Republican politician says the IUD is an “abortifacient,” but science doesn’t support him.

November 4, 2014

Abortion, Contraception

Colorado Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Bob Beauprez (Screenshot from The Rachel Maddow Show)

Colorado Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Bob Beauprez (Screenshot from The Rachel Maddow Show)

By Joseph Lachman
Published 11/4/2014

“The IUD is an abortifacient,” Colorado Republican Bob Beauprez said during a recent political debate, when asked about his position on contraception.

First of all, it looks like Bob Beauprez doesn’t understand how the IUD works.

Remember that this is the same birth control that Hobby Lobby misleadingly claimed caused abortion.

For the medical community’s view on this subject, let’s look at the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, where Dr. Roberto Rivera, Dr. Irene Yacobson, and Dr. David Grimes published a study on this subject. If you can’t view the study yourself, here’s the abstract (bold and italics added by this article’s writer):

“Modern hormonal contraceptives and intrauterine contraceptive devices have multiple biologic effects. Some of them may be the primary mechanism of contraceptive action, whereas others are secondary. For combined oral contraceptives and progestin-only methods, the main mechanisms are ovulation inhibition and changes in the cervical mucus that inhibit sperm penetration. The hormonal methods, particularly the low-dose progestin-only products and emergency contraceptive pills, have effects on the endometrium that, theoretically, could affect implantation. However, no scientific evidence indicates that prevention of implantation actually results from the use of these methods. Once pregnancy begins, none of these methods has an abortifacient action. The precise mechanism of intrauterine contraceptive devices is unclear. Current evidence indicates they exert their primary effect before fertilization, reducing the opportunity of sperm to fertilize an ovum. (Am J Obstet Gynecol 1999;181:1263-9.)”

This clearly rejects Beauprez’s statement, but why did he say this in the first place? Taking a step back, let’s establish some context.

This issue of contraception has come to the forefront in Colorado since the state reported a 40% decrease in teen pregnancy over the period from 2009 to 2013 with the introduction of long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) for low-income women in the form of the intrauterine device (IUD). While causation is difficult to prove, it is worth noting that teen pregnancy rates and abortion rates declined substantially during this period, more than would have been expected without the introduction of affordable and easy-to-use birth control.

Bob Beauprez confirmed his opposition to this form of contraception with his statement, claiming that IUDs cause abortions in women. However, instead of simply listening to a male politician, let’s find what modern medical science says about the basics of the IUD.

What are the commonly used modern types of IUD and how do they work?

1. The copper IUD (Paragard)

birth control ParaGard IUD

  • Device consists of copper wire wrapped around a T-shaped piece of plastic inserted into the uterus
  • Releases small amounts of copper ions that kills sperm before they can reach the egg
  • Effective continually for 10-12 years

2. The hormonal IUD (Mirena or Skyla)

birth control Mirena IUD

  • Also a small T-shaped piece of plastic inserted into uterus.
  • Releases small amounts of progestin, which damages or kills sperm, causes thickening of the mucus in the cervix that prevents sperm from reaching the egg, and prevents the lining of the uterus from thickening, meaning that in very rare cases when the egg actually is fertilized, it is unlikely to implant.
  • Mirena is effective for 5 years, and Skyla for 3.
  • Can reduce menstrual bleeding and cramps
  • Can also reduce risk of ectopic pregnancy (egg implantation in the Fallopian tubes instead of the uterus)

(Sources: Planned Parenthood’s website, WedMD, Photos also from Planned Parenthood website)

Like any medical technology, it carries risks, but more importantly the IUD is not designed to end pregnancies. Myths about the purpose and safety of the IUD seem to have come from outdated information about IUDs, such as the Dalkon Shield in the 1970s, which caused a large backlash against poorly tested medical devices, but is of course no longer in use.

Whether you are “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” you should not allow ideological beliefs override your ability to accept the results of scientific studies, even when they do not agree with your view.

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About jslachman381

I'm a Yale graduate who majored in History of Science, Medicine, and Public Health.

View all posts by jslachman381


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