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What is the difference between contraception and an abortifacient?

Again, this hinges on whether one considers abortion to be ending a pregnancy or ending a life. This distinction explains why methods that work between fertilization and implantation are considered by some to be abortifacient and by others to be contraceptive. In an article repeating a plea I made earlier at TheAtlantic, the Daily Beast said of the birth control methods disputed in the Hobby Lobby case: "The contraceptives in question—Plan B, Ella, copper and hormonal IUDs—do not cause abortions as the plaintiffs maintain, because they are not being used to terminate established pregnancies… Even if morning-after pills prevented implantation, they would still work as intended: as safe contraception, not abortion pills." Yet, whether or not a method is considered contraceptive or abortifacient depends not only on how a mechanism works but also on what one considers the object of abortion: Is it the pregnancy that is aborted or a new life? To say that a method "prevents pregnancy" is not the same as saying it prevents fertilization. Abortion opponents are not opposed to ending pregnancy (after all, birth does that), but to ending a new life. Perhaps a term that all could agree on would be embryocidal, which speaks to any willful (rather than spontaneous) termination of an embryo, whether in the womb or in the laboratory.

Why do Hobby Lobby's owners believe that contraceptives are abortifacients?

They don't.

While countless bloggers and journalists have charged Hobby Lobby's owners with "believing contraceptives are abortifacients," such a statement is semantically absurd. Something that actually prevents pregnancy cannot end what it prevented in the first place. The question is whether certain methods may act as abortifacients rather than as contraceptives. (It's only semantics inasmuch as saying "I prefer coffee rather than tea" differs from saying "tea is coffee.") Of course, the absurdity of the semantic construction has the effect of rendering the position taken by Hobby Lobby as absurd. Yet, the concern that some birth control methods may be abortifacient rather than contraceptive is not a figment of anyone's imagination:

· The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states, "Birth control pills contain hormones that prevent ovulation. These hormones also cause other changes in the body that help prevent pregnancy. The mucus in the cervix thickens, which makes it hard for sperm to enter the uterus. The lining of the uterus thins, making it less likely that a fertilized egg can attach to it" (emphasis added).

· The label for the popular birth control pill Yasmin (one of dozens of brands that use a combination of estrogen and progestin) states that "possible mechanisms may include cervical mucus changes that inhibit sperm penetration and the endometrial changes that reduce the likelihood of implantation." The so-called "mini-pill" which uses only progestin is labeled similarly.

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