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Facts on Abortion: Why You Can’t Be Pro-Life and Pro-Contraception

One of the principal goals of the pro-life movement is the end of abortion, and most within the movement recognize the necessity and desirability of strategies that seek to outlaw abortion alongside those that seek to reduce the demand for it.

Many remain ambivalent, however, about the use of contraceptives, even going so far as to accept or support policies that use contraceptives as a means of reducing the number of abortions.

This is misguided.  Contraceptives are the cause of abortion.  In fact, if we did not have contraceptives in this country, we would not have anywhere near the abortion rate we do now.  I know this is counter-intuitive, but it is only so because Planned Parenthood and other population control entities have been successful in spreading misinformation for so long.

In the first place, many chemicals and devices billed as contraceptives actually cause early abortions, including oral contraceptives in some instances, as they make the uterine lining inhospitable to the implantation of an embryo.  They are, in other words, causing early abortions, rather than preventing conception.

That goes to particular instances of contraceptive use—a woman taking the pill while sexually active may succeed in preventing the birth of a live baby, either by preventing its conception, or by preventing its implantation in her womb.  What happens, though, as she uses the pill over time, and what happens as an entire culture makes the decision to use it?  One does not have to think too hard or dig to deeply to recall that, along with the explosion in the use of contraceptive methods in America after the invention of “the pill” in 1960, there came an explosion in the rates of abortion.

Contraceptives are the cause of abortion.  In fact, if we did not have contraceptives in this country, we would not have anywhere near the abortion rate we do now.

Recognizing that people might begin to think about these most obvious facts and come to their own conclusions, the Alan Guttmacher Institute, Planned Parenthood’s research arm, did an analysis in order to put their own spin on the answer to the question why, “within particular populations [the United States included] contraceptive prevalence and the incidence of induced abortion can, and, indeed, often do rise in parallel, contrary to what one would expect.”

Ultimately, they concluded, this occurs because less than 80% of the population is using “highly effective” forms of contraception.  (There isn’t a study by Guttmacher that doesn’t conclude that we need more contraceptives.)

On the way to their conclusion, however, Guttmacher made a few interesting points that are useful to an understanding of the relationship between abortion and contraception:

In societies that have not yet entered the fertility transition [the spread in the use of contraceptives to near universal use], both actual fertility and desired family sizes are high (or, to put it another way, childbearing is not yet considered to be “within the calculus of conscious choice”). In such societies, couples are at little (or no) risk of unwanted pregnancies. The advent of modern contraception is associated with a destabilization of high (or “fatalistic”) fertility preferences.  Thus, as contraceptive prevalence rises and fertility starts to fall, an increasing proportion of couples want no more children (or want an appreciable delay before the next child), and exposure to the risk of unintended pregnancy also increases as a result. In the early and middle phases of fertility transition, adoption and sustained use of effective methods of contraception by couples who wish to postpone or limit childbearing is still far from universal.  Hence, the growing need for contraception may outstrip use itself; thus, the incidence of unintended and unwanted pregnancies rises, fueling increases in unwanted live births and induced abortion. In this scenario, contraceptive use and induced abortion may rise simultaneously.

As fertility decreases toward replacement level (two births per woman), or even lower, the length of potential exposure to unwanted pregnancies increases further. For instance, in a society in which the average woman is sexually active from ages 20 to 45 and wants two children, approximately 20 of those 25 years will be spent trying to avoid pregnancy. Once use of highly effective contraceptive methods rises to 80%, the potential demand for abortion, and its incidence, will fall.[1]

So in Guttmacher’s “alternative” telling of American history, after 1960, and more so after 1965 (when the Supreme Court made laws outlawing contraception unconstitutional), it suddenly dawned on happy couples throughout the land that with contraception they could have a family with only two children.  If, after having the two golden children, these happy couples mysteriously failed to use their chosen method and found themselves pregnant, they would abort because they had decided that two was their preference.  It is because of the preference for the magic number of two as opposed to three or four, or four as opposed to six children, that more than a million women get abortions each year.

