Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Leader of the British House of Commons and Lord President of the Council, was corrected publicly by a Labour Member of Parliament when, in declining to engage in debate regarding ECP ('Emergency Contraception Pill', the so-called 'morning after pill') he referred to it as an 'abortifacient'.

The Labour M.P. (to whom Mr Rees-Mogg has yet to reply) stated that an ECP prevents ovulation and does not abort an embryo. Therefore, she stated, the term 'abortifacient' does not apply.

Is Mr Rees-Mogg expressing the position of the Roman Catholic Church on this matter or is it his own private conscience he is exercising ?

Both my wife and I chose, during our marriage, not to use contraception, nor to use ultra-sound prior to birth ; and we accepted responsibility for the outcomes (which was four healthy children).

  • 1
    Mr Rees-Mogg is not expressing the position of the Catholic Church on this matter and is expressing his own personal view on this matter.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 5, 2022 at 14:08
  • 2
    @KenGraham They can be abortifacient, though. WHO's statement that they "cannot interrupt an established pregnancy or harm a developing embryo" is completely false, but it is true that they can "prevent pregnancy by preventing or delaying ovulation" (i.e., by functioning as a contraceptive). "Morning-after pills" work, as Dr. Hilgers said, "in a number of different ways". They're technically "contraceptive-abortifacient pills".
    – Geremia
    Feb 5, 2022 at 20:26
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat. Feb 6, 2022 at 22:36
  • The Labour MP is simply wrong. Regular contraceptive pills prevent ovulation, but the ECP does not.
    – OrangeDog
    Feb 7, 2022 at 15:05
  • 1
    @NigelJ sound is not (in any definition I’ve seen) considered radiation. But not needing the information is a good answer 🙂
    – Tim
    Feb 7, 2022 at 16:17

3 Answers 3


"Morning-after pills" prevent conception if it hasn't occurred already or prevent implantation into the uterine wall if conception has occurred. In the latter case, they're abortifacient, killing the human embryo by starving him/her to death (as the umbilical cord, which provides the baby with nutrition, can't form unless implantation occurs).

Catholic OB/GYN Thomas W. Hilgers, M.D. describes their method of action (my emphases):

the oral contraceptive, while working in a number of different ways, also works on the lining of the uterus creating an endometrial dysfunction, the dysfunction of various endometrial vessels and other changes (Table 1-2). These effects were ones that would interfere with implantation and could label the birth control pill as, at the very minimum, potentially abortifacient.

Table 1-2: Endometrial atrophy, [is the] change in function of endometrial vessels and other changes in the endometrium (effects that interfere with implantation; abortifacient). […]

—Hilgers, Blinders: Revealing the Neglected American Public Health Crisis That Has Grown to Gigantic Proportions (2018), ch. 1 "Contraception, Abortion, and IVF: The Medical and Legal Roadmap"

  • 5
    @NigelJ "Emergency Contraception Pill" is a misnomer, as it's both potentially contraceptive and potentially abortifacient.
    – Geremia
    Feb 5, 2022 at 4:23
  • While true, how likely is it that conception has occurred in just 12-24 hours? Wouldn't it make more sense to be based on time taken and whether the egg is even there?
    – trlkly
    Feb 5, 2022 at 19:53
  • @trlkly "Wouldn't it make more sense…" Wouldn't what make more sense?
    – Geremia
    Feb 5, 2022 at 20:05
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    @trlkly Conception can happen within minutes when the egg is ready, and up to 5 days because the sperm remains viable while waiting for ovulation. See this article. Therefore, the key to know whether taking the pill is contraception or abortion-by-preventing-implantation is for the lady to know her fertile cycle precisely. Feb 6, 2022 at 16:49
  • @trlkly there's roughly a 1 in 28 chance or so, given that the typical menstrual cycle is roughly 28 days long.
    – jaredad7
    Feb 7, 2022 at 20:02

Mr Rees-Mogg is expressing what would be the popularly viewed position of the RCC.

Are they viewed "in the same light"? Morally, they are both viewed as "gravely disordered".

However, they are two distinct things.

There is a small semantic difference in the way "conception" is used in the medical world and in the Church. In the modern medical view, conception occurs when the fertilized egg implants itself in the endometrium. The more traditional, and Catholic view, is that conception occurs at fertilization.

Therefore, from a medical point of view, anything which prevents fertilization or implantation is deemed "contraceptive". Pregnancy only occurs when implantation occurs.

From the Catholic perspective, oral contraceptives - including the "Plan B" morning after pill - are potential abortifacients. I say potential because, if they fail to prevent fertilization, they prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.

