An Interview with Dr. Thomas Hilgers & Larry Frieders
The following is a frank and provocative discussion about chemical abortion, one of the most critically important of all sanctity of life issues. It includes an intriguing examination of those drugs that masquerade as mere contraceptives. Furthermore, the presentation explores these topics from both a spiritual and a scientific perspective. The gentlemen featured in the interview are experts in their respective professional fields. Dr. Thomas Hilgers is an OB/GYN physician, an author, and the Director of the Pope Paul VI Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction in Omaha, Nebraska. Larry Frieders, at the time of the interview, was a businessman, an experienced pharmacist and the Vice-President of Pharmacists for Life. The interviewer is Denny Hartford, the Director of Vital Signs Ministries, an evangelical pro-life agency in Omaha, Nebraska.
HARTFORD: Dr. Hilgers, can we begin by discussing why Christians should be concerned about the "new abortionists,” those drugs and devices that do not involve surgery but which still end the lives of preborn boys and girls?
HILGERS: For a number of years chemical abortifacients have been available. In fact, they have been used extensively. But for the most part, people of all faiths and backgrounds haven't been aware of it. There's a profound amount of ignorance out there with regard to the abortion effects of birth control pills and other chemicals on the market.
HARTFORD: Larry, I know that in your roles as a professional pharmacist and one of the leaders of Pharmacists for Life, you agree there is a tremendous amount of confusion, even misinformation, on this subject. What do you think are some of the initial problems that we need to address?
FRIEDERS: Well, when you look at the literature and the information that's available on the birth control pill, you find that the salient facts are all there. Those facts are in the package inserts, the Physicians’ Desk Reference and a variety of other sources. It’s quite clear what these oral contraceptives do. They are indicated only for the prevention of pregnancy. And there are three mechanisms of how the birth control pills work and they're well established. They've been known for years. The most commonly portrayed method is that the pill interferes with ovulation. So if you don't have a viable egg being produced, you're not going to get pregnant. This action is certainly a type of contraception. However, when that fails, and it does fail, the "back-up mechanisms" by which pregnancies are avoided come into play.
Obviously, the "back-up mechanism" that we're most concerned with is the one that changes the woman's body in such a way that if there is a new life, that tiny human loses the ability to implant and grow and be nourished by the mother. Again, the facts are clear. I learned them in school. I had to answer those questions on my state board pharmacy exam. The problem is getting that knowledge from one’s intellect down to where it becomes part of who we are. I had to accept the fact that I was participating in the sale and distribution of a product that was actually causing the loss of life. So it's not that the facts aren’t there, but rather that there's something keeping the knowledge from getting to one’s conscience.
HARTFORD: Dr. Hilgers, when we mention chemical abortion many people will think of RU-486 or they may even think of a third world country with a witch doctor giving an expectant mother drugs for abortion. But, the issue is much, much broader. We're talking about a whole new generation of drugs that are killing unborn children in sophisticated, seemingly progressive cultures.
HILGERS: Indeed. The use of oral contraceptives and intrauterine devices are the main two abortifacients that have been here in the United States for many decades. I wrote a paper more than 40 years ago explaining in detail the abortifacient effects of the intrauterine device. The basic facts about life or death involved in that issue have not changed at all. And what Mr. Frieders has said about the long-standing knowledge of the birth control pill’s adverse effects on the lining of the uterus is certainly true. And concerning progressive societies, the U.S. government has given previous okays to drugs like RU-486 and Norplant which have as one of their primary mechanisms the disturbance of the lining of the uterus. When this lining is injured, it is done for the specific purpose of destroying the new life that is created if ovulation occurs.
HARTFORD: Larry, in order to understand these things fully, we may have to go back to some basic biology, specifically the scientific facts surrounding the beginning of human life. What is conception? And, please explain again at what point in the process of the development of the child that these drugs and devices actually interfere to end human life.
FRIEDERS: Life begins at the beginning. There is only one point in time when a new life is created. And that's when there are 23 chromosomes from mom and 23 chromosomes from dad that miraculously come together to create a new cell containing 46 chromosomes. It is an organism unlike any that's ever existed in the past and totally unlike anything that will ever exist again. It is a human being. It is not part of the mother's body. It is a cell of 46 chromosomes made up of two other half cells. It is human life.
Now, during the seven to ten days that this new life is progressing down the fallopian tube, it is growing in size continuously. It is doubling and doubling and doubling until it reaches a point where it needs to attach to the mother's uterus in order to gain additional nourishment from her blood supply. But at no time does this very tiny human child ever become part of the woman's body. Nor is the mother part of the child. The mother is a vessel in which this child is growing. The mother is providing nourishment and providing a safe and warm place for the baby to survive. The blood supplies are totally different. Mother and child do not share chemical activities of the body. And at no time does the baby become a part of the mother. That's the physiology that so obviously contradicts the rhetoric of abortion. The mother does not have a moral right to have the other person killed.
