Systematic Review of Ovarian Activity and Potential for Embryo Formation and Loss during the Use of Hormonal Contraception

Donna Harrison, Cara Buskmiller, Monique Chireau, Lester A. Ruppersberger, Patrick P. Peung Jr.

The Linacre Quarterly


The purpose of this review was to determine whether there is evidence that ovulation can occur in women using hormonal contraceptives and whether these drugs might inhibit implantation. We performed a systematic review of the published English-language literature from 1990 to the present which included studies on the hormonal milieu following egg release in women using any hormonal contraceptive method. High circulating estrogens and progestins in the follicular phase appear to induce dysfunctional ovulation, where follicular rupture occurs but is followed by low or absent corpus luteum production of progesterone. Hoogland scoring of ovulatory activity may inadvertently obscure the reality of ovum release by limiting the term “ovulation” to those instances where follicular rupture is followed by production of a threshold level of luteal progesterone, sufficient to sustain fertilization, implantation, and the end point of a positive β-human chorionic gonadotropin. However, follicular ruptures and egg release with subsequent low progesterone output have been documented in women using hormonal contraception. In the absence of specific ovulation and fertilization markers, follicular rupture should be considered the best marker for egg release and potential fertilization. Women using hormonal contraceptives may produce more eggs than previously described by established criteria; moreover, suboptimal luteal progesterone production may be more likely than previously acknowledged, which may contribute to embryo loss. This information should be included in informed consent for women who are considering the use of hormonal contraception.

Harrison D, Buskmiller C, Chireau M, Ruppersberger LA,Peung PP.   Systematic Review of Ovarian Activity and Potential for Embryo Formation and Loss during the Use of Hormonal Contraception. Linacre Quarterly. 2019 Jan 03; 85(4):453–469.

There is no defence for ‘Conscientious objection’ in reproductive health care

Christian Fiala, Joyce H. Arthur

There is no defence for 'Conscientious objection' in reproductive health care


A widespread assumption has taken hold in the field of medicine that we must allow health care professionals the right to refuse treatment under the guise of ‘conscientious objection’ (CO), in particular for women seeking abortions. At the same time, it is widely recognized that the refusal to treat creates harm and barriers for patients receiving reproductive health care. In response, many recommendations have been put forward as solutions to limit those harms. Further, some researchers make a distinction between true CO and ‘obstructionist CO’, based on the motivations or actions of various objectors. This paper argues that ‘CO’ in reproductive health care should not be considered a right, but an unethical refusal to treat. Supporters of CO have no real defence of their stance, other than the mistaken assumption that CO in reproductive health care is the same as CO in the military, when the two have nothing in common (for example, objecting doctors are rarely disciplined, while the patient pays the price). Refusals to treat are based on non-verifiable personal beliefs, usually religious beliefs, but introducing religion into medicine undermines best practices that depend on scientific evidence and medical ethics. CO therefore represents an abandonment of professional obligations to patients. Countries should strive to reduce the number of objectors in reproductive health care as much as possible until CO can feasibly be prohibited. Several Scandinavian countries already have a successful ban on CO.

Fiala C, Arthur JH. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2017 Jul 23. pii: S0301-2115(17)30357-3. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2017.07.023. [Epub ahead of print]

Doctors Have no Right to Refuse Medical Assistance in Dying, Abortion or Contraception

Julian Savulescu, Udo Schuklenk


Abstract:  In an article in this journal, Christopher Cowley argues that we have ‘misunderstood the special nature of medicine, and have misunderstood the motivations of the conscientious objectors’. We have not. It is Cowley who has misunderstood the role of personal values in the profession of medicine. We argue that there should be better protections for patients from doctors’ personal values and there should be more severe restrictions on the right to conscientious objection, particularly in relation to assisted dying. We argue that eligible patients could be guaranteed access to medical services that are subject to conscientious objections by: (1) removing a right to conscientious objection; (2) selecting candidates into relevant medical specialities or general practice who do not have objections; (3) demonopolizing the provision of these services away from the medical profession.

Savulescu J, Schuklenk U.  (2016) Doctors Have no Right to Refuse Medical Assistance in Dying, Abortion or Contraception. Bioethics. doi:10.1111/bioe.12288

Referrals for Services Prohibited In Catholic Health Care Facilities

Debra B. Stulberg, Rebecca A. Jackson, Lori R. Freedman

Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health

Abstract | Context: Catholic hospitals control a growing share of health care in the United States and prohibit many common reproductive services, including ones related to sterilization, contraception, abortion and fertility. Professional ethics guidelines recommend that clinicians who deny patients reproductive services for moral or religious reasons provide a timely referral to prevent patient harm. Referral practices in Catholic hospitals, however, have not been explored.

