Amid Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation hearings on October 13, Senator Ted Cruz ill-defined birth control in a deceptive and problematic way. Namely, he called birth control “anti-abortion drugs”.
To catch up with you, Cruz brought up birth control while discussing the implicit threats to religious freedom. He specifically referred to the Supreme Court case in The Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania. In this case, the Little Sisters of the Poor asked for an exemption from the part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that requires health plans to cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods. Key word: contraceptive. (The Supreme Court ultimately ruled that organizations could opt out of this requirement for religious and moral reasons.)
During the audience, Cruz said: “The Little Sisters of the Poor, our Catholic convent of nuns, who take the oath of poverty, who dedicate their lives to caring for the sick, caring for the needy, caring for the elderly and Obama the administration has argued against the Little Sisters of the Poor, seeking to fine them in order to force them to pay for, among other things, drugs that induce abortion. “
A glaring error is buried in the rhetoric. Cruz says that contraceptives are “drugs for inducing abortion,” which is medically inaccurate. Here’s why.
Why contraceptives do not induce abortions
Pregnancy officially begins when a fertilized egg is implanted in the uterine lining. According to New York Times, anti-abortion groups use the expression “induce an abortion“to describe the methods which they believe can prevent this implantation.
As the NYT explains, this assumption is already incorrect; if the pregnancy does not begin before implantation, a contraceptive that prevents implantation cannot qualify as an abortion, as there is no pregnancy to terminate yet. (Implantation, not fertilization, is considered the start of pregnancy because many fertilized eggs naturally fail to implant in the uterus.) Regardless, almost all forms of birth control do not prevent pregnancy in this way. Rather, they prevent the eggs from being fertilized at all, a step even before implantation occurs. Here’s how many of the more popular forms of birth control work.
Combined contraceptive pills: Combination birth control pills contain both estrogen and progestins. Taking the pills every day prevents pregnancy by prevent ovulation, as well as changing cervical mucus and uterine lining to prevent sperm from reaching the egg.
Progestin-only birth control pills: Unlike combination birth control pills, progestin-only pills do not contain estrogen. These pills do not suppress ovulation as consistently as the combination pills. They prevent pregnancy by thickening cervical mucus and thinning the uterine lining, preventing sperm from reaching the egg.
Hormonal IUD: An IUD, or intrauterine device, is a small plastic device inserted into the uterus. A hormonal IUD releases a progestogen, which prevents pregnancy by thickening cervical mucus and preventing ovulation.
Copper IUD: A copper IUD, which does not use hormones, can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. However, it is also effective at prevent fertilization, because copper changes the way sperm move, preventing them from swimming to an egg.
Emergency contraceptive pills: Emergency contraceptives are taken in the days immediately following unprotected sex. They prevent pregnancy by delay ovulation, or the release of an egg from your ovary.
Birth control, by definition, does not end a pregnancy; this prevents it from happening in the first place. As reproductive health continues to be a topic of political discussion, it is crucial to hold politicians accountable on these key points, which have a direct effect on our bodies and our lives.