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Our readers asked:

Does “the pill” abort fetuses?

Charles C. Camosy, PhD Answers:

Question: I see that there is a medical expert onboard, and I would like to inquire whether or not the pill can abort fetuses, yes or no? Is this a valid concern, recognized by all medical professionals, meaning understood to be a possibility by medical experts who do not practice Catholic faith?

If by “the pill” you mean the contraceptive pill, the answer is “probably not.”  While the drug companies themselves used to market the claim that the pill would also change the lining of the uterus so that an embryo could not implant, even the best pro-life medical researchers today think this is a dubious claim.  Furthermore, it may be important to note the difference between a direct abortion (where someone aims at the death of the fetus) and use of an abortifacient (a drug in which the fetus is refused implantation into the uterus–which, in principle could be indirect). In Catholic theology, direct killing of the innocent is always wrong–while a refusal to aid can (in rare cases) be morally acceptable with a proportionately serious reason.

There are, however, other drugs on the market besides the pill which likely have an abortifacient effects. Ella, for instance, is designed to work several days after sex and almost certainly has this effect. This is particularly problematic given that Ella is one of the drugs that Catholic and other religious institutions may be forced to provide for their employees in the new health care system. Another important drug to be aware of is RU-486, the abortion pill, which works 7-8 weeks into pregnancy. Though they are sometimes confused with each other, the contraceptive pill (works before fertilization), Ella (which works after fertilization but before child implants into uterus), and the “abortion pill” (which works after implantation) behave in different ways and have different effects.

The Author : Charles C. Camosy, PhD
Charlie Camosy is assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University where he has been since finishing his Ph.D. in theology at Notre Dame in 2008. His book Too Expensive to Treat? Finitude, Tragedy, and the Neonatal ICU (Eerdmans, 2010) was honored at the 2011 Catholic Media Association awards. Peter Singer and Christian Ethics: Beyond Polarization was released with Cambridge University Press in May of 2012. Charlie is also the founder and co-director of the Catholic Conversation Project and a member of the ethics committee at the Children's Hospital of New York.
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