For decades, research has been underway to create vaccinations against pregnancy. These drugs are different from other methods of birth control because they use the woman’s immune system against her own baby. Thus they are called “immunological contraceptives.”
One such vaccination being tested is the anti-hCG vaccine. HCG stands for human chorionic gonadotrophin. This is a hormone that is produced by a newly conceived baby when he or she is only a few days old (a blastocyst). Once hCG is produced, it signals the mother’s body to release other hormones that will sustain a healthy pregnancy. When a woman takes a pregnancy test, she is looking for elevated levels of hCG in her system. The hCG vaccine will create antibodies in a woman that will attack hCG, resulting in the death of the baby.
In order to make this work, scientists put a molecule in the vaccine that links hCG with diphtheria or tetanus. These are diseases that a healthy immune system will attack. The version of the toxin is not sufficient to infect the woman with the disease, but it is enough to stimulate her immune system to respond to hCG as if it were a disease. After receiving the vaccination, the woman’s body will be tricked into killing off any future unborn children. Her progesterone levels will drop, and the lining of her uterus will shed, preventing a pregnancy from being sustained.
Another form of the anti-fertility vaccine is known as TBA (Trophoblastic Antigen). It trains the woman’s immune system to attack the trophoblast, which is a layer that surrounds and protects the embryo. As is the case with the anti-hCG vaccine, when a woman uses TBA, the baby dies before the mother is aware of the pregnancy. Because her menstrual cycle is uninterrupted, there is no way for her to know when these early abortions occur.
The side effects and effectiveness of these methods have yet to be established. However, the editor of The International Journal of Risk & Safety in Medicine wrote, “[The development of immunocontraceptives is] asking unnecessarily for trouble . . . Whatever risks there are can hardly be predicted in any test. But what we know of physiology suggests that they could be very serious.”
Controversy has surrounded the development of these vaccinations, especially because they are being tested on women in developing nations without informed consent. Such women (and their unborn children) are being used as living laboratories. Also, it would seem to be a dangerous idea to tamper with the immune systems of women who live in countries ravaged by HIV. Thankfully, many health movements and human rights groups across the globe continue to protest the development and testing of antifertility vaccines.
. Dukes, G.N., as quoted from a letter dated January 24, 1995, to Judith Richter, author of Vaccination Against Pregnancy: Miracle or Menace? (London and New Jersey: Zed Books, 1996).