Methods: Twenty-seven obstetrician-gynecologists who were currently working or had worked in Catholic facilities participated in semistructured interviews in 2011–2012. Interviews explored their experiences with and perspectives on referral practices at Catholic hospitals. The sample was religiously and geographically diverse. Referral-related themes were identified in interview transcripts using qualitative analysis.

 Results: Obstetrician-gynecologists reported a range of practices and attitudes in regard to referrals for prohibited services. In some Catholic hospitals, physicians reported that administrators and ethicists encouraged or tolerated the provision of referrals. In others, hospital authorities actively discouraged referrals, or physicians kept referrals hidden. Patients in need of referrals for abortion were given less support than those seeking referrals for other prohibited services. Physicians received mixed messages when hospital leaders wished to retain services for financial reasons, rather than have staff refer patients elsewhere. Respondents felt referrals were not always sufficient to meet the needs of low-income patients or those with urgent medical conditions.

 Conclusions: Some Catholic hospitals make it difficult for obstetrician-gynecologists to provide referrals for comprehensive reproductive services.

Stulberg DB, Jackson  RA, Freedman LR.  Referrals for Services Prohibited In Catholic Health Care Facilities. Perspect Sex Repro H, 48:111–117. doi:10.1363/48e10216

Controversy over doctors’ right to say “no”: The most controversial issues relate to abortion referrals or prescribing birth control

Wendy Glauser

Canadian Medical Association Journal

Religious groups, doctor’s organizations, ethicists and abortion rights advocates are raising concerns around the review of an Ontario policy that outlines, among other things, physicians’ right to object to patients’ requests for services on moral grounds.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario’s Physicians and Ontario Human Rights Code is up for its five-year review, with both public and expert opinion being sought. . .

Glauser W. Controversy over doctors’ right to say “no”: The most controversial issues relate to abortion referrals or prescribing birth control. CMAJ September 16, 2014 186:E483-E484; published ahead of print August 18, 2014

When Religious Freedom Clashes with Access to Care

I. Glenn Cohen, Holly Fernandez Lynch, Gregory D. Curfman


At the tail end of this year’s Supreme Court term, religious freedom came into sharp conflict with the government’s interest in providing affordable access to health care. In a consolidated opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell (collectively known as Hobby Lobby) delivered on June 30, the Court sided with religious freedom, highlighting the limitations of our employment-based health insurance system.

Hobby Lobby centered on the contraceptives-coverage mandate, which derived from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate that many employers offer insurance coverage of certain “essential” health benefits, including coverage of “preventive” services without patient copayments or deductibles. The ACA authorized the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to define the scope of those preventive services, a task it delegated to the Institute of Medicine, whose list included all 20 contraceptive agents approved by the Food and Drug Administration. HHS articulated various justifications for the resulting mandate, including the fact that many Americans have difficulty affording contraceptives despite their widespread use and the goal of avoiding a disproportionate financial burden on women. Under the regulation, churches are exempt from covering contraception for their employees, and nonprofit religious organizations may apply for an “accommodation,” which shifts to their insurance companies (or other third parties) the responsibility for providing free access. However, HHS made no exception for for-profit, secular businesses with religious owners. . .

Cohen IG, Lynch HF, Curfman GD. When Religious Freedom Clashes with Access to Care. N Engl J Med 2014; 371:596-599 August 14, 2014 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1407965

Contraception and the birth of corporate conscience

Elizabeth Sepper

Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law


Corporations — for-profit and non-profit, religiously affiliated and secular — have filed approximately sixty lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employee health insurance plans cover contraception. In this paper, I contend that a dangerous doctrine of “corporate conscience” may be born of the contraception controversy. Already, a number of courts have indicated a willingness to accept that artificial business entities incorporated for secular, profit-making aims have religious beliefs and consciences that excuse them from compliance with law. Their reasoning repudiates longstanding foundations of corporate law. It transforms conscience, which is inherently human, into the province of business entities.

Drawing on health law and policy, I argue that these courts fundamentally misunderstand the nature of health benefits. Health insurance is a form of compensation, earned by and belonging to the employee like wages. By neglecting this economic reality, courts draw incorrect conclusions about the responsibility, legal and moral, of employers for the contents of their employees’ insurance plans, and thus about the burden that any regulation imposes. Moreover, courts fail to recognize that the role the ACA ascribes to private employers bears striking similarity to other comprehensive social insurance schemes, all of which have faced and survived challenges based on free exercise. Any employer responsibility for employer-based insurance should be analyzed under this precedent.

