Moral questions where facts are in dispute

My simple question is this:

We know if a drug is an abortifacient, there is a graver moral implication than if it were a simple contraceptive.

Say there is a drug - we know that one of the things it definitely does is prevent conception. But as to whether it is also an abortifacient, there seems to be a dispute. The vast majority of peer-reviewed scientific literature at the time of the question states it is merely a contraceptive; however, a minority of peer-reviewed scientific literature finds otherwise. The factual issue does not seem to have been definitively decided.

The question is, should the moral law approach this drug as a contraceptive, or as an abortifacient?

It all comes down to the reason behind using the drug. As long as one is not taking the drug to either contracept (which is immoral too) or to cause an abortion but is taking the drug to treat a medical condition, there is no sin.
Lots of drugs are potentially abortifacient (some drugs used to treat cancer and arthritis for example). Does that mean from a moral standpoint we should view these drugs as solely abortifacients? No. As long as the intent is not to cause an abortion but instead to treat a medical condition,a woman may take the drug.

Catholic probabilism

I think it would be wrong to take any drug that could endanger a fetus regardless of intent if a person knows they are pregnant.

This is not what the Church teaches.

One of the problems with this discussion is that not everyone is onboard with the meaning of words.

Take pregnancy. People who know that life begins at conception, assume that’s when the pregnancy begins. Most medical disciplines will tell you that pregnancy begins with implantation of the zygote in the uterine wall. Because this is the universally held definition of ‘pregnancy,’ they can say with a straight face “This birth control is not abortafacient.” even though they know and they advertise that their product hardens the uterine lining allowing a zygote that has been alive for 7-10 days to pass through and die.

Given the incongruity in the speech between medicine and Church, you should assume that all birth control is abortafacient.

This is true but with this caveat. When the woman and her medical professional make the decision to use an abortafacient or terratrogenic drug,(sorry about the spelling but I mean causing the fetus to become deformed) she must also refrain from marital relations while on the drug if she’s married, and if she’s not married, this is an impediment to valid marriage. You can’t say, ‘this is to treat a medical condition’ so don’t worry about the conceptions that die because the womb is impermeable, that actually would be a sin.

One should speak to their gynecologist who is prescribing the drug or a pharmacist. Also, most medications contain information leaflets that describe the action of the drug in question. Does it prevent the implantation of a fertilized embryo? Does it cause the fertilized embryo to be expelled from the body?

Using a contraceptive pill to treat a medical condition may be necessary but there are other options.

There are alternatives to The Pill:

I also recommend:

For other problems that occur before or after the first child, I suggest women contact: and


Simple? It’s never simple when we discuss these issues. :wink:

Graver, yes. The potential abortifcanient effect - and estimated size of the effect (big risk vs little risk) - needs to be weighed into the decision to use any given medicine or treatment. But it does not rule out such treatements entirely.

For any given drug/treatment, you do your best to determine the risks, and weigh those risks in your decisionmaking. The greater the risk, the graver the moral implication. The problem is that very little is known regarding the risks involved in taking any particular drug. Much is speculated, but little is known.

This is not Church teaching.

Some moral theologians would agree with you, while many others would not agree (including the apologists on this very site).

Why see a doctor? Drug interactions are well known. Not including other risk factors like allergic reactions, other physical problems that may prohibit using any particular drug and things a doctor would know. The patient cannot make an informed decision. That’s why it bugs me to see TV commercials where smiling people are shown and viewers are encouraged to take whatever, and especially the end where they add that some side effects like kidney failure, heart failure and (my favorite) death might occur - in a small percentage of patients. I’m not going to ask my doctor about THAT medicine. “May increase the chance of bladder cancer.” Seriously? Who comes up with this stuff?

By the way, I’m on one medication where death may happen “in a small percentage” of users. But hey, as long as I see all those smiling faces on TV… :rolleyes:


Sorry, to clarify, I meant that one would make these decisions in consultation with their doctor, of course.

But no doctor will be able to give specific advice regarding the abortifacient risks of any given medication, because the medical community in general does not know at this time. The are no current reliable ways to determine these things.

Taking any drug designed to induce abortion is wrong. I can’t name them but there are drugs available for this purpose, which is morally wrong. As far as associated risks, only a doctor can pre-screen a patient for the likelihood for increased risk. One remedy for drug failure is surgical abortion.

All miscarriages, without any intent on the part of the woman, is not the issue. Whether or not any drug is more or less likely, or unknown, to increase that risk can only be made by a medical professional. If there is no real reason to believe a drug may or may not lead to a miscarriage is solely up to the doctor based on present knowledge.


What are you positing is not Church teaching?

*]Women can not take abortafacient and/or fetus damaging drugs and continue to create zygote that will die. See Humana Vita

*]If a woman does take these drugs, she must refrain from marital relations, and if unmarried, the resulting relative impotence is an impediment to marriage. See CANON 1084 sections 1&2.

If there’s an apologist out there who can justify a fertile woman continuing to be open to procreation while taking a known abortafacient knowing what they do, I would really like to hear your reasoning.

You are confusing sterility and impotence. Drugs may render a person sterile. Sterility is not an impediment to marriage, but impotence is. Impotence is an inability to perform the sexual act, eg. A man incapable of an erection.

That a woman “must also refrain from marital relations while on the drug if she’s married, and if she’s not married, this is an impediment to valid marriage.”

The Church does not anywhere teach this.

Some theologians will argue the first part (refraining from marital relations), but the second part seems to be a misunderstanding on your part - see following.

I am very familiar with Humanae Vitae. If you think it says what you say you should cite the relevant section.

On the contrary, though, Humanae Vitae allows for what you say is immoral:

Lawful Therapeutic Means

  1. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.

Impotence is not relevant. I don’t think you understand the issues involved?

You can write to the apologists on this very website. They have frequently and consistently stated the position that a woman taking hormonal medication (for medical reasons, not contraceptive reasons) is not obliged to refrain from marital relations. I will find a few such posts for you if you like.

Actually, sterility has nothing to do with this conversation. If a drug renders a woman sterile, then there is no preborn life to protect. Then you are correct, there is no impediment.

Your definition of impotence in the context of canon law is incomplete. “A man incapable of an erection.” is an example of absolute impotence. Canon law recognizes relative impotence brought about by psychic factors and medical needs. Canon law is very clear that “whether absolute or relative” [impotence] nullifies marriage by its very nature.

Here are a few such posts by the apoligists here:

There are some theologians who take the other view - Janet Smith comes to mind - but she would not say it is “Church teaching” as such, just that the bad effects are not propotionately outweighed by the good effects.

Perhaps you would quote the definition of “relative impotence” (and with a reference to source) that you are applying in your statement: “if unmarried, the resulting **relative impotence **is an impediment to marriage. See CANON 1084 sections 1&2.”?

I understand impotence to be about the inability to have sex, and the ability to conceive or sustain a pregnancy is not a factor.

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