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The Prevention First Act (S. 21): Claiming to Reduce Abortion While Funding Abortion Providers

On January 6, Senator Harry Reid introduced the Prevention First Act (S. 21) (“the Act”), which disingenuously claims to be aimed at reducing unintended pregnancies and abortion.  What it in reality does is provide continued (and elevated) funding to family planning programs that provide and counsel in favor of abortion, mandates health coverage of contraception, miseducates the public on emergency contraception, and forces religiously-based hospitals to provide emergency contraception.  It also contains a number of inaccuracies.

First, the Act provides elevated funding for family planning services and “teen pregnancy prevention programs” that counsel in favor of abortion.  The Act does not exclude abortion providers or other entities that counsel in favor of abortion from receiving funds.  Thus, entities like Planned Parenthood (which gains incredible profits every year from the provision of abortions) will be eligible for these increased funds.  And not only can such entities receive the funds, but there is nothing in the text of the Act itself that prohibits the use of the funds for the referral or counseling in favor of abortion.  This failure to exclude abortion providers demonstrates that the Act is not truly aimed at reducing abortion.

Thus, this Act diverges from the views of the majority of Americans who want to see abortions decrease.  It is an irresponsible use of federal money in this economic crisis.

Second, the Act mandates health coverage of contraception.  Group health plans and health insurers that provide coverage in connection with a group health plan may not exclude prescription contraceptive drugs, devices, or outpatient contraceptive services if the plan covers other drugs and services.  Similarly, such plans must cover experimental contraception if other types of experimental drugs are covered.  The Act would preempt any state laws that limit the coverage of contraception.

What is most troubling about this section is its failure to exclude religiously-affiliated entities or institutions from this contraceptive mandate.  Thus, if a church provides a group health plan for its employees, that health plan must cover contraception if it covers other drugs.  There is no room for conscientious objection, and churches will be forced to choose between violating their religious beliefs or refraining from offering heath coverage at all.  Again, for a nation already facing a healthcare crisis, this kind of federal ultimatum is either irresponsible, at best, or demonstrates a maliciousness toward religiously-affiliated entities, at worst.

Third, the Act advocates the use of emergency contraception (“EC”), ignoring the risks involved in using EC as well as blatantly misrepresenting how EC works.  For example, in a section delineating Congressional findings, the Act states that EC is a safe and effective way to prevent unintended pregnancy, and that research confirms that easier access to EC does not increase sexual risk-taking or sexually transmitted diseases (“STDs”).  However, EC is inherently unsafe in that its current over-the-counter access makes EC available to a larger population of women than any trial has tested upon.  Moreover, if the hormones in regular birth control pills render such drugs unsafe for non-prescription status, the higher amounts found in EC cannot be safe, either.  In addition, EC is only 75-89 percent effective””in other words, it is ineffective in 11 to 25 percent of cases.

The claim regarding sexual risk-taking and the transmission of STDs is also untrue.  As we report in Defending Life:

Studies reveal that emergency contraception does not reduce pregnancy and abortion rates.  In one study, abortion rates increased by nearly 6,000 in a one-year period, jumping 3.2 percent.  Once EC became available without prescription in the United Kingdom, use among teenage girls doubled from 1 in 12 to 1 in 5.  In fact, one study reported that 4 out of 12 women were influenced to have unprotected sex because of the easy access to EC.  With the increased rate of sexual activity and the substantial failure rate of EC, the over-the-counter availability of Plan B cannot be expected to reduce the number of pregnancies or abortions.  Furthermore, in those areas with easy access to EC, the number of sexually transmitted diseases has skyrocketed.

See The Deadly Convenience of RU-486 and Plan B, available at http://www.aul.org/Deadly_Convenience (including references to the sources cited). 

The Act also completely misleads as to the way in which EC works, stating that EC “prevents pregnancy by preventing ovulation, fertilization of an egg, or implantation of an egg in a uterus.”Â  What the Act purposely avoids stating is that it is not an egg that is prevented from implanting””it is a fertilized egg.  In other words, conception has occurred, and a new human being has been formed.  Scientifically speaking, it cannot be disputed that a new human organism, with its own genetic information, has been formed.  Even the drug manufacturer’s label states that a fertilized egg is prevented from implanting.

Moreover, the Act provides for the dissemination of information to the public and healthcare providers that EC is safe and effective””and it does not require the dissemination of information on the risks of EC.  As already demonstrated above, this information is misleading and puts women’s health and lives at risk.  Ironically, another section of the Act requires that any information about contraception be “medically accurate.”Â  But nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to the Act’s own discussion of EC. 

The Act also requires the information to include “a recommendation regarding the use of such contraception in appropriate cases”””placing the federal government in a position where it is actually advocating the use of EC.

Finally, the Act states that no federal funds will be provided to a hospital unless the hospital provides oral and written information about EC, offers EC, and provides EC to sexual assault victims.  There is no exemption within the Act itself for religiously-affiliated hospitals that conscientiously object to the provision of EC.  Thus, this provision also further exacerbates the ongoing healthcare crisis by forcing religiously-affiliated hospitals to choose between violating their moral beliefs or accepting federal funding.

If a hospital chooses to accept federal funding, it must inform women that “emergency contraception does not cause an abortion.”Â Â  But this runs contrary to the ongoing debate within the medical community, and also ignores the fact that the drug manufacturer itself confirms that EC prevents the implantation of a fertilized egg (i.e., after conception has occurred).  It also runs contrary to the religious and ethical beliefs of numerous individuals and healthcare providers that life begins at conception””and thus that preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg is in fact an abortion.  It may represent the misinformed ideology of Senator Reid and his co-sponsors””such as Senator Boxer””but it certainly does not represent the beliefs of a vast number of women and healthcare providers across the nation.  Women and healthcare providers who will be purposely misled by the government if the Act is passed.

And again, the information provided to women must explain that EC is effective in most cases””ignoring the fact that it is ineffective in 11 to 25 percent of cases, and failing to inform women of the risks of EC.

Conclusion

What is clear from the face of this Act is that it is not at all about the reduction of abortion, but the funding of abortion providers and the purposeful miseducation of the American public.  It is bad for women””and well as for the healthcare industry and the economy.