Finally, I suggest that “corporate conscience” would destabilize the rights of employees far beyond the context of contraception. Religiously affiliated commercial actors already assert rights to defy health and safety laws, pay women less, and fire pregnant women. If secular employers succeed in their challenge to the contraception mandate, gender equality and religious freedom will be at risk in all workplaces.

Sepper E. Contraception and the birth of corporate conscience. 22 Am. U. J. Gender, Soc. Pol’y & Law 303 (2014)

Conscience Legislation, the Personhood Movement, and Access to Emergency Contraception

Jonathon F. Will

Faulkner Law Review

Introduction:  In the medical setting, conscience legislation serves to protect health care professionals who refuse to provide certain procedures or services that would violate their consciences.  The “Personhood Movement,” on the other hand, is characterized by advocates’ attempts to adopt legislation or constitutional amendments at the state and/or federal level that would extend the legal and moral protection associated with personhood to members of the human species at the earliest stages of biological development.  The relationship between conscience legislation and the Personhood Movement may not be self-evident, but the connection becomes apparent when considering trends in conscience legislation.  This is particularly true in the context of expanding legal protection to health care professionals who object to certain forms of birth control, such as emergency contraception (EC).

Will JF. Conscience Legislation, the Personhood Movement, and Access to Emergency Contraception. 4 Faulkner Law Review  411 (2013)

An (Un)clear Conscience Clause: The Causes and Consequences of Statutory Ambiguity in State Contraceptive Mandates

Rachel VanSickle-Ward, Amanda Hollis-Brusky

Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law

Since 1996, twenty-eight states have adopted legislation mandating insurance coverage of prescription contraceptives for women. Most of these policies include language that allows providers to opt out of the requirement because of religious or moral beliefs—conscience clause exemptions. There is striking variation in how these exemptions are defined. This article investigates the sources and consequences of ambiguous versus precise statutory language in conscience clauses. We find that some forms of political and institutional fragmentation (party polarization and gubernatorial appointment power) are correlated with the degree of policy specificity in state contraceptive mandates. This finding reinforces previous law and policy scholarship that has shown that greater fragmentation promotes ambiguous statutory language because broad wording acts as a vehicle for compromise when actors disagree. Interestingly, it is the more precisely worded statutes that have prompted court battles. We explain this with reference to the asymmetry of incentives and mobilizing costs between those disadvantaged by broad (primarily female employees) versus precisely worded statutes (primarily Catholic organizations). Our findings suggest that the impact of statutory ambiguity on court intervention is heavily contextualized by the resources and organization of affected stakeholders.

Vansickle-Ward R, Hollis-Brusky A. An (Un)clear Conscience Clause: The Causes and Consequences of Statutory Ambiguity in State Contraceptive Mandates. J Health Polit Policy Law. 2013 May 3. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 23645878. 

Effectiveness of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception

Brooke Winner, Jeffrey F. Peipert, Qiuhong Zhao, Christina Buckel, Tessa Madden, Jenifer E. Allsworth, Gina M. Secura



The rate of unintended pregnancy in the United States is much higher than in other developed nations. Approximately half of unintended pregnancies are due to contraceptive failure, largely owing to inconsistent or incorrect use.


We designed a large prospective cohort study to promote the use of long-acting reversible contraceptive methods as a means of reducing unintended pregnancies in our region. Participants were provided with reversible contraception of their choice at no cost. We compared the rate of failure of long-acting reversible contraception (intrauterine devices [IUDs] and implants) with other commonly prescribed contraceptive methods (oral contraceptive pills, transdermal patch, contraceptive vaginal ring, and depot medroxyprogesterone acetate [DMPA] injection) in the overall cohort and in groups stratified according to age (less than 21 years of age vs. 21 years or older).


Among the 7486 participants included in this analysis, we identified 334 unintended pregnancies. The contraceptive failure rate among participants using pills, patch, or ring was 4.55 per 100 participant-years, as compared with 0.27 among participants using long-acting reversible contraception (hazard ratio after adjustment for age, educational level, and history with respect to unintended pregnancy, 21.8; 95% confidence interval, 13.7 to 34.9). Among participants who used pills, patch, or ring, those who were less than 21 years of age had a risk of unintended pregnancy that was almost twice as high as the risk among older participants. Rates of unintended pregnancy were similarly low among participants using DMPA injection and those using an IUD or implant, regardless of age.


The effectiveness of long-acting reversible contraception is superior to that of contraceptive pills, patch, or ring and is not altered in adolescents and young women. (Funded by the Susan Thompson Buffet Foundation.)

Brooke Winner, M.D., et al, Effectiveness of Long-Acting Reversible Contraception. N Engl J Med 2012; 366:1998-2007