What are Abortifacients?

pretty girl taking contraceptive pills

An abortifacient is defined as “a drug or agent that induces an abortion.”1  However, manufactures often market these drugs under the name “contraception” to make them more appealing to consumers.


Many Contraceptives Are Really Abortifacients

In 1963, the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) shared the widely-held definition of abortion as being “all the measures which impair the viability of the zygote at any time between the instant of fertilization and the completion of labor.”2 Indeed, until the mid‑1960s, scientists universally acknowledged that human life begins at the moment of fertilization of the ovum by the sperm, somewhere in the Fallopian tube.

In order to make abortion-causing methods more palatable in societies that still widely rejected abortion, and to circumvent laws designed to prohibit abortion, the promoters of birth control realized that they had to blur the line between conception-preventing (contraceptive) and early abortion-causing (abortifacient) actions.  They did this by changing the definition of “conception” from fertilization (union of sperm and ovum) to implantation.  Under the new definition of “conception,” if a device or drug ― such as an IUD or hormonal contraception ― prevents implantation, then no abortion takes place.

The “family planning” industry finally succeeded in 1965, when the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) published its first Terminology Bulletin, stating, “Conception is the implantation of a fertilized ovum.”3 It is important to note that this change terminology was clearly not based upon new scientific findings, but was a political decision to appease birth control activists.

Dr. J. Richard Sosnowski, head of the Southern Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a member group of ACOG, acknowledged this non-scientific change almost two decades later:

I do not deem it excellent to play semantic gymnastics in a profession . . . . It is equally troublesome to me that, with no scientific evidence to validate the change, the definition of conception as the successful spermatic penetration of an ovum was redefined as the implantation of a fertilized ovum.  It appears to me that the only reason for this was the dilemma produced by the possibility that the intrauterine contraceptive device might cause abortion.4

In other words, manufacturers of abortifacients call their products “contraceptives,” not because they prevent conception but because they prevent implantation.  As we shall see, this game of words is unscientific.


What Is True Contraception?

A true contraceptive method prevents conception in one or more of these ways:

  1. Placing an actual mechanical barrier such as a condom or cervical cap between the sperm and ovum to prevent them from uniting
  2. Thickening the cervical mucus, preventing the easy travel of sperm
  3. Inhibiting ovulation, preventing the release of a mature ovum
  4. Blocking the Fallopian tube or vas deferens through sexual sterilization.

When effective, all of these methods prevent a new human being from being created.


What Is an Abortifacient?

Recall that an abortifacient is “a drug or agent that induces an abortion.”1 Depending upon the type of abortifacient, this happens by preventing the implantation of the early human being (blastocyst) in the uterus, or by killing the unborn child shortly after implantation.

copper iuds

The copper IUD is an abortifacient.

There are two distinct kinds of abortifacients. The first includes drugs and devices that continually maintain a certain level of hormones in the woman’s body, mimicking pregnancy.  While these can also have a genuine contraceptive effect, each also has the potential to alter the lining of the uterus (endometrium) to prevent the implantation of a tiny human being.

Methods that prevent implantation include:

  • Oral contraceptives (OCs) such as the birth control pill
  • Intrauterine devices (IUDs)
  • Injectables such as Depo-Provera
  • Implants such as Norplant, Jadelle, Implanon and Nexplanon.

The second type of abortifacient directly kills an existing preborn child.  Also referred to as “medical abortion,” these include:

  • RU-486, the “abortion pill”
  • The methotrexate/misoprostol combination
  • “Emergency contraception.”  These abortifacients have many forms and are sometimes called “morning-after pills” (MAP).  They consist of high doses of the artificial steroids used in oral contraceptives.  Two brand names are Plan B and Preven.


The Input of Modern Science

Embryology (the field of science that specifically deals with the biological facts of the beginning of life) still holds that a new human being comes into existence at conception/fertilization, despite the birth control industry’s political victories in influencing the language of certain medical organizations.

Embryologists have found that from the first moment of conception, the new human being’s genetic code is complete, his sex is determined, and with proper nourishment in the womb he will continue to develop as every human being does. This is not a religious viewpoint; it is hard science.

There is also no scientific debate about the abortifacient effects of the drugs in question (though some drugs are still being tested), as the tiny embryonic human being may very well be killed when prevented from implanting in the womb. The manufacturers and promoters of these birth control methods, however, having largely won the debate over language, continue to market their products as “contraception.”

abortifacient birth control

The patient inserts for all abortifacients are available online, and descriptions of how they operate to alter the endometrium are shown below.  These products generally work to suppress ovulation and cause changes in the consistency of cervical mucus, making it more difficult for sperm to reach the ovum.  These are true contraceptive effects.  However, as we have seen,  these products also alter the uterine lining, making implantation much more difficult.  In a cycle where ovulation was not prevented and fertilization takes place, a “silent abortion” will occur.

