Saletan On HHS Conscience Regulation and The Morning After Myth

Brady Swenson

William Saletan of Slate.com sets the president of the Christian Medical Association straight on the morning after pill and argues against Bush's impending HHS conscience regulation.

William Saletan, a blogger at Slate.com and self-described "liberal Republican," commented on Bush’s proposed HHS conscience regulation that would bar "any entity" that gets federal money (e.g., private companies that
happen to be funded in part by a grant) from disciplining any employee,
including one "whose task it is to clean the instruments" for refusing to participate in medical services on the basis of conscience.  Saletan cites an article in today’s LA Times which includes a comment by Dr. David Stevens, president of the Christian Medical Association, who reminds us all that the expansive proposed regulation is not limited only to abortion:

It will protect doctors who do not wish to prescribe birth control or
to provide artificial insemination, said Dr. David Stevens, president
of CMA. "The real battle line is the morning-after pill," he said.
"This prevents the embryo from implanting. This involves moral
complicity. Doctors should not be required to dispense a medication
they have a moral objection to."

Saletan goes on to mercifully correