Daniel Hill writes: "I have been discussing with a friend the possibility that the oral contraceptive pill functions as an abortifacient. See, e.g.,: The Growing Debate About the Abortifacient Effect of the Birth Control Pill and the Principle of Double Effect by Waltet Larimore, MD <http://www.epm.org/articles/pilldebate2.html> Ethics and Medicine (January, 2000;16(1):23-30)
A condensation of the booklet Does the Birth Control Pill Cause Abortions? <http://www.epm.org/articles/bcp5400.html>
Since I don't rule out contraception in general, but do rule out abortion, this is of great interest and concern to me. It may be of less interest to you, but this friend also argued that it was impermissible for somebody using NFP to drink coffee, since coffee can (he said) kill a newly fertilized egg (and, indeed, a foetus). Further, since, he went on, coffee affects the ovum, whether fertilized or not, he argued that it was impermissible for a woman ever to drink coffee (pre-menopause) since she would run the risk of damaging her ova in such a way that when fertilized they would not implant, and, hence, that one would be indirectly (though of course unintentionally) bringing about the death of a fertilized egg, should one later become sexually active.
Have you come across these arguments before? How should one respond to them?"
Respondeo: First, I take it that it is uncontroversial that the conventional 'pill' can act as an abortifacient. A similar thing is true of the 'Morning After Pill': that it can prevent fertilisation, but it also works by preventing implantation. If you take the thing after sex has occurred, the chance of it working (if it works) contraceptively, rather than by causing an abortion, is reduced, and continues to fall as time goes on.
I don't see what NFP has got to do with it.
But the coffee issue is less complicated that it looks. It is conceivable (though highly unlikely) that a woman is drinking coffee in order to cause an abortion, or to mutilate herself with a view to reducing her fertility. That would violate the prohibitions on intending those things.
But if not, then it is simply the familiar question: how much care must a (potentially) pregnant woman take over her health? And the answer is: be reasonable! If drinking coffee increases the chance of miscarriage only by some tiny per cent, and a woman regards giving up as a serious inconvenience, then she's under no obligation to give up. If the danger is significant and the inconvenience small, then she should give up. The same is true of crossing the road.
As it happens I've not heard that about coffee. But every other thing is supposed to be bad for pregnant women, and it's becoming absurd. What is really the worst thing for them, IMHO, is to turn them into neurotic invalids, but that's another story...
What is tricky is whether women taking chemicals advertised as 'contraceptives' ('emergency' or not) are guilty in any sense of abortion. Anyone who cares about it will find out quickly enough that taking those things act as abortifacients, but that doesn't settle the question of whether they intend them to act as such. They may, of course, but if they don't then there's still the wrongdoing of recklessness with an innocent life which the agent in question has a particular duty to protect.
Hope that helps.