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Contraceptives prevent pregnancy. Some are in the form of medication. Others, including condoms and IUSs, take the form of a contraceptive device.  They inhibit pregnancy by preventing:

bulletOvulation (the release of an ovum from an ovary) and/or
bulletConception (the joining of a spermatozoa from a male with an ovum), and/or
bulletThe implantation of the resulting fertilized ovum (more correctly called a zygote) in the wall of the uterus.

Until the early 20th century, almost all faith groups in North America, Canada, and the UK were opposed to the sale and use of contraceptives, even to married couples. Churches gave fertile couples two choices: abstinence or enforced pregnancy. The Church of England deviated from this teaching in 1930 when they approved the use of birth control in certain specific situations. Almost all other faith groups followed the lead of the Church of England in subsequent years. Today, the Roman Catholic Church is the only large faith group that still bans the use of birth control.  Governments in have drastically altered their policies. Twenty five years ago, some criminalized the display of contraceptives in pharmacies. Now, these same governments are actively promoting their use.

Unlike contraceptives, abortifacients interrupt a pregnancy which is already in progress. i.e. they cause the implanted zygote, or embryo or or fetus to be rejected by the woman's body.

Religious conservatives and pro-lifers generally define the start of pregnancy and the start of human personhood as happening at the instant of conception. Religious liberals, physicians, fertility researchers, biologists, etc. generally define pregnancy as beginning when the zygote is implanted in the lining of the womb; they often define human personhood as developing later in pregnancy. This difference in definitions can cause some conservatives to define a specific pill as a potential abortifacient, while some liberals and others define it as a contraceptive medication. To the former group, a pill may murders a helpless human at its most vulnerable state; to the latter, the same pill simply prevents a group of undifferentiated cells from implantation -- i.e. it avoids the start of a pregnancy. 1

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Copyright � 2002 to 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-SEP-10
Latest update: 2006-MAY-04
Author: B.A. Robinson

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