Have no fear, however, this number will drop once 80% or more if these happy couples learn that there are better chemicals and devices to help them reach their magic number.

We can conclude, based on this evidence, that Guttmacher thinks we are all idiots. Fortunately, we can cut through the poppycock to two things that Guttmacher will admit: more contraception is associated with higher abortion rates, and a “destabilization” occurs when contraception enters into a population.

Unless we want to take Guttmacher’s word for it, we should take our own look at the evidence to find out what occurred.  The best places to look for information about why women have abortions are studies that seek information from women who have had abortions.

The fact is that among the users of contraceptives, the margin of error is enough to create nearly the entire demand for abortion in this country every year.  According to Guttmacher, in the year 2000, 54% of women who had abortions were using contraception in the month they conceived; 70% used contraception within three months of conception, and 79% used it within six months of conception.  Among women who had abortions in the year 2000, 92% were contraceptive users at one time.[2] Only 8% of women choosing abortion had not used contraception.

You might say, “Well, a girl shouldn’t expect contraception to work six months after using it.”  Duly noted—more later.  First consider the following.

According to Planned Parenthood’s website, 15% of women who use condoms will become pregnant during the first year of typical use.  Among oral contraceptive users, 8% will become pregnant during their first year of typical use.  In 2002, 6,841,000 women were using the male condom; 11,661,000 U.S. women were using oral contraceptives.[3] According to the failure rates for typical use, 932,880 women became pregnant while using oral contraceptives, and 1,026,150 became pregnant using the male condom, for a total of 1,959,030 pregnancies despite the woman’s attempts prevent it using the two most popular forms of birth control.  If 47% of unplanned pregnancies end in abortion, 920,744 of the estimated 1,293,000 abortions in 2002 happened as a result of contraceptive failure, and this among the two most popular methods only.

In the Jones study noted above, Guttmacher went a little deeper into the numbers.  Those who used the pill in the month they conceived, for example, made up 13.6% of the women who had abortions in 2000 (178,567).  This is significant considering the perceived effectiveness of the method.  Among pill users, 13% became pregnant despite reporting perfect use, 76% reported inconsistent use, and 15% reported “other,” which included use with other drugs or antibiotics, vomiting or diarrhea, change of pill or dose, or not finishing the first pack.  So within this category, a significant portion of women became pregnant using the pill because of reasons that were out of their control.  Seventy-six percent of these women simply took the pills inconsistently, which is common for takers of all medicine.

For condom users, who made up 27% of those who had abortions in 2000 (354,507), 13.5% of reported using it perfectly; 41.6% reported that it broke or slipped; and 49.3% reported inconsistent use.  In most instances (55.1% or 195,333) where use of a condom resulted in a pregnancy, then, the fault cannot be attributed to the user.

This is the “destabilization” that occurs when contraception enters into a population, although I would call it anarchy.  Let’s consider this at the interpersonal level: Jane and Worthless date for six months.  Worthless pressures Jane to have sex and she goes on the pill in preparation.  Worthless dumps Jane a month after becoming sexually active and breaks her heart.  She goes off the pill.  Worthless sees Jane at a bar three weeks later, and Jane, who has had a few, has sex with Worthless again, thinking he might come back. Perhaps Jane skips a dose, or forgets her pills when they go on vacation.  Perhaps Jane starts thinking that one of the two of them are infertile.  Or perhaps Jane and Worthless use condoms, and one time Worthless is ready to go but Jane has run out.  Worthless convinces her to go ahead just this one time.  The possibilities are endless.

Or, forget about human error.  Pretend that every Worthless and Jane out there use every pill and condom perfectly.  In that case, there would still be 116,610–223,220 pregnancies among pill users and 136,820–205,230 among condom users.  There is nothing Worthless or Jane can do to prevent being a person for whom their contraceptive technologies fail, and in this way it becomes obvious that “birth control” is exactly the opposite of what the name implies.

