Wade Burlson, the Pill and Abortion

Wade Burlson is a pastor in the Southern Baptist Convention who is part of a movement to reform and renew the church. His latest posting was about the control of the SBC over its members but has ended up becoming a heated discussion about abortion. This is the offending illustration that Wade uses in his post:

SBC Interviewer: "Do you use contraception?"
SBC Interviewee (female): "Yes."
SBC Interviewer: "What kind of contraceptive method do you practice?"
SBC Interviewee: "The pill."
SBC Interviewer: "Are you aware that the pill changes the lining of the wall of the uterus so that if ovulation happens to occur the fertilized egg cannot implant itself in the uterus?
SBC Interviewee: "No, I was unaware of that fact."
SBC Interviewer: "Do you believe life begins at conception?"
SBC Interviewee: "Yes."
SBC Interviewer: "So, if you carry life in your body via a fertilized egg, but refuse to allow that life to be implanted in your uterus by means of a pill, are you taking that life into your own hands, playing God, and committing an abortion of choice?"

The illustration goes on. The point of Wade's use of this illustration is to show just how personal the SBC could become in its control over people. Yet the use of such a touchy subject as abortion has got some readers heated up and claiming that Wade supports abortion by supporting the pill.

Let me just summarise the particular problem:
1) A woman who uses the Pill as a contraceptive will prevent conception in 99% of cases. This is because the Pill prevents ovulation.
2) In 1% of cases, the woman will ovulate and there is a chance that conception will occur.
3) The Pill causes changes in the woman's uterus that prevents the fertilised egg from being implanted, which results in the loss of the fertilised egg.
4) A Fertilised egg is considered a human being created by God.
5) Therefore, if a woman used the Pill, then she may be causing the death of a human being.
6) Therefore, Christians should not use the Pill for contraception.

It's an interesting argument. Let me point out that I am reasonably conservative at this point. I believe that a fertilised egg is a human being and this new information that I have learned today has disturbed me and forced me to delve into the issue more deeply. My wife and I used the Pill early on in our marriage for a couple of years, and it has shocked me that we may have caused the death of an unborn child.

Fortunately, I have found the answer. The answer lies in the natural prevalence of miscarriages.

Medical science has determined that a full 25% of conceptions result in miscarriage - most of them occurred within the first few weeks and went totally unnoticed by the woman.

We need to remember that, while sad, such a high death rate has been recognised by God. It is he who has chosen such a high number of miscarriages.

So if a woman takes the Pill, she actually prevents conception - which results in less miscarriages. Yes, a fetus may die because it does not implant in the wall of the uterus - but overall, there are less deaths.

To reiterate - using the Pill results in far less miscarriages than normal.

To illustrate - imagine a woman who is super fertile and will conceive whenever the chance occurs. If she takes the pill, then, statistically, one child will die for every 100 times she, um, well... you know. But if she does not take the pill, then, statistically, 25 children will die. (She will also have 75 kids, which shows how limited this illustration is)


Lynne said...

Thank you for this insight. As a former pill user (for a couple of years, many years ago) I too had been a bit bothered by these recent claims. You have just put thewhole thing in perspective

Unknown said...


I would strongly urge you to reconsider your position on theological rather than philosophical grounds. But I shall address both.

First, your entire argument is based on the presupposition that less miscarriages is greater good than more miscarriages, and it is the Christian's moral obligation to choose this greater moral good. If we take this to be true, we can then move to analyzing the alternate forms of birth control. We will need to examine only one other: the condom. The condom, while not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy,does not cause miscarriages. Therefore, comparatively, it seems that the moral option between the two would be to use the condom, not the pill.

(WE are assuming this is a birth control pill WITH an abortifacient device)

(1) Less miscarriages is a greater moral good than more miscarriages.
(2) The Pill results in less miscarriages overall than no form of birth control.
(3) The person desires to use birth control.

(4) The condom results in no additional miscarriages than what science has shown to be natural for a woman.
(5) It is a Christian's duty and perogative to choose the greater moral good.
(6) It is the Christian's duty and perogative to choose the condom over the pill.

Now to theology. First, you assume that many miscarriages that are natural (due to God's will and sovereign decree) are a worse evil than fewer miscarriages that are the responsibility of free moral creatures. Given that God has decreed that His moral creatures should not sin by killing innocent persons (including children, and the preborn), Christians should promote the saving of life where they are able. I would submit that it is our perogative to view the natural deaths as somehow just in God's overall plan, and view as our moral Christian duty to not participate knowingly in the destruction of one of those lives. This does not mean to avoid sex in order to avoid natural death, but to avoid supporting measures that result in unnatural death when those measures are completely unnecessary and only for our pleasure and convenience.

I would urge all Christian women to avoid taking any pill that has an abortifacient device as its primary or secondary mechanism of preventing birth. I would go on to argue that knowingly doing so would force one to give approval to abortion.

Lynne, you made the right decision. follow the Spirit's leading.

I have lost my train of thought.

Grace and peace. To God alone be the glory.


