RealTime: Pope and Reuters Need A Lesson

Amie Newman

Helped along by Reuters, the Pope delivers his error-riddled opinion on pharmacists, the abortion pill, and emergency contraception.

It's bad enough that the Pope is now involving himself in the political challenges facing pharmacists and health care providers by calling on both groups to take a stand against providing emergency contraception or the abortion pill to women. But when Reuters reported on this yesterday they proved once again how severely misunderstood women's reproductive health technology truly is.

Does Reuters really care so little about whether or not we're accurately informed about the issues? This was the headline:

"Pope urges pharmacists to reject abortion pill"

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The article goes on to say:

"Pharmacists must be allowed to refuse to supply drugs that cause abortion or euthanasia, Pope Benedict said on Monday, calling on health professionals to be "conscientious objectors" against such practices."

Unless Italy has liberalized their abortion laws to such an extent that women can now access medication abortion from a pharmacy, I'm not sure why the Pope would be encouraging pharmacists to refuse to provide the abortion pill to women?! Italy has not legalized medication abortion ("the abortion pill") at all, let alone allow pharmacists to dole out prescriptions for it. Reuters is confusing the issue inexcusably with their factual errors:

"The Vatican has criticised moves by some Italian politicians who favour the pill, which blocks the action of the hormone progesterone that is needed to sustain a pregnancy." This sentence correctly defines how Mifepristone, one drug used in medication abortion, works in the body.

But then the article continues:

"The Pope told the international gathering that individual pharmacists could always choose not to prescribe such a drug."

Am I misreading this or do Reuters and the Pope not understand (or care to understand) that the medication used in the abortion pill is only available for patients through a health care provider? In some countries in Latin America, pharmacists are experimenting with providing drugs that induce abortions to women who cannot access legal abortion. However, as a rule, pharmacists do not provide medication abortion.

Abortion is a surgical or medical procedure that is legally provided only by a health care practitioner – not from your neighborhood drugstore. Women, in certain countries (including the United States), can access emergency contraception (EC) from a pharmacist (or at least according to law they can but what happens in practice is anyone's guess at times). Emergency contraception (let's say it all together now for those that haven't memorized this yet) is a form of birth control – it does not induce an abortion. EC acts by preventing the fertilization of an egg or preventing implantation of an already fertilized egg into the uterus.

I'm hoping this fires you up as much as it does me. The goal here is to ensure that our media outlets are reporting the facts. Lazy reporting can have serious consequences. Our movement would do well to keep an eye on the errors that are made consistently in the media about women's reproductive health issues. We deserve much better than this.

Write to Reuters and tell them to get their facts straight!

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Reproductive rights are a public health issue. That's a fact.

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