Forty years ago the words “fertilization” and “conception” meant the same thing to doctors, lawyers, and embryologists alike: the joining of the 23 chromosomes in the sperm with the 23 chromosomes in the oocyte (“egg”) to form a new complete, unique human organism. “Contraception” was defined as any method that worked before the existence of the embryo by preventing fertilization. These were the hormonal treatments and devices that prevent ovulation of the egg and condoms, diaphragms and sterilization that serve as “barriers” between the sperm and egg. Drugs and devices that may or may not end the life of the embryo after fertilization were legally and correctly called “abortifacients.”
However, legalized abortion and the ability to accomplish fertilization through in vitro methods led to new legal definitions of “pregnancy” and “conception” as beginning at implantation rather than fertilization. Even in vivo, healthy human embryos in healthy mothers were deprived of legal protection as human beings for at least the first 5 – 10 days of their lives, the window of opportunity for implantation when the developing embryo grows to hundreds of cells organized in 2 or 3 recognizable tissue layers and interact with the mother’s body in ways that may affect the timing of birth or risk of diabetes and other health concerns. Possible abortifacients that work after fertilization but before implantation were redefined as “emergency contraception.”
In spite of what you may have heard on the news, the June 30, 2014 Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision by the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) didn’t deny birth control for anyone. Everyone may still purchase his or her own FDA-approved birth control. SCOTUS simply ruled that the government can’t force some employers to buy things that they believe are immoral.
In fact, Hobby Lobby only asked to be exempt from purchasing insurance plans that paid for specific drugs and devices used for “emergency contraception.” Before the passage of the Affordable Care Act (“ObamaCare” or ACA), the company purchased insurance that included true forms of contraception, including,
- Those that prevent ovulation by preventing the normal ups and downs of the hormones estrogen and progesterone, such asBirth-control pills with estrogen and progestin (“Combined Pill”),Birth-control pills with progestin alone (“The Mini Pill”),Birth control pills (extended/continuous use), Contraceptive patches, Contraceptive rings,Progestin injections, andImplantable rods
- Those that act as “barriers” to fertilization by preventing the union of sperm and egg: Male condoms, Female condoms, Diaphragms with spermicide, Sponges with spermicide, Cervical caps with spermicide, Spermicide alone, Vasectomies, Female sterilization surgeries, and Female sterilization implants.
The problem is that regulations written by the Obama Administration mandated that all insurances pay for all pregnancy “preventatives” approved by the FDA, including drugs and devices that may function after fertilization to end the life of the new human embryo:
- Pills that mainly delay ovulation but may impair implantation and development of the placenta if fertilization takes place, such as over-the-counter Plan B and generic levonorgestrel tablets, and ella, which requires a prescription, and
- Devices that mechanically and hormonally make the uterus inhospitable to implantation by the embryo, such as intrauterine devices like the copper-T, Mirena, and ParaGuard. These are inserted up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse to prevent implantation and then left in place to prevent fertilization and implantation for as long as 5-10 years.
Although the words we use do not change the fact that the human embryo is the same human life before implantation as after, they can change his or her legal status.