One Salient Oversight said...

Theology - that is the bible - is the determining factor behind all my decisions.

You're right in saying that the condom is probably the best bet. In many women the Pill causes hormonal changes which affect their thinking and behaviour. That was the case early on in my marriage, which is why we chose to discontinue using it.

Obviously God deigned a 25% miscarriage rate and did not tell us about it in scripture. He does not discourage sexual behaviour between husband and wife, so we leave that issue with God.

Yet there is no doubt that using the pill saves these lives, which is good. God invented smallpox after all, and it was good that God granted mankind the ability to create a vaccine to prevent these deaths from occurring.

Choosing a path that results in less death is not ungodly. I disagree with you totally about your attitude to the pill and I do not believe that women who use the pill are approving abortion.

What you are advocating is the following:

1) To ignore deaths based upon the "natural order of things"
2) To focus solely upon deaths that are the result of human action.

Let's say everyone lives in a swamp. Let's say that thousands of people every year die as a result of malaria. Let's also say that someone decides to build a big building to keep people safe from malaria. However, the creation of the big building will, statistically, result in the death of one or more workmen as they build.

Your logic is "It's better to let thousands of people die of malaria than it is to lose a couple of people in building accidents".

The Pill is designed to stop ovulation, not abort babies. In the same way a building is designed to house people, not kill workers. Yet both happen.

Unknown said...

I addressed you analogy succinctly in my logic. Your decision to use the pill is out of pleasure and convenience. The building is built for the purpose of saving life. The pill has an alternative that saves even more life. The building has no alternative that does the same.

My argument still stands. I would also caution you against using situational ethics. The Bible's standards are necessary and static, not contingent and situational.


One Salient Oversight said...

Colin, I would not call my stance situational ethics since SE is based upon the over-riding principle of love. All I'm doing is recognising the importance of human life.

You seem to find it difficult to see beyond what is "intentional" and what is actually happening.

Yes, the pill's intention is to prevent conception. It is about "love and convenience". Yet it is not the Pill's intention that is at stake, but its outcome.

And the outcome of using the Pill is less miscarriages. Therefore, less deaths. You cannot argue that fact.

A husband and wife should not feel guilty when they try to have children. The fact that 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage should not deter them from having sexual intercourse for enjoyment or procreation. This is implicit in the bible. It's only recently that we discover that 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. God knew that, but didn't warn us about it, so it must be okay.

Still, a life is a life. And taking the Pill will reduce the amount of miscarriages a woman has. End of story.

Let inflame the situation by asking you Colin, whether you want unborn babies to die when it can be prevented?

(BTW Condoms are known to fail. The failure rate is, at best, 2% - that is, 2% of copulations result in pregnancies. Other studies show around 10%. Given the natural rate of miscarriages, even condoms can't be trusted, and will result in more miscarriages than the pill)

Unknown said...

Condoms do not cause miscarriages. Abortifacients do. You are just equivocating with numbers- total deaths.

It is right to preserve life as far as one knows about saving the life and is able.

I truly don't see what you are seeing. I am suspicious that you are simply saving face.

Intentional- if you are using some thing that causes death, it is intentional. Giving ten people different doses of a given chemical compound in order to determine the lethal dose could kill one or all of the ten people. However, it potential could save thousands of lives. It wasn't intentional to kill the ten people, but it happened. Was it wrong? Absolutely.

Using the pill is intentional. Using the pill with an abortifacient mechanism kills babies. Using that pill intentionally kills babies, though it may save dozens of miscarriages. It is logical. You are extending that logic to irrationality, because you consider a non-miscarriage as saving a life, when in actuality there exists no life to save because you have prevented conception. That is speaking nothing of the "undeniability" of modern science.

On theology, your story reminds me of Uzzah and the Ark. He thought he was doing God a favor by preventing the Ark from crashing to the ground. In actuality, his hands were more defiled than the dirt, and they brought reproach on God by denying His commandments.

You make one large presupposition here that I think holds no water. You presuppose that the 25% of miscarriages is an unjust evil. It either happens by chance, or by God's providence. If God knows and does not prevent it, is He unjust? By no means. Yet you have been given a command to preserve life, and to participate in the Creation of life. The logical conclusion of your theory would have women removing their ovaries altogether when they are finished birthing children. Anything less would be less than you can do to preserve life. But if you presuppose God is just in the miscarriages, and you resign those to His decrees, not aiding them unnaturally or intentionally, then your "Act of good" by preventing those miscarriages actually isn't an act of good, but evil in preventing a life He intended to implant from implanting.

I again am tired. We can disagree, but your views are absurd on this issue. This is why I think you are not serious and I am wasting my time. I would urge you, however, in view of the judgment of God to be careful teaching these things, for if you are wrong, you are heaping judgment upon yourself.



One Salient Oversight said...

Now I don't think you're serious about this. You misapply scripture like the worst of them in order to threaten me with God's judgement. You are unable to argue correctly. You attack me rather than the argument.

And then you have the temerity to end your post with 'grace'. Ironic.