HARTFORD: Dr. Hilgers, at what point then do these drugs interrupt the process? I know that the American Medical Association attempted a few years ago to actually redefine conception in order to allow for an easier acceptance of these drugs. Could you discuss that and tell us exactly how abortions are occurring through the use of abortifacient chemicals?
HILGERS: The chemical abortions we are speaking of take place at the point where implantation occurs, that is, in the lining of the uterus. As Mr. Frieders said, that’s seven to nine days following conception. And, yes, the American Medical Association and other organizations did try and redefine the beginning of human life specifically to help sell abortifacient devices and drugs. What they did was reject the traditionally accepted and scientifically authenticated definition (namely, conception) and substitute an irrational myth that life did not begin until implantation or even later. It was a purely political decision and not at all based on fact. It was done simply done to redefine abortion in hopes that devices like the IUD and drugs like birth control pills would no longer be thought of as abortive. It's interesting to note that this redefinition began in the sixties with the intrauterine device amid the concerns of religious groups in Pakistan and India particularly. The manufacturers of the devices (and their friends) were worried that these devices would not be accepted in these cultures and so the "sales pitch" ignored science altogether and centered on changing language instead.
HARTFORD: What we are learning here is that the developing human child, created in the image and likeness of God, is left homeless by the actions of these drugs and devices. The new human being is unable to implant in the uterus and is thus left to die an ignoble and secret death. Through the chemicals and the IUDs, we do indeed have the termination of a life. We have an abortion. Gentlemen, why is this not common knowledge? You both have said that this information has been around for decades that it is in black and white in the Physicians’ Desk Reference and even in the literature of the manufacturers. Why then is there so much misinformation, even from Christian physicians and clergy, about these crucial matters?
HILGERS: I must say that a large amount of it comes from the physicians themselves. Physicians have simply denied these devices are abortive. With regard to the birth control pill, doctors will argue that it acts as a contraceptive most of the time, which is probably true. But at the same time they deny that at least some of the time the pills are abortive. This denial has become a part of their practice to such an extent that the truth is no longer a part of their ethical sensitivity. When talking to patients about any of these devices and chemicals, they avoid telling them about the possibility that they might be abortive. Part of our responsibility is to bring the truth out so people can make ethically true decisions.
HARTFORD: Dr. Hilgers, some Christians will suggest that though their own doctor may prescribe birth control pills, they must certainly be prescribing the types of pills that do not endanger the unborn. Are there anybirth control pills out there that do not pose the danger of aborting a developing child?
HILGERS: Denny, thanks for the plain question. Let me give you a plain answer - there are none! At my last count in looking at the Physicians’ Desk Reference, (that’s the big book that all doctors possess and which describes all the medicines that are on the market), there were more than 40 different types of birth control pills. You see, when we talk about the birth control pill, we are not talking about the same pill. They have different concentrations of chemicals that make them work. But none of these so-called birth control pills have a mechanism which is completely contraceptive. Put the other way around – all available birth control pills have a mechanism which disturbs or disintegrates the lining of the uterus to an extent that the possibility of abortion exists.
HARTFORD: Regarding the chances of "breakthrough" ovulation, Dr. Hilgers – just how high could that figure be?
HILGERS: I would say that most birth control pills on the market have anywhere from a 4% to 10% chance of allowing "breakthrough" ovulation. There are pills called mini-pills which contain only a progesterone-like hormone where the percentage of ovulations are probably more in the 50% to 60% range.
HARTFORD: You certainly deal with men and women who expect advice on birth control, Dr. Hilgers. What do you say to them?
HILGERS: Denny, my job is rather easy in this respect because in about two minutes I can describe for them how a woman's body itself can tell them with remarkable accuracy when she is fertile and when she is not fertile. In fact, I can assure them that by improved methods of natural family planning, they can know effectiveness ratings at least as accurate as the birth control pills or other devices that they may be relying upon. My patients are like men and women throughout the West; that is, they are generally unaware of the inherent dangers of birth control pills and devices. But they are equally unaware of the more healthy, more spiritually sound options represented by modern methods of natural family planning.
People have this notion that the much-derided "calendar rhythm" method of some eighty years ago doesn't work. But that's irrelevant to a discussion of modern methods. Contemporary methods of natural family planning which carefully define the times of a woman's fertility and infertility are very, very effective for both achieving and avoiding pregnancy. And they're not methods of contraception at all. They give the couple the freedom to choose, if you will, whether to have a child or not to have a child. So again, Denny, my job is pretty easy because it involves sharing good news about their health, their emotional and spiritual lives, and their moral responsibilities. They're often rather startled because nobody's ever told them this before but they are usually very happy to learn the facts and we then build on that secure foundation. I explain in detail about modern natural family planning, particularly the Creighton model system which we've been involved in researching for so many years now. This is a sort of a gynecologic health-maintenance system.
