November 17, 2005
Why The Morning-After Pill Is Pro-Life
If you want to locate the dividing line between what is morally
accepted and what is morally controversial in modern America,
you can often find it at Wal-Mart. The retail giant declines to
stock unrated movies, CDs that carry parental advisory warnings,
and raunchy magazines such as Maxim and FHM. It does carry birth
control pills -- but not morning-after pills.
Why is that?
Because most Americans are far more comfortable with birth control
than they are with abortion. The pro-life movement has long opposed
the morning-after pill as abortion in disguise, not the "emergency
contraception" it is supposed to be. Anti-abortion groups
argue that by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg, it
destroys a fetus.
has made many people justifiably leery of it. And that reputation
apparently has been enough to deter the Food and Drug Administration
from approving an application to allow over-the-counter sales
of the medication known as Plan B.
But it turns
out the reputation is groundless. The best scientific evidence
we have indicates that the morning-after pill serves to block
fertilization, while having no effect on implantation. That makes
it contraception, not abortion.
As a longtime
pro-lifer, I think anti-abortion groups had solid grounds to oppose
the morning-after pill when its function was unclear -- as I did.
But given what we now know, it's a grave mistake to keep opposing
it. In fact, there are grounds for celebration: A drug once believed
to produce abortion is found to prevent abortion.
two years, the FDA has delayed making any final decision on the
application -- ignoring the advice of its own medical experts,
who said it should be sold without a prescription. In August,
Susan F. Wood, head of its Office of Women's Health, quit in protest,
saying she could "no longer serve when scientific and clinical
evidence, fully evaluated and recommended for approval by professional
staff here, has been overruled."
the Government Accountability Office, an investigative arm of
Congress, released a report that gave a withering critique of
the agency's handling of the issue. It concluded that high-level
FDA officials decided against Plan B before the scientific review
had been done, as part of an approach the GAO described with such
adjectives as "unusual," "novel" and "unprecedented"
-- a polite, bureaucratic way of saying "outrageous."
that oppose abortion have no use for Plan B. The American Life
League says, "Plan B aborts children and hurts women."
Concerned Women for America opposes it partly because of its "abortifacient
aiming at the wrong target. The data that have been compiled on
the morning-after pill in recent years make a convincing case
that if you oppose abortion, you have no quarrel with Plan B.
Chicago Tribune reporters Judy Peres and Jeremy Manier
reported a surprising consensus among experts that "there
is no scientific evidence the pills prevent implantation -- and
considerable evidence they work mainly by blocking the release
of an egg from the woman's ovary, so no embryo is formed."
a study by the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm which found that
the pill's effects "involve either blockade or delay of ovulation
. . . rather than inhibition of implantation." Dr. David
Archer, director of clinical research at the Contraceptive Research
and Development Program of Eastern Virginia Medical School, said
"there's no evidence scientifically" that Plan B is
The GAO report
agrees. The drug, it concluded, can prevent pregnancy by impeding
sperm and by delaying ovulation, but it has "not been shown
to cause a post-fertilization event -- a change in the uterus
that could interfere with implantation of a fertilized egg."
no way to be 100 percent sure that emergency contraception never
interferes with implantation. But the mere possibility of an adverse
event is a poor reason to reject its use.
breast-feeding is known to cause uterine changes that can prevent
a fertilized egg from being implanted. No one in the pro-life
movement would say mothers should therefore abstain from nursing.
Just as nursing is morally and ethically permissible because it
advances worthy purposes, so is the morning-after pill.
contraception were widely and easily available, it could prevent
a lot of pregnancies that would otherwise end, tragically, in
abortion. That's reason enough for the FDA to approve over-the-counter
sales. For anyone who believes in the sanctity of life from the
moment of conception, Plan B is not an enemy but an ally.
2005 Creators Syndicate