These situations, where people have bought the lie that they can rely on these technologies to make sex non-procreative, are the context in which abortions happen.  It is in this context that people get pregnant and ask, “How did this happen?”  This context does not exist in a society that does not have things like the birth “control” pill.

Unless, of course, we make contraceptive technologies perfect, along with the people who use them, which seems to be what Planned Parenthood wants us to try to achieve.  To them, I would quote Pope Benedict XVI: “anyone who claims to be able to establish the perfect world is the willing dupe of Satan and plays the world right into his hands.”

There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of those pro-lifers who, struggling to find an answer to the crisis of abortion in this country, suggest that contraception may be part of the solution.  The facts show us that, however, nothing could be further from the truth.  As a movement, we need to digest these facts and adjust our message accordingly.  You can’t be pro-life and pro-contraception.

Scott Lloyd is an attorney for LegalWorks Apostolate in Front Royal, Virginia, and is a contributing writer for HLI America. Formerly an attorney for the US Department of Health and Human Services, his areas of work include health law and policy, conscience rights, family law, and communications law.

Follow the Center for Morality in Public Life on Facebook and Twitter.

[1] Cicely Marston and John Cleland, Relationships between Contraception and Abortion: A Review of the Evidence, International Family Planning Perspectives Vol. 29:1 (March 2003) (footnotes omitted; emphasis added).

[2] Rachel K. Jones,, Contraceptive Use Among Women Having Abortions in 2000-2001, Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health.  Volume 34, No. 36, Nov/Dec 2002.




Readers are invited to discuss essays in argumentative and fraternal charity, and are asked to help build up the community of thought and pursuit of truth that Ethika Politika strives to accomplish, which includes correction when necessary. The editors reserve the right to remove comments that do not meet these criteria and/or do not pertain to the subject of the essay.

  • SeriousWhimsy

    So, correct me if I am wrong: the claim here is that using contraception causes abortion?

    What about the idea that contraception doesn’t cause abortion, people cause abortion?

    If is far more obvious (as well as reasonable) to claim that abortion happens because some women, for various reasons, at various points in their life, do not wish to be pregnant.

    • ux

      You misunderstand, contraception is obviously a sinister illusion that puts nonsense ideas like “self-determination” and “birth control” in a woman’s head; if we eliminate it all women will want all pregnancies always and bam abortion is solved, QED

      • randrjwr

        And pray tell WHY all women will want all pregnancies always? They surely embraced contraception when it became available; why didn’t they all want all pregnancies then? I must have missed something.

  • Max Kummerow

    I think Lloyd’s views can be seen as blasphemy because they ignore the nature of humans as the Creator made us. The Catholic Church erred in suppressing Galileo’s correct view that the earth is not the center of the universe. Christians who think sex is only for procreation err on an even more important issue. In fact, as God made us, a great majority of sexual intercourse in humans does not result in pregnancies, nor is it meant to. It would be catastrophic if all potential children were born–about 12 per woman on average during a 30 year fertile period. Do the math: 7.5 billion x 6 = 45 billion x 6 = 270 billion x 6 = 1620 billion (2 parents, 12 children = six time more per generation). God’s Creation is already being destroyed by 7.6 billion people and even adding another billion every 12 years (the current rate of global population growth) will cause poverty, war and a holocaust that will wipe out species, crops and put many cities below sea level. Countries that have adopted modern contraception and legalized abortion have begun to stabilize population so as to live in harmony with Creation. Would you rather live in Norway with stable population or Somalia where women still have 5 kids?

