Vriezen: ‘Life at conception’ amendment threatens status of birth control

Claire Vriezen

It’s a popular catchphrase among pro-life groups: “Life begins at conception.” But what does that mean when it is proposed as a constitutional amendment? Well, if Mitt Romney becomes president (hell, probably if most of the current GOP candidates make it to the White House), we might see a constitutional amendment attributing personhood once conception occurs.

In an interview between Mike Huckabee and GOP candidate Romney, Huckabee asked Romney if he would support “a constitutional amendment that would have established the definition of life at conception,” to which Romney replied: “Absolutely.”

The problem with working to amend the constitution to define life as such is that the letter if not the spirit of such an amendment would criminalize birth control methods that prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.

In Romney’s recent visit to Sioux City, Iowa, a female voter asked him about this somewhat important technicality in defining life. After Romney reassured her that he didn’t oppose birth control, she went on to explain that some forms of birth control prevent a conception from turning into a viable pregnancy. Romney ultimately neglected to answer her question, regarding the status of birth control under his proposed amendment, leaving women such as myself wondering how such a change would affect our health care and contraceptive access.

The thing is, either politicians that support such an amendment don’t understand how hormone-based contraceptives work and thus don’t see how such an amendment could apply to birth control, or don’t care that the amendment would potentially criminalize such prescriptions.

I sincerely hope that it’s the former, since that merely demonstrates a knowledge gap that can be easily filled.

Some people might claim that pro-choice advocates are completely overreacting to this idea. But it seems that logically, it’s the only conclusion to draw from this type of legislation. If we are to constitutionally define life as beginning at conception, we assign the value of personhood once a sperm meets an egg. Then, anything that results in the death of that fertilized egg amounts to the elimination of life and personhood, and as pro-lifers would have you believe, murder.

Any sort of clarification that allows for exceptions in the case of birth control would go against the nature of such an amendment. This sort of legislation would be all or nothing.

Part of Romney’s response to the Iowa woman who questioned his stance on birth control was to claim “life begins at conception. Birth control prevents conception.” This shows a gross misunderstanding on his part regarding the mechanisms of contraception.

For those a bit fuzzy on the details of conception and birth control, here is a quick overview. Eggs are produced in ovaries. Ovaries are connected to fallopian tubes, which lead to a uterus. Generally, fertilization will occur in the fallopian tubes when an egg meets a sperm (conception). This fertilized egg then travels down the fallopian tubes and into the uterus, where it attaches to the lining. If nothing out of the ordinary happens, you wait several months and have a baby.

Hormonal methods of birth control such as the pill, the patch, intrauterine devices, Depo shots, birth control implants and vaginal rings all work in several ways to prevent pregnancy. They release hormones to suppress ovulation (no egg will be released for fertilization), they thicken cervical mucus to make it difficult for sperm to reach an egg, and they thin the lining of the uterus in order to prevent any fertilized eggs from attaching.

It is this last point that is important. If contraceptives work to prevent a fertilized egg from completing it’s natural course of implanting in the uterus, then a “life at conception” amendment would essentially qualify this as killing that life.

If you subscribe to this view, then the 40 percent of women that utilize some hormonal form of contraception are potentially ridding their bodies of fertilized eggs that have not been allowed to implant.

Sure, you can hold the opinion that life starts after a sperm and an egg join. But you must then realize the implications of attempting to formulate such a belief into law. If you believe that life begins at conception, then logically, you must be against nearly all forms of hormonal birth control that work to hinder conceptions after they occur.

While some pro-life groups completely reject hormone-based contraceptives, it seems to me that Romney cannot be both supportive of these methods as well as a “life at conception” amendment.

As Rachel Maddow put it, “Sometimes guys in politics talk about uteruses, and I’m not sure they really get it.” This looks to be one of those times. Any politician who wishes to amend the constitution to include such a specific definition of life should be expected to understand how that would impact women and how it could potentially limit reproductive options.