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Abortion facts

Events before the start of pregnancy.
Examples of contraceptives & abortifacients.

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Both pro-live and pro-choice advocates agree on the sequence of events leading to a developing fetus:

  1. Ejection of a mature spermatozoon from a man's testicle, a few weeks before conception.
  2. Ejection of a mature ovum from a woman's ovary shortly before conception.
  3. Fertilization of the ovum by one spermatozoon, usually in one of the two fallopian tubes. The fertilized ovum is called a zygote or pre-embryo.1
  4. Movement of the zygote towards the uterus.
  5. Its development to the blastocyst stage and its implantation in the wall of the uterus.
  6. In perhaps 40% of the cases, its development into an embryo, a fetus, and finally an newborn.

But they differ in their definition of the start of pregnancy. Pro-choicers generally use medical definitions; many define the point at which human life becomes a human person as ocurring at various points during gestation. Pro-lifers almost universally state that both pregnancy and human personhood begins at conception.

Term Many Pro-Life Supporters Many Pro-Choice Supporters General Medical Definition
Start of pregnancy At conception At implantation of the fertilized ovum in the wall of the uterus Same as pro-choice definition
When does life become a human person? At conception Various beliefs: at viability; when the fetal brain's higher functions start up; at birth; etc. Various
Definition of a contraceptive  Prevents fertilization of the ovum Prevents fertilization or implantation of the blastocyst. Same as pro-choice definition
Abortifacient Medication which terminates human life, anytime after fertilization Medication which terminates human life, anytime after implantation Same as pro-choice definition
Abortion Termination of the life of a baby at or after the zygote/pre-embryo stage Termination of the life of a blastocyst, after it attaches itself to the uterine wall, or of a embryo or fetus before viability. Same as pro-choice definition
Baby A zygote, morula, blastocyst, embryo, fetus, newborn, or infant. A newborn or infant Same as pro-choice definition

Any medication or device which allows fertilization of the ovum but does not allow the blastocyst (fertilized ovum) to be implanted is considered:

bullet By pro-lifers to be an abortifacient, because they believe that a human person has already been created, and pregnancy has already begun.
bullet By pro-choicers and the medical community to be a contraceptive, because pregnancy has not begun.

Of the many contraception and abortion methods:

bullet The rhythm method, and other "natural" family planning techniques approved by the Roman Catholic church, are barrier contraceptives. They use the barrier of time to prevent an ovum from being fertilized. If successful, then the technique prevents live sperm and a live ovum from being present in the fallopian tubes simultaneously.
bullet The condom is another barrier contraceptive. It uses a physical barrier made of latex to keep sperm from entering the woman's body.
bullet Regular usage of the contraceptive pill is generally considered to prevent conception by inhibiting ovulation.
bullet Emergency contraception (EC) or "the morning after pill: Doctors sometimes prescribe a multiple dose of regular contraceptive pills in cases where a woman has had unprotected sex. These pills may prevent the release of an ovum, or may prevent it from being fertilized. In these cases, it acts as a contraceptive. Medical researchers once believed that if the ovum has already been fertilized, EC could prevent the implantation of the blastocyst in the wall of the womb. Later research indicated that this is either extremely improbable or impossible. Many pro-lifers reject these scientific findings and believe that EC can inhibit implantation. They generally consider that, under these conditions, the pill is an abortifacient.
bullet Intra-uterine devices (IUDs) are believed to allow fertilization but prevent implantation. Pro-lifers generally consider an IUD to be an abortifacient since it allows fertilization but apparently prevents implantation; others consider it a contraceptive.
bullet Methods which cause the pre-embryo which is implanted in the wall of the uterus, or an embryo, or a fetus  to be removed or ejected from the body are universally regarded as producing an abortion. These include:
bullet Non-surgical, medical abortions using Methotrexate & Misoprostol,
bullet Manual vacuum aspiration
bullet RU-486 abortion pill using Mifespristone
bullet Surgical abortions

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Recent activities with an impact on this topic:

bullet 1998: The House, and later the Senate, passed an amendment to the Treasury Department/Postal Service appropriation bill that requires insurance companies to include contraceptives in their prescription drug coverage. House Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) led an unsuccessful fight against including contraceptives in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.

Smith said: "social conservatives are mounting a concerted effort to make it clear that 'contraception means [that] fertilization does not take place.' "2,3 According to the Southern Baptist Convention, "Some opponents of the measure fear RU 486, the French abortion pill, would be [automatically] covered when the Food and Drug Administration approves it." 4 Smith considers any medication or techniques that act after fertilization to be "baby pesticides." This includes, or normal use of Norplant, Depo-Provera, and IUD's. It would also include EC if he believes in the now discredited belief that EC can prevent implantation.
bullet 2001-DEC: The American Medical Association debated whether physicians should inform women that the potential exists that birth control medication might possibly cause a fertilized egg to be expelled from the body before pregnancy begins. Dr. John C. Nelson, a member of the AMA's executive committee, said that the proposal was voted down because "many people from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine...decided that they would testify, and their testimony was that there is not sufficient scientific evidence to suggest" that birth control substances can work in this way. Nelson added: "One of the foremost infertility doctors in the country [said] that's not the way it works...I have no reason to doubt him."

Walter Weber is a spokesperson for the American Center for Law and Justice, a Virginia-based fundamentalist Christian public interest law firm. He said: "If [pro-life women] are using a method that can operate after fertilization as well as before fertilization, and they don't know it, they are basically being deceived by lack of information into violating their own consciences." 5

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  1. For definitions of many pregnancy-related terms, see our glossary of abortion terms
  2. USA Today, issue of 1998-JUN-25
  3. "Congressional extremists target family planning," Population and Habitat Update, 1998-SEP/OCT.
  4. "Senate OKs contraceptive coverage; federal plan covers abortifacients," Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention," at:
  5. Christine Hall, "AMA Votes Against Abortion Disclosure," Cybercast News Service,

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Site navigation: Home page > "Hot" topics > Abortion > here

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Copyright 1999 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-JUN-20
Author: B.A. Robinson

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