health crisis–not even by those who think of them as persons.) Thus Amendment 48 would ban forms of birth control that mimic the body’s natural processes. Also, as William Saletan observes, other activities that inhibit implantation include breast feeding, drinking coffee, and exercising.9 Would the defenders of fertilized eggs ban all women of child-bearing age from those activities, on the grounds that they risk killing human persons? Probably not–meaning that Amendment 48 would be selectively enforced.
A ban on the birth control pill would affect most sexually-active couples. A report from the Centers for Disease Control shows widespread use of contraception, noting that, as of 2002, “98 percent of all women who had ever had intercourse had used at least one contraceptive method,” and “82 percent had ever used the oral contraceptive pill.” Furthermore, “[t]he leading method of contraception in the United States in 2002 was the oral contraceptive pill. It was being used by 11.6 million women 15-44 years of age; it had ever been used by 44.5 million women 15-44 years of age.”10 The reason for its popularity is not difficult to fathom; it is not only easy to use but also highly reliable. It is more effective than sterilization and condom use, the second and third most popular forms of birth control. Under “perfect use,” only 0.3 percent of women on the pill experience an unwanted pregnancy within the first year of use, as compared with 0.5 percent for sterilization and 2.0 percent for condoms.11 So women forced to switch from the birth control pill (perfect use) to condom use due to Amendment 48 would experience around seven times the number of unintended pregnancies. Although effective, sterilization is surgically invasive and permanent, and it exposes women to an increased risk of ectopic pregnancy and other problems.12 Amendment 48 would require many thousands of women to scramble to find a new method of birth control, yet none is likely to be as convenient and effective as the pill.
In reply to those who equate the pill and other forms of birth control with abortion, some prominent defenders of reproductive rights deny that they have any effects after fertilization. Planned Parenthood claims, for instance, that “there is no proof” that “the pill works by keeping a fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus,” that an IUD “keeps a fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus,” or that “the morning after pill works by keeping a fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus.”13 However, Planned Parenthood does not mention the fact that definitive proof in this case is practically impossible to acquire, so the matter rests on inconclusive data coupled with known physiological effects and their theoretical implications.14 For the defenders of Amendment 48, that possibility of harm to a fertilized egg would be grounds to vigorously push for a ban on these forms of birth control.
Moreover, the manufacturers of those products tell a different story about their effects. While these forms of birth control mostly act to prevent fertilization, they also endanger the lives of fertilized eggs. The popular birth control pill Ortho Tri-Cyclen® states in its prescription information that the medication affects implantation of a fertilized egg: “Combination oral contraceptives act by suppression of gonadotropins. Although the primary mechanism of this action is inhibition of ovulation, other alterations include changes in the cervical mucus (which increase the difficulty of sperm entry into the uterus) and the endometrium [the lining of the uterus] (which reduce the likelihood of implantation).”15 The emergency contraception medication Plan B® “may inhibit implantation (by altering the endometrium).”16 The IUD Mirena® also causes “alteration of the endometrium” and may “thin the lining of your uterus,” which (though unstated) would inhibit implantation. Moreover, if an IUD fails, it threatens the embryo: “Severe infection, miscarriage, premature delivery, and even death can occur with pregnancies that continue with an intrauterine device (IUD). Because of this, your health care provider may try to remove Mirena, even though removing it may cause a miscarriage.”17 One woman per thousand users of Mirena gets pregnant within the first year, so it poses a significant risk to embryos—an unacceptable risk, according to Amendment 48.18
Many religious opponents of abortion welcome the fact that Amendment 48 would ban the birth control pill, morning-after pill, and IUD. They accept the logical implications of their belief that fertilization creates a human person with full rights, as seen in the following articles. The Wall Street Journal reports:
The Bush Administration has ignited a furor with a proposed definition of pregnancy that has the effect of classifying some of the most widely used methods of contraception as abortion.
A draft regulation, still being revised and debated, treats most birth-control pills and intrauterine devices as abortion because they can work by preventing fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. The regulation considers that destroying “the life of a human being.”19
ProLife.com, which advocates “ending abortion,” hosts an article by J. T. Flynn which begins, “Physicians across America—and around the world—are now confirming that the Pill, IUDs, Depo-Provera and Norplant cause early abortions.”20 The Christian web page, Contraceptive Information Resource, states, “When fertilization is not prevented, hormonal birth control methods commonly cause the expulsion of an embryo prior to implantation by changing the lining of the uterus so that it will not accept an embryo and by changing the way the fertilized ovum travels down the fallopian tube.”21 That source refers to the view of Dr. Walter L. Larimore, who writes:
[A]fter many months of debate and prayer, I decided in 1998 to no longer prescribe the Pill. As a family physician, my career has been committed to family care from conception to death. Since the evidence indicated to me that the Pill could have a postfertilization effect, I felt I could no longer, in good conscience, prescribe it…22
If a fertilized egg is a person, then birth control that blocks implantation even sometimes must be considered morally abhorrent. Its use and distribution must be outlawed and criminally penalized. The same would apply to any medication that might harm fertilized eggs, regardless of the costs in pain and suffering to women. Such is the logical consequence of treating fertilized eggs as persons.
If implemented, Amendment 48 would certainly outlaw some forms of birth control. The process of doing so would subject Coloradans to lengthy battles in the legislature and the courts regarding which forms of birth control may or may not prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, before a woman even becomes pregnant.
Originally published by the Coalition for Secular Government. The Coalition advocates government solely based on secular principles of individual rights. The protection of a person’s basic rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness — including freedom of religion and conscience — requires a strict separation of church and state.
Amendment 48 Is Anti-Life
- Why It Matters That a Fertilized Egg Is Not a Person (Part 1 of 6)
- Amendment 48 and Birth Control (Part 2 of 6)
- Fertility Treatment and Medical Research (Part 3 of 6)
- Amendment 48 and Abortion (Part 4 of 6)
- Personhood and the Right to Abortion (Part 5 of 6)
- Morality and Abortion (Part 6 of 6)