    So how do we know that God doesn’t mind contraception or abortion? Well, half of fertilized eggs don’t implant and are lost. Twenty percent of pregnancies that do commence end in involuntary terminations (miscarriages). If God is so opposed to abortion, why does he abort so many fetuses? Do you think God cannot manage immortal souls without your help? Women, unlike animals who only breed when they are in heat, are able to have intercourse whether or not they are ovulating–that is, without possibility of pregnancy. Women who are post-menopausal and their husbands do not end their sex lives. So in humans, sex is for bonding, to make family relationships stronger, not just for procreation. Most of us think of loving sexual partnerships as a blessing. And, since all that useful and enjoyable sex could lead to too many babies for the world and too many for parents to support, wise people choose contraception, and since contraceptive methods (and behaviors) are imperfect, they also choose abortion. This is as God intended. Read some biology. The facts of life are clear. If you believe God made the world the way it is, then both contraceptives and abortion are gifts from a benevolent Creator.

    • Goldenmug

      There is a further point. These people are of the “leave it all to God” persuasion. The phrase is “a marriage open to children” i.e. don’t use any form of birth limitation (contraception or abortion) and let God decide which acts of sexual intercourse lead to pregnancy and which pregnancies lead to a healthy child in the womb.

      To be consistent, they should also leave it to God to decide which pregnancies lead to a healthy child being born and a mother able to bear more children. This means that you have also to leave it God to decide which babies and which mothers are killed by the process of getting the baby carried to term and then born. All those measures designed to stop pre-eclampsia leading to a dead mother (and usually a dead baby) are frustrating the will of God. Ditto Caesarian births – if the baby would die in the process of a natural birth, then that is clearly the will of God. If giving birth would kill the mother, ditto.

      Additionally, you can also say that for a married couple to abstain from sex is also blasphemous. The purpose of marriage – not just the purpose of sex – is the production of children. Couples who do not have sex when the wife can become pregnant are therefore frustrating the purposes of marriage. Abstinence is a form of birth control too – and must be equally abhorrent. Those who do not want to have children should refrain from marriage. If you are married and worry about not being able to provide for children, then that too is a failure of faith. The Lord, the saying goes, Will Provide.

      The ultimate hypocrisy of the Catholics is the suggestion that couples use “the rhythm method”. This means that you *can* have sex in a way that tries to avoid pregnancy, but you must do so in a way that makes it easy for God to outwit you and make the woman pregnant anyway. This simultaneously undermines the “only have sex when you are happy for the wife to get pregnant stance,” and implies that God can’t get around the pill or the condom. He needs couples to use really inefficient methods of contraception to make it easy for him.

      But people like Scott Lynch want to have it both ways. They want to
      maintain that having a baby is a gift from God and an occasion for joy.
      They also want it as God’s punishment for sluts who have sex when you
      are contravening their rules about when and with whom you can have sex. Within marriage, they demand that couples only have sex when they want children and for the rest of the time they should completely abstain from all kinds of sexual behaviour.

  • Lorinda

    This article is a demonstation of the ridiculous logical pretzels people are willing to twist themselves in to in order to justify a personal belief system that isn’t logical. People like the author have been trying to force celibacy on human society for thousands of years, and it hasn’t worked yet. Some unmarried people have sex. They always have, in spite of threats of punishment or even death, and they always will because it is in our nature. I guess folks like the author think that if we just tell people a few more time not to have sex, that magically all recreational sex will disappear and people will only have it for procreation! Sorry dude, but welcome to planet earth. Fortunately, today we have birth control as well as protection from STDs. Today, women can be equal citizens with equal rights and married couple don’t have to choose between celibacy and poverty or danger to the wife. Men like this author can take this sanctimonious misogynistic nonsense and keep it in their own families.

  • Karlos60

    Correlation is not causation. Just because contraception and abortion became more common in the 1960s does not mean that the former “caused” the latter. Your arguement means virtually nothing, and yet you present it with a sort of “case closed” authority that is nothing short of laughable.

  • El Guapo

    This has to be the dumbest this I’ve heard in a long time.