HARTFORD: Your advice must be very unlike that of many OB/GYN doctors, is it not?
HILGERS: I'm afraid so. I’m well aware that birth control pills are probably the major medicine that gynecologists prescribe. People usually think of the pill as just for contraceptive purposes, but doctors prescribe them for ovarian cysts, to eliminate unusual bleeding, to regulate the cycle when the cycle might be too long or too short, to treat endometriosis, to treat pre-menstrual tension syndrome, and so on. There's a whole variety of conditions that brings a patient into the gynecologist and that doctor will often put them on the birth control pill to solve it. But you see the birth control pill doesn't solve any of those problems! It only suppresses the system. It only covers it up or disguises the underlying cause of all these different kinds of problems. This is a tremendous tragedy.
Since I haven't been involved in the prescription of birth control pills for many years, I have instead been studying how we can offer genuine treatments for these disorders. By using this health-maintenance system, we can tell if women have ovarian cysts. We can tell if they have unusual bleeding and what the causes are. If a woman has pre-menstrual syndrome, for instance, we can treat her menstrual cycles and ovulation cycles in a way that's not merely suppressive or, worse yet, actually destructive. So it's a whole new way of practicing medicine and it is very exciting, very rewarding. It uses the skills and talents that I've spent a lot of time trying to learn over many years in a way that's really constructive to my patients. And when they hear about that they're very pleased.
HARTFORD: Larry, you also take a position on the pill which is unpopular with many in your profession. You argue that since the pill is not a medicine, it is actually a bizarre thing for pharmacists to prescribe.
FRIEDERS: You're right, Denny. Dr. Hilgers' point is a very important one. Not one of the maladies for which the pill is commonly prescribed is documented in the official literature or in the package inserts. So to use those pills for something other than it's only indication (which, of course, is to prevent pregnancy), is to use it inappropriately. One might argue in this litigious society, it might even be to use it illegally! Again, the FDA is very specific about what the pill can be used for and there's only one indication. So it puts the pharmacist in an unusual situation. Here we are dispensing things in good faith, on the orders of a doctor – and yet in many cases, the drugs are being used inappropriately.
HARTFORD: What about the commercial power of the birth control industry? The dollars involved here must be incredible.
FRIEDERS: Well, you have 28 little pills; they're very small and I'm sure they do not cost much to make. However, they sell for a lot of money. Indeed, the birth control pill industry makes profits in the billions. So we're up against a very large financial interest. So when you make a decision not to sell pills, not to prescribe pills, or even when you make a decision to unequivocally avoid using the pill – you are opening yourself up to an awful lot of powerful criticism. What you become to your peers is a voice to their conscience. Once somebody sees you responding positively to the truth when they are not, people are hurt and convicted and angry.
HARTFORD: So, one of the reasons for the misinformation and the confusion on these issues, is that we're actually opposing a powerful and entrenched industry. There is a lucrative market here that the industry doesn't want disturbed.
HILGERS: It influences the medical professional's practice significantly, Denny. Several years ago I did a study on the amount of advertising dollars that went into the professional journals. We looked at the five major journals of obstetrics and gynecology. 25% percent of all the advertising in those journals was provided by the contraceptive industry. Millions of dollars go to those journals to support those advertisements. The numbers of dollars and the international contraceptive industrialization that has gone on in the last 50 years is really incredible. This is really big-time business.
HARTFORD: Debra Evans, a prominent evangelical author who has dealt with medical ethics in her work, has emphasized the tremendous difficulties facing the pro-life community as they seek to protect the unborn from the waves of chemical abortion now upon us. The Christian community never addressed the immorality of even surgical abortion very effectively. Unless, there is repentance and strong resolve, we will fare even worse in this new battleground. Education is key but people must choose to obey the truth when they have heard it. And that means doctors, preachers and lay people all taking the challenge to live in the light of the truth.
Gentlemen, thank you so much for sharing this time with me. Let me quickly sum up. Through surgical abortion, just in the United States alone, we are destroying nearly 4,000 children every day. These are precious babies created in the image and likeness of God. And there has developed in our nation at least a theological consensus against this slaughter of the innocents. Churches decry the unjust and barbaric inhumanity represented by the knives and suction machines of the abortionists. However, what you have learned here is that the devil is destroying millions of other innocent victims through chemicals. Make no mistake, though – this is also abortion. It is no less sinister a moral crime.
We want to encourage you to look very carefully at the evidence and make certain that your public (and personal) witness to the sanctity of all human life is comprehensive and consistent. If there has been sin, confess to the forgiving Christ of the cross and sin no more. If there has been cowardice and willful ignorance, forsake them now and walk in the healing light and love of the Savior.
(This interview was conducted in late 1980’s but, because the information it reveals remains as accurate and critically relevant as ever, we are pleased to publish this edited version.)