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Anything but the Facts: How the abortion lobby defends so-called “emergency contraception.”

Amanda Marcotte’s latest diatribe against the pro-life movement for its concerns about so-called “emergency contraception” is an extraordinary piece of fiction.  An attempt to deny any life-ending capacity of these drugs and devices, Ms. Marcotte’s article is an exercise in all the things she charges her opponents with: ignoring science, making unjustifiable emotional appeals, and lying.

Ms. Marcotte boldly contends that, “It has never once been in dispute that [emergency contraception] works by preventing pregnancy instead of terminating it.”  The problematic use of hyperbole (her article is obviously designed to contribute to a “dispute” about how so-called “emergency contraception” works) is the least of her statement’s defects.

First, Ms. Marcotte’s claim is flatly false as it relates to the most recently approved “emergency contraceptive,” Ulipristal Acetate, or ella.  A selective progesterone receptor modulator (SPRM) ella works the same way as the FDA-approved abortion drug, RU-486: it blocks progesterone, a hormone necessary to maintain a pregnancy.[1] By anyone’s definition of pregnancy, ella can “terminate” one.

Second, Ms. Marcotte’s statement tries to sweep under the rug the life-ending capacity of other FDA-labeled “contraceptives,” by only focusing on whether they work post-implantation.   It is one of the favorite bait-and-switch tactics of abortion advocates: respond to concerns that some “contraceptives” do not merely prevent conception (the function that the term “contraception” implies) by stating they do not end “pregnancies.”  Relying on a definition of pregnancy that begins at “implantation,” this argument is a nonresponse to the pro-life concern that these drugs and devices work after conception to block the implantation of a developing human embryo.  They might not end a “pregnancy” as Ms. Marcotte defines it, but they do end the life of a unique human being.

However, Ms. Marcotte later declares that a recent NY Times article “makes it clear that emergency contraception does not work after fertilization.” Though not the same rhetorical tactic, a review of the science proves this claim of Ms. Marcotte’s to be equally fabricated.

Considering Ms. Marcotte has described herself as “pretty geeky about the IUD…” she should be aware that Intrauterine Devices (IUDs) are readily acknowledged to work not only by preventing conception, but by blocking the implantation of an already developing human embryo.[2] IUDs are also being heavily pushed for use as “emergency contraceptives” and a recent study by Dr. James Trussell of Princeton—who is quoted in the same NY Times article that Ms. Marcotte seems to think is the end-all when it comes to establishing how “emergency contraception” works—concludes that, “[i]ts very high effectiveness implies that emergency insertion of a copper IUD must be able to prevent pregnancy after fertilization.” [3] (Emphasis added.)

In her defense of Plan B (also known as “the morning after pill”), Ms. Marcotte asserts that the FDA’s decision to include on the drug’s labeling the fact that Plan B may prevent implantation was “never meant to be taken as definitive proof.” Setting aside the fact that the FDA label undermines her earlier claim that there has “never” even been so much as a “dispute,” research buttresses the FDA’s decision to warn women about the life-ending capacity of Plan B.  In fact, that same Trussell study referenced in the NY Times article and so highly esteemed by Ms. Marcotte, states, “To make an informed choice, women must know that [emergency contraception pills]… may at times inhibit implantation of a fertilized egg in the endometrium.”[4]

Research does not actually support the blanket statements Ms. Marcotte makes.  Neither does U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius.

Secretary Sebelius has admitted that the FDA’s definition of “contraception” is not limited to a drug’s ability to prevent conception, but extends to blocking the implantation of an already developing human embryo. “The Food and Drug Administration has a category [of drugs] that prevent fertilization and implantation. That’s really the scientific definition.”[5] (Emphasis added.) Secretary Sebelius stated that under the new HHS mandate, “These covered prescription drugs are specifically those that are designed to prevent implantation.” [6]

One does not have search hard to find the bias that has apparently blinded Ms. Marcotte to the facts. “In an ideal world, these kind of distinctions wouldn’t matter that much.  A fertilized egg is a single cell, and a woman is an actual person whose needs trump those of an organism whose only function is replicating DNA.”

Ms. Marcotte is personally unbothered by how any “contraceptive” may actually work (and is, in fact, an outspoken abortion advocate), because in her “ideal world” a person’s worth is inversely proportional to his or her vulnerability.

However, many other women do care about how their “birth control” works.  For women concerned about post-fertilization effects of a birth control method, at least one study has found that whether that was the primary mechanism of action was less important than the fact that it can have such a life-ending effect, “For those women who would not use or would stop using a method acting after fertilization, it did not matter whether such effects were common or rare.” [7]

A true commitment to women would provide them with the information that they care about.  Instead, Ms. Marcotte is committed to her “ideal world,” where human life does not have inherent dignity and convenience-to-me should decide the fate of the more vulnerable.


[1] For more information see The Con: ella, Americans United for Life, http://www.aul.org/the-con-ella/

[2] See http://www.womenshealth.gov/publications/our-publications/fact-sheet/birth-control-methods.pdf (last visited June 19, 2012). The Department of Health and Human Services guide to “Birth Control Methods” describes among the mechanisms of action for copper IUDs, “If fertilization does occur, the IUD keeps the fertilized egg from implanting in the lining of the uterus.”  For hormonal IUDs, the guide states, “It also affects the ability of a fertilized egg to successfully implant in the uterus.”

[3] J. Trussell et al., Emergency Contraception: A Last Chance to Prevent Unintended Pregnancy, Office of Population Research at Princeton University (June 2010).

[4] Id.

[5] Kelly Wallace, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Tells iVillage “Historic”New Guidelines Cover Contraception, Not Abortion, iVillage, Aug. 2, 2011 available at http://www.ivillage.com/kathleen-sebelius-guidelines-cover-contraception-not-abortion/4-a-369771 (last visited June 12, 2012).

[6] Id.

[7] See Dye et al., Women and postfertilization effects of birth control: consistency of beliefs, intentions and reported use, 5(11) BMC Women’s Health (2005). See also de Irala J, Lopez del Burgo C, Lopez de Fez CM, Arredondo J, Mikolajczyk RT, Stanford JB, Women’s attitudes towards mechanisms of action of family planning methods: survey in primary health centers in Pamplona, Spain, BMC Women’s Health 7 (2007) available at http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6874/7/10 (last visited June 19, 2012).