  • Depo-Provera: “…inhibits the secretion of gonadotropins which, in turn, prevents follicular maturation and ovulation and results in endometrial thinning.” [Pfizer, “Highlights of Prescribing Information, 12.1, “Mechanism of Action,” publication LAB-0148-5.1].
  • Implanon: “…changes the lining of your uterus.” [“FDA-Approved Patient Labeling IMPLANON® (etonogestrel implant) Subdermal Use,” N.V. Organon insert dated March 2012, publication 900415-IMP-IPT-PPI.6].
  • Intrauterine Devices: “Studies of Mirena prototypes have suggested several mechanisms that prevent pregnancy: thickening of cervical mucus preventing passage of sperm into the uterus, inhibition of sperm capacitation or survival, and alteration of the endometrium . . . Mirena can cause your menstrual bleeding to be less by thinning the lining of the uterus” [“Mirena® (levonorgestrel-releasing intrauterine system) Highlights of Prescribing Information.”  Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals Inc., October 2009].
  • Jadelle:  “Levenorgestrel . . . also suppresses the endometrium and may prevent implantation of the blastocyst.” [“Jadelle Data Sheet,” section entitled “Pharmacodynamic Properties,” Bayer New Zealand Limited, August 30, 2010].
  • NuvaRing:  “NuvaRing Etonogestrel/Ethinyl Estradiol Vaginal Ring Patient Information.”
  • Plan B Contraception:  “It is thought that Plan B works by . . . preventing the fertilized egg from implanting (attaching to the uterus).” [“Information for Patients about Plan B.”  Los Angeles County STD Program, April 2009].
  • Yasmin: “Other possible mechanisms may include cervical mucus changes that inhibit sperm penetration and endometrial changes that reduce the likelihood of implantation” [“Highlights of Prescribing Information.”  Bayer HealthCare Pharmaceuticals Inc. 12.1, “Mechanism of Action,” April 2012].


Abortifacients Harm the Mother

The patient information pamphlets for the above abortifacients reveal that they cause a variety of more than 80 side effects depending upon the method, from the serious (paralysis, toxic shock syndrome, ectopic pregnancy, stroke and heart attack) to less serious (hypertension, anemia and varicose veins).

These side effects come from a powerful group of chemicals called steroids and synthetic progestogens and progestins. The use of such powerful chemicals which are foreign to the body, in addition to killing the child, inevitably leads to a large number of side effects.

This resource is available as an eight-page booklet that can be ordered from our store. Order copies through HLI’s online store here.



[1] Benjamin Miller and Claire Keane.  Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, third edition Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1983.

[2] Public Health Service leaflet No. 1066, United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), 1963, page 27.

[3] American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG).  Terminology Bulletin, “Terms Used in Reference to the Fetus.” Chicago: ACOG, September 1965.

[4] J. Richard Sosnowski, M.D.  “The Pursuit of Excellence: Have We Apprehended and Comprehended It?”  American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, September 15, 1984, page 117.


  1. Molly Smith on January 7, 2019 at 12:47 PM

    I am the host of From the Median, http://www.fromthemedian.org , a 5 night a week prolife radio program that airs in Ohio, Michigan and Virginia. The program format is four 10-minute segments. I would like to interview someone about this excellent article and wondered if you could help me set this up. I pre-record the program and usually record on Monday and Wednesday mornings. However I can be somewhat flexible with my schedule.
    Thank you for your assistance.

  2. Lin on May 30, 2019 at 8:01 AM

    What current, 2019-based study is there regarding birth control pills are still abortifacients?

    • HLI Staff on June 5, 2019 at 10:01 AM

      We would refer you to the patient information pamphlets for every method at the National Institute for Health’s DailyMed website at http://dailymed.nlm.nih.gov/dailymed/. All of the standard patient information pamphlets has in paragraph 12.1, “Clinical Pharmacology: Mechanism of action,” stating that all the hormonal methods prevent implantation as one of the three mechanisms of action.

  3. Sean Petersen on September 28, 2020 at 12:33 AM

    Do we have any statistics or guesses on how many abortions happen in a year due to abortifacients?

    • HLI Staff on September 28, 2020 at 9:10 AM

      Sean, great question. Using formulas based on the way the birth control pill works, pharmacy experts project that about 14 million chemical abortions occur in the United States each year.

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