(intra-uterine devices, or coils, also known as IUCDS or intra-uterine contraceptive devices) are small pieces of plastic, or plastic and metal, which are worn inside the woman’s uterus to protect against pregnancy. At first sight IUDS seem like ideal contraceptives. They can be worn for a long time, some even for many years, with only minimal routine checks. They have an acceptably high success rate. Their use is unrelated to the sexual act, and requires the minimum of participation from the user. Also, the method is easily reversible simply by removing the device. In practice, IUDS fall rather short of that ideal. Not only are they associated with some undesirable health risks, but their method of working poses problems for Christians.
When IUDS first became popular, little was understood about the way in which they protected from pregnancy. Research over recent years has shown that they work always or usually by preventing the fertilized ovum from implanting in the uterus. In some way the presence of a foreign body in the uterus sets up an inflammation in the lining of the uterus and makes it hostile, instead of receptive, to the blastocyst (fertilized ovum). As a result, the blastocyst passes out of the body and the uterus lining is shed in the normal way as a period.
To those who believe that life begins at conception, this poses an enormous dilemma. By allowing an egg to be fertilized and then preventing it from implanting the IUD is causing an early abortion. Because the IUD does not generally prevent the egg from being fertilized, it should not be called a method of— conception often still
takes place. This fact tends to be omitted from many discussions of contraceptive methods both in books and from family planning practitioners. Drs Stanway, Stanway and Cauthery, (at least two of whom are Christians), in The Complete book of Love and Sex, are some of the very few who actually point out that the IUD works in this way: ‘It should be considered as a kind of extremely early method of abortion rather than a type of.’ Many women (and men), Christian and non-Christian alike, are ignorant of the way in which the IUD works. When a doctor or book tells them that IUDS are contraceptives, they accept this unquestioningly. It doesn’t occur to ‘them to ask how it prevents pregnancy, and many doctors are not concerned to tell them.
But does life really begin at conception? I believe that medical andevidence proves that it does. On the medical front, it is well-known now that the fertilized egg contains the entire genetic blue-print that will determine that individual’s unique characteristics. On the front, Scripture makes it quite clear in several references that God is interested and involved in the child in the womb long before birth. When Mary (probably already pregnant) went to visit the pregnant Elizabeth, Mary could only have been a week or two pregnant. Yet the child in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) recognized Mary, and possibly the child in Mary’s womb (Jesus); he leapt with joy inside Elizabeth. If Mary had already conceived at this stage this is double evidence that there is something special about the unborn child, who in Mary’s case was only days rather than months old.
Some people argue that in any case there is a high proportion of ‘natural wastage’ among fertilized eggs; many never implant successfully, or at all, and so are flushed out of the body anyway. It used to be thought that anything up to seventy per cent of all fertilized ova suffered this fate, but a recent study demonstrates that it is far fewer, maybe as few as eight per cent. Consequently we can have no prece dent from nature, or God’s plan, to treat a new life casually. As Dr Richard Winter points out, deliberately destroying a fertilized egg which may or may not be destroyed by natural processes is rather like the moral difference between falling under a bus and being pushed.
So, where does that leave the concerned Christian? My own view is, as far away from an IUD as possible. Dr Huw Morgan writing on medicalin the Evangelical Times raises the question of whether the IUD is a ‘morally justifiable method of contraception’. Richard Winter points out that ‘Once the IUD and post-coital pill are accepted there is little impetus in research to find more morally acceptable and reliable methods.’ Tim and Beverly La Haye in The Act of Marriage say ‘since it is an abortive device we DO NOT recommend it’. I feel just the same way. It may be that the progestogen-elaborating IUD has a slightly more genuine contraceptive effect if it does all the other things that other progestogen-only methods do, but even so the possibility of preventing implantation still occurs.