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.