Do free contraceptives for teens really decrease abortions in the United States? It all comes down to how you define pregnancy and abortion.

First, let’s examine the claim. This study of over 9,000 teenage girls and women identified as high risk for unintended pregnancy was conducted by Jeffrey F. Peipert, Tessa Madden, Jenifer E. Allsworth, and Gina M. Secura published in Obstetrics and Gynecology. [You can find a link to a pdf of the article here.] The researchers’ argument is that when contraceptives are provided at no cost to women and teenaged girls – as is to be implemented under Obamacare — they are more likely to choose the more expensive and effective contraceptive means – in particular, IUDs (intra-uterine devices) and sub-dermal implants such as Norplant which are inserted under the skin to release progestins. The primary advantage of both approaches is that they are passive – once in place, the woman does not have to do anything else to avoid pregnancy. Decrease the incidence of pregnancy and you decrease the incidence of abortion. The study reported a decrease in abortion rates from the national average of 20 per 1,000 women down to 4.4 to 7.5 in the study group.

The devil, however, is in the details.

As I note in The Great Abortion Debate Book (about to be released as an audio book), those who set the definition of terms in a debate are more likely to win. The assumption in this article, and many others like it, is that pregnancy is defined as occurring only with the implantation of the blastocyst (an early stage in the development of every child) in the uterine wall. The idea is to separate the concept of pregnancy (which is a term restricted by the researchers to women who have an embryo implanted in their uterine walls) from the concept of conception (which is an event that creates a new human). In this view a human being can be conceived and be living inside a woman who is not pregnant – an exceedingly odd thought.

The other default definition that these researchers, and those who think like them, presuppose is that abortion is merely the termination of a pregnancy – akin to the ending of any biological chain of events. Again, it is something that happens to a woman, without much reference to the unborn human living inside her. Here is how it works then: No implantation – they argue – no pregnancy, and, therefore, – even though their actions take the life of that conceived human being — no abortion. And this is how the claim can be made that an increase in IUD and contraceptive implants reduces abortion.

But this is not true. What these devices do – IUDs always, sub-dermal implants sometimes (though it is impossible for the woman to know when) is to create such a hostile environment in the uterus that an already conceived baby cannot implant in the uterine wall to receive the nourishment he or she needs to continue living.

In other words, these devices do not stop abortions, they are abortions – just very early ones.

We know this is true when we examine the researchers’ presuppositions. The fact is that conception is a creative act. As the Planned Parenthood pamphlet The Gift of Life, published in 1951 [photos of the pamphlet are included in an earlier blog post] accurately attests: “If one of the male sperm meets and unites with an egg cell, a new life begins.” There is universal consensus among disinterested scientists (those not attached to abortion advocacy) that each individual human life begins at conception.

Conception and pregnancy are merely chronological, sequential events. What is missing in the researchers’ argument is the acknowledgement that something unique is created by the act of conception – a new human life. Before conception, we just have the potential mother and father’s cells striving to unite. But immediately upon conception, a distinct third human being enters the equation. Purposefully destroying human lives either before or after implantation is a difference without distinction to the ones whose lives are ended. Both are equally dead. The researchers’ argument is a smokescreen — an arbitrary timeline designed to mask the deaths of preborns. Once conception of a new human life has taken place, “avoiding unwanted pregnancy” is just a code word for killing those children.

But an even more important argument suggested, but never confronted, by the journal article, or the news stories that accompanied it, is: “Why would we want to reduce the number of abortions in the first place?” Abortion rights advocates constantly refer to abortion as “a difficult decision” – but why? If what is in a woman’s body at the moment of conception is not a human being, then who cares what is done to or with it? The fact is that everyone really knows that at conception a new human life begins. What our culture struggles with is whether we will be people who protect the weakest among us, or whether we will continue to make it legal for some humans to eliminate others, provided that they are too young and too weak to object.

The contemporary media makes it easy to choose the latter by presupposing the insignificance of unborn children, creating a class of humans that our culture deems fair game to kill.

Perhaps later I will address the fact that perceived invulnerability to pregnancy will lead to an increase in condom-free sex (I dislike the term “unprotected sex” as it calls up images of  pregnancy as some kind of marauding invader). Chlamydia is on the rise, as is syphilis in parts of the population. Some sexually transmitted diseases are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment.

But for now, this short analysis demonstrates the importance of making sure that we clearly define our terms when we discuss abortion, and not buy into the erroneous presuppositions of abortion-rights advocates. Before we determine what we ought to be able to do with something, we must first rightly assess what that thing is. Only once we clearly know what kind of object is before us, can we determine its value, and craft appropriate courses of action in reference to it. Skipping those first two steps, and heading directly into doing what one wants with they-know-not-what is not only some abstract recipe for disaster, it is what we have already done in this nation.

What makes it worse is that we know we are lying to ourselves when we deny the humanity and value of unborn children. And the result has been  the corruption of our national conscience and the deaths of millions of children.