Emergency Contraception Does Not Equal Abortion

30 Jun

On June 18th, the reproductive health committee of the FDA unanimously voted to recommend approval of ullipristal , (otherwise known as ellaOne), a post-coital contraceptive that is currently available in Europe. Anti-abortion activists took advantage of the opportunity to wheel out their tired (and disproven) argument that preventing ovulation after intercourse is tantamount to an abortion. They originally fueled this view by claiming that the currently approved post-coital contraceptive, levonorgestrel (brand name Plan B) might disrupt an established pregnancy or prevent implantation of a fertilized zygote. They maintain this position despite extensive evidence to the contrary; the original research behind Plan B made clear that an established pregnancy would not be affected by the drug. Recent studies showing definitively that levonorgestrel works only if taken prior to ovulation (for instance, this one and this one) have done little to quell their ire at the thought of zygotes being prevented from hunkering down in a woman’s uterus and staying there for 9 months. They don’t seem to understand that without ovulation there is no egg, and with no egg all you have are a lot of sperm swimming around in vain. No egg = no zygote = no prevention of implantation = nothing remotely resembling abortion. Simple, right? (As a side note, we don’t know for sure if ellaOne works the same way as Plan B; it hasn’t been studied enough.)


I was expounding upon this to one of my friends, and getting riled up in my typical fashion, when he asked me why it really mattered if there was a zygote or not. And he’s right. The bottom line is, does a woman want to carry a pregnancy or doesn’t she? Why spend all this time arguing that this method is not abortion? To engage in that discussion is to validate the argument of the anti-abortion zealots. Because to spend time arguing that post-coital contraception is not an abortifacient is in fact to validate their position that abortion is wrong, shameful, and something to be avoided at all costs. Don’t worry, we say, it’s completely acceptable. After all, it’s not abortion.

There are reasons that we approach the issue this way. We are invested in making sure it goes through FDA approval quickly (unlike the shameful, politically-driven 3-year journey we weathered while advocating for over-the-counter status for Plan B). We want to ensure that women who have personal views that would lead them not to choose abortion know that the use of post-coital contraceptives is consistent with their beliefs. We want everyone to know as much as possible about all their options. So to counter the myth that emergency contraception is equivalent to an abortion, we scream as loud as we can that it isn’t.

But we have to remember that in the end it doesn’t matter how it works or why. All that matters is what’s in the heart of the woman and if she wants to lend her body to a zygote for the 38 weeks required to gestate a full-term fetus. The rest is just semantics.

4 Responses to “Emergency Contraception Does Not Equal Abortion”

  1. Not Guilty June 30, 2010 at 9:31 pm #

    As I was reading your first paragraph, all I was thinking was, why the hell does it matter? A woman knows when she takes Plan B that she is preventing pregnancy. Aside from that, we do not need to engage in an argument with anti’s. Ugh.

  2. julie July 1, 2010 at 9:00 am #

    Well said :)

  3. jrm83 July 6, 2010 at 5:15 pm #

    I would say why it matters is that preventing a pregnancy and terminating a pregnancy are two different decisions. While some women might take Plan B regardless of how it works, there will be some for whom the distinction would make a difference.

    I believe that every woman should have the freedom to make her own decisions regarding pregnancy and abortion; however, I don’t know what I would do if faced with an unplanned pregnancy and probably won’t unless I’m in that situation. Fortunately, I know that Plan B doesn’t cause abortions, but prevents ovulation and fertilization, so I could take it without having to make a decision about abortion. Women who don’t know how Plan B works might make the decision not to take it (either because they identify as pro-life or because they aren’t sure if abortion is the right decision for them)when they would have taken it if they’d known how it actually worked.

    This isn’t a matter of the morality of abortion, but of a woman’s right to make an informed decision based on accurate information. Whether a woman identifies as pro-life or pro-choice, she should still be provided with accurate information to make a decision about taking Plan B. No one should have to deal with an unplanned pregnancy because they were given bad information about contraceptives.

  4. NYCprochoiceMD July 6, 2010 at 10:28 pm #

    Thank you jrm83 for reiterating the point that women should have correct information about any birth control method they use, especially about plan B, about which there is an incredible amount of misinformation.

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