No, Birth Control Does Not Kill Fetuses

by Kenza Moller

With the Department of Health and Human Services expanding the number of businesses that can get exemptions from providing contraceptive coverage to employees, many are wondering just why there's so much opposition to birth control. The debate around abortion, of course, comes from some people's belief that life begins at conception, and that to then remove a fetus from a womb is tantamount to ending a life. But does birth control kill a fetus? And if not, why are some people so opposed to it?

Despite what many anti-abortion organizations espouse, the answer is no. Each type of birth control functions in a slightly different way, but they all prevent pregnancy by making sure an egg and sperm do not combine to create a fetus. With condoms (male or female), this works by keeping sperm confined to the condom, making sure they never enter a woman's uterus at all. Hormonal birth control, on the other hand — such as the pill, the Depo-Provera shot, the NuvaRing, or the patch — keeps ovulation from occurring at all, so eggs aren't actually released from the fallopian tubes. (This is why the periods women get while on the birth control pill are sometimes called "fake periods," since their bodies aren't actually getting rid of an egg.)

Intrauterine devices (or IUDs) stop pregnancies in another way. Copper is toxic to sperm, so copper IUDs kill sperm before they have a chance of reaching an egg. They also make it harder for eggs to attach to the uterus. Hormonal IUDs thicken the mucus on the cervix, making it harder for sperm to reach eggs, and the hormones released by the IUD can also block ovulation.

Even emergency contraception, like Ella or Plan B, doesn't actually kill a fetus or cause an abortion. The primary way the two morning-after pills work is by delaying or preventing ovulation, so there's no egg for sperm to fertilize. They also function by thickening cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to reach eggs.

Susan Wood, a professor of health policy at George Washington University, told NPR that depicting emergency contraception as abortion-causing just isn't accurate. "It is not only factually incorrect, it is downright misleading," Wood told NPR in 2013. "These products are not abortifacients. And their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."

So, if birth control doesn't actually kill a fetus, why all the nosiness about how women control their reproduction? (It's getting seriously old now.) Some religious organizations believe that using contraception goes against natural law — that if sperm and egg meet naturally, then so be it, here comes a baby.

Other groups are more anti-contraceptives because they fear it encourages "risky sexual behavior" in young adults and teens, as the Trump administration claimed when announcing the new ruling on Obamacare's birth control mandate, according to The New York Times. They worry that access to contraceptives will make young adults and teenagers more promiscuous, a fear that's evident in the fact a shocking 27 states require that abstinence be stressed in sex ed classes.

(As a side note, using contraceptives is not associated with an increase in sexually transmitted infections or an increase in sexual partners. On the other hand, though, it's associated with a decrease in rates of unplanned pregnancies and abortions.)

According to Psychology Today, others oppose contraceptives because access to birth control increases women's independence and autonomy, giving them the ability to control exactly when they'd like to start a family (if they would like to at all) and when to stop.

Whatever the reason, it's clearly not because birth control kills fetuses — so if you hear that explanation circling around, make sure to send your friends more medically accurate information on how contraceptives work.