By John Haley, Jr. M.D.
On January 22, 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that unborn humans were not legal “persons.” The out shoot of this decision was the inevitable philosophy that an unborn child is the property of the owner (mother) and, at her request, the pregnancy can be terminated at any time until birth. Since that time, the term “abortion on demand” has become common place and so-called “abortion clinics” have flourished. Against this background of more liberal thinking concerning abortion, many Christians have felt the need to step back and take a more careful look into the subject. The result? Much debate and many questions!
One very practical question which has resulted, especially in the minds of young couples who are interested in a safe, convenient, and above all scriptural method of birth control is the question regarding the mode of action of the I.U.D. What about the I.U.D.? How does it work? Does its use violate my convictions on abortion? Before we attempt to answer these questions, let’s make sure we all understand the terms we are using.
The I.U.D. (intra-uterine device) is a small plastic or metal device that is inserted into the cavity of the uterus via the vagina for the purpose of birth control. Ancient Egyptian camel drivers, over 2500 years ago, inserted apricot seeds into the uterine cavity of their beasts of burden before a long journey to prevent pregnancy; and so the method is not at all new.
Modern devices used in humans are approximately 97% effective. Complications of the device are few, side effects are usually minimal, and this method of birth control probably heads the list in terms of convenience. It is only natural, then, that many Christian couples for years have chosen this as the most acceptable or expedient method of preventing pregnancy. But on closer observation, is it indeed an acceptable or expedient method?
The answer to this, of course, hinges (at least in the minds of those who believe abortion is sinful) on whether or not the I.U.D. is a contraceptive or an abortive agent. By contraceptive agent, we mean that which prevents conception or fertilization of the ovum or egg. By abortive agent, we mean that which prevents the conceptus (that which has been conceived), or the fertilized ovum, from continuing in its normal growth process.* After consulting with several specialists in this area and reading several reports, it is clear that there is no scientific proof into which of these categories the I.U.D. falls. It has generally been assumed that the I.U.D. acts as an abortive agent. Various theories have been proposed. One such theory is that the I.U.D. stimulates the production of certain cells which destroy the fertilized ovum before implantation. Another theory is that by its mechanical presence, it either prevents implantation of the tiny embryo or shortly after implantation dislodges it. There are other theories but they can be summarized by saying that by some mechanism the I.U.D. creates an “unfavorable environment” for the reproductive process of the fertilized ovum to continue in a normal manner, thus aborting the conceptus.
A few papers have theorized that the cells stimulated by the I.U.D. may destroy the sperm prior to union with the egg or that it stimulates the egg to pass through the fallopian tube so rapidly that fertilization does not take place. If this be its mode of action, it then becomes a contraceptive rather than an abortive agent.
In summary, I think it would be fair to state that from a scientific standpoint, although not proven, most authorities look upon the I. U.D. as abortificient in its action. From a moral standpoint, then, the Christian must take this information, along with any other available to him, carefully put it all together and determine whether or not in his own mind the use of the I.U.D. is a matter of faith or doubt (Rom. 14:23).1 hope this article will aid in making this judgment.
*We use the term abortion in its normal scientific sense, i.e., “The premature expulsion from the uterus of the products of conception,” conception, of course, occurring at the time of impregnation of the ovum by the sperm (Darland’s Medical Dictionary).
I point this out because some use the term abortion to refer to termination of the pregnancy only during the earlier portion of pregnancy and the term “miscarriage” to the latter portion of pregnancy. It should be understood that these terms are arbitrary and the critical issue with regard to the moral implications hinges on the question “when does the embryo or fetus receive its eternal spirit from God?” Is it at conception, at birth, or at some point between? This fundamental question is beyond the realm of science and falls squarely in the realm of theology. Obviously, we have not dealt with it and use this occasion to challenge the editor to do so in the near future.
Guardian of Truth XXV: 20, p. 313
May 14, 1981