WebMD note on how the contraceptive Apri works (this is true of all hormonal contraceptives):

Apri is a combination birth control pill containing female hormones that prevent ovulation (the release of an egg from an ovary). Apri also causes changes in your cervical mucus and uterine lining, making it harder for sperm to reach the uterus and harder for a fertilized egg to attach to the uterus.

AMA document discussing the Plan B pill:

The Plan B pill is a post-coital contraception method which transiently provides a high dose of (1) combined estrogen and progestin or (2) progestin-only to inhibit or delay ovulation--or induce minor changes to the endometrium to inhibit ovum implantation; therefore, it cannot terminate an established pregnancy

St. Jerome (Letter 22) seems to consider them to be equal in gravity:

But others drink potions to ensure sterility and are guilty of murdering a human being not yet conceived. Some, when they learn they are with child through sin, practice abortion by the use of drugs.

Whereas St. John Chrysostom seems to consider contraception more grave than abortion:

Why do you sow where the field is eager to destroy the fruit? Where there are medicines of sterility? Where there is murder before birth? ... Indeed, it is something worse than murder and I do not know what to call it; for she does not kill what is formed but prevents its formation. What then? Do you condemn the gift of God, and fight with His laws?

Chrysostom's point is that contraception is worse than abortion because, while abortion is the destruction of life, contraception acts to deny the possibility of being.

  • That's an important point regarding implantation. To prevent implantation is to prevent conception. Fertilisation is not a completed 'conception' if implantation is being prevented. Up-voted +1.
    – Nigel J
    Feb 6, 2022 at 16:35
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    – agarza
    Feb 6, 2022 at 20:28
  • Of course, this begs the question "does St. John Chrysostom consider abstinence equally abhorrent?". (And I'll note that the answer might well be "yes", at least for someone that's married.) But that in turn begs the question why chastity is praised in the Bible. All of this (OP question included) points to there being a line somewhere, which we humans don't seem to have a very clear idea where it lies.
    – Matthew
    Feb 7, 2022 at 16:22
  • @PeterTurner, sure. Say, rather, I'm aware that certain people (I'll concede you are not one) insist on those words carrying an archaic and obscure meaning that is mostly only understood by fellow pedants, and I cheerfully and deliberately reject their attempt to dictate language in that particular manner. In the words of Adam Savage, "I reject [their] reality and substitute my own." 🙂
    – Matthew
    Feb 7, 2022 at 18:10

There are a handful of cases where it is ethically permissible to administer Plan-B contraceptives

  1. The woman is not already pregnant from prior, freely-chosen sexual activity.

  2. The woman has been sexually assaulted.

  3. The woman has not yet ovulated (i.e. has not released an egg from her ovary into the fallopian tube where it could be fertilized by the attacker’s sperm).

  4. The morning-after pill can reasonably be expected to prevent her from ovulating.

So, no prevention of ovulation is not seen in the same light as abortion, but you can't prevent ovulation if ovulation has already taken place, all you can do is wait for the secondary effect of plan b (i.e. starve and murder the most innocent of all God's creatures) to take place.

Catholic hospitals are supposed to require an ovulation test (which is not complicated, may-or-may not be accurate, but is the best we can currently do).

If ovulation tests were entirely accurate, it would be a lot easier to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy, but AFAIK, the best methods of Natural Family Planning are sympto-thermal, which requires daily charting of temperature and mucous. So it's pretty clear Catholic Bioethics is even giving a little leeway in the realm of, "we're possibly killing an embryo, but our best guess is, we're just preventing an egg from showing up. "

Reference: https://www.ncbcenter.org/making-sense-of-bioethics-cms/column-029-getting-it-right-the-morning-after

To those who think it's worth it to worry about the meanings of the words Conception and Fertilization. It's pretty clear that the Church is more concerned about 'ensoulment' and the particulars of that she leaves up to God, granting Him the greatest possible leeway means the-point-that-matters-no-matter-what-you-call-it is at or at least in the process of fertilization.

  • If I get the terminology and the science right, OP doesn't ask whether the RCC sees prevention of ovulation in the same light as abortion, but prevention of implantation; and my guess is that a sexually assaulted woman could be given a morning-after pill because she a) has a legitimate reason to try to prevent a pregnancy and b) she does not will the destruction of an innocent life, but merely acts in a way that may potentially lead to it. If that's true, it would also be true if we treat prevention of implantation and abortion the same way.
    – sgf
    Feb 11, 2022 at 14:59
  • @sgf, I certainly think this is the case. Which is why the IUD is "extra bad" IMO as a Catholic
    – Peter Turner
    Feb 11, 2022 at 15:52

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