Labels inside every box of morning-after pills, drugs widely used to prevent pregnancy after sex, say they may work by blocking fertilized eggs from implanting in a woman’s uterus. Respected medical authorities, including the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic, have said the same thing on their Web sites.
[…] But an examination by The New York Times has found that the federally approved labels and medical Web sites do not reflect what the science shows. Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, leading scientists say. Rather, the pills delay ovulation, the release of eggs from ovaries that occurs before eggs are fertilized, and some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming.
I wrote about this here. Along the way, I pointed out several sources that back up this claim that while it is possible the uterine lining may be affected by either hormonal contraception or the Morning After pill, there is no evidence that it prevents implantation. In fact, once fertilization occurs, pregnancy occurs within the same amount of time regardless of whether you take it or not.
It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion, a divisive issue in this election year, is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work. Because they block creation of fertilized eggs, they would not meet abortion opponents’ definition of abortion-inducing drugs. In contrast, RU-486, a medication prescribed for terminating pregnancies, destroys implanted embryos.
And here’s where I think they’re ignoring the very real probability that the most vocal of the Catholics / Evangelicals / Republicans who screech over the evils of these pills know exactly what they do. They’ve seen the research, and know the results; they’re just betting that the public doesn’t – or at least can’t be bothered to find out – thereby allowing them to continue
demonizing female sexuality fanning the flame of anti-abortion sentiment with the best weapons they have: misinformation and desperate appeals to emotion.
After The Times asked about this issue, A.D.A.M., the firm that writes medical entries for the National Institutes of Health Web site, deleted passages suggesting emergency contraceptives could disrupt implantation. The Times, which uses A.D.A.M.’s content on its health Web page, updated its site. The medical editor in chief of the Web site for the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Roger W. Harms, said “we are champing at the bit” to revise the entry if the Food and Drug Administration changes labels or other agencies make official pronouncements.
“These medications are there to prevent or delay ovulation,” said Dr. Petra M. Casey, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Mayo. “They don’t act after fertilization.”
The article goes on to talk about the fact that it has approval in Europe – even in strongly Catholic Italy, where you figure it would have the hardest time getting approval if implantation prevention were an issue.
Personally, whether Plan B prevents ovulation or implantation is irrelevant to me, since I’m a firm believer in letting someone decide on their own – as quickly and easily as possible – whether they want to be pregnant or not. The fact that we’re even discussing this as a reason to keep it off the market just hurts my head.
The other, more egregious problem with this “debate” is that it’s built on a profound lack of understanding of the facts, which are being amplified during every election cycle to the point where no matter how many times the reality of the situation is pointed out, it will only have to be restated next time around. It’s bad enough that the average layperson has very little scientific literacy in this country; on top of that, politicians and religious officials generally show that they have even less, and are intent on making us as uninformed as they are. Here’s one of the better parts of the article that I take as the moral of the story:
“I would be relieved if it doesn’t have this [abortive] effect,” said Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. “So far what I see is an unresolved debate and some studies on both sides,” he said, adding that because of difficulties in ethically testing the drugs on women, “it’s not only unresolved, but it may be unresolvable.”
Yet … the remainder of the piece details the ten-year time span – from about 2002 to today – showing the mounting evidence that Plan B does not, in fact, prevent implantation. In fact …
By this year, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics considered the research so strong that it issued a statement saying that pills with Plan B’s active ingredient “do not inhibit implantation.”
Still, there are always going to be people who will “remain skeptical” and urge additional study regardless of the evidence presented to them because it directly conflicts with their religious beliefs. As long as there is a statistical possibility that another conclusion can be made, no matter how infinitesimal, that’s enough to consider the issue unresolved.
If only they were so critical in other areas …