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Use of “Morning-After Pill” on the Rise

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last week that flew under the radar of most news organizations. They conducted a five-year study (2006–2010) on the use of the “morning-after pill” (labeled “emergency contraception” in the study—more on that later) and found that 11% of “sexually experienced women aged 15–44 . . . had used emergency contraception, up from 4.2% in 2002.” Thus, in less than ten years, use of this form of birth control has almost tripled.

Other facts released in the study include:

  • Most women who had ever used emergency contraception had done so once (59%) or twice (24%).
  • Young adult women aged 20–24 were most likely to have ever used emergency contraception; about one in four had done so (23%).
  • Almost 1 in 5 never-married women (19%), 1 in 7 cohabiting women (14%), and 1 in 20 currently or formerly married women (5.7%) had ever used emergency contraception.
  • Non-Hispanic white and Hispanic women were more likely to have ever used emergency contraception (11%) compared with non-Hispanic black women (7.9%).
  • Ever-use of emergency contraception increased with educational attainment—12% of women with a bachelor’s degree or higher and 11% of women with some college education had ever used it. This compares with 7.1% of women who had a high school diploma or GED and 5.5% of women with less than a high school education.

We can make a few key observations from this report. First, emergency birth control is on the rise. As this method of eliminating an unplanned pregnancy has become more normalized, the rates of use have gone up significantly.

Second, the use of emergency birth control is especially high in women in their 20’s. As the median age of first marriage gets older (28.7 for men and 26.5 for women as of 2011), the number of unmarried women having a sexual relationship increases. Most of those desire to avoid pregnancy and opt for emergency solutions when other methods fail or are not employed. This trend is likely to continue as marriage and children become less of a norm.

Third, education seems to increase the likelihood of using emergency birth control even though it also increases the likelihood of marriage. Despite the fact that married women are less likely to use the morning-after pill and women with more education tend to get married, the two trends do not track together. It is possible that those with more education using the emergency birth control are moving towards marriage but have not yet arrived at that stage.

So what should we make of this? Does this represent the demise of family and biblical sexuality in American culture? Should the church even be concerned?

In short, the church should be concerned on a few different levels. This issue is not going away any time soon, so we need to be prepared to address it. Let me note a few items for us to consider.

The first issue is a terminology problem. As evidenced in the report, the morning-after pill is labeled as emergency contraception. However, this is inaccurate. Contraception, by its very definition, is something that prevents conception. Plan B, Ella, and other forms of this pill are intended to prevent pregnancy after intercourse; thus, taking into account that fertilization may have already occurred. Therefore, they should be called birth control (preventing birth) rather than contraception.

The second issue is a life problem. The CDC report notes, “Emergency contraception can be used by women after sexual intercourse in an effort to prevent an unintended pregnancy. Roughly one-half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended.” Intended or unintended, pregnancies represent lives. Innocent human life in the form of a developing baby in the womb is that which is eliminated by emergency birth control. Those who are in favor of protecting unborn life should stand in opposition to the proliferation of these drugs. Unfortunately, our culture views children more as commodities than lives. They are financial investments and burdens rather than blessings (Psalm 127:3–5). We need to return to a biblical perspective on children and life in the womb.

The third problem is the lack of information in the church. Birth control is one of those issues we just don’t talk about. However, nearly a quarter of the women aged 20–24 in the survey had used emergency birth control. It’s a tough issue. You are talking about life, reproduction, medical decisions, and other aspects of the private lives of women all at the same time. Just because it is difficult, though, does not mean we should avoid it. My guess is that many of these women represent churches all across the United States. In fact, there are probably women scattered throughout Southern Baptist congregations who have used this form of birth control.

We need to talk about it. We need to inform our people. We need to protect life. In and of itself, it may not represent the demise of marriage and family in culture, but it certainly speaks to a trajectory we are currently on.

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Kimberly Daniels, Jo Jones, and Joyce Abma, “Use of Emergency Contraception Among Women Aged 15–44: United States, 2006–2010,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, February 2013.

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Evan Lenow

Assistant Professor of Ethics, Bobby L. and Janis Eklund Chair of Stewardship, Director of the Center for Biblical Stewardship, Associate Director of the Richard Land Center for Cultural Engagement, and Chair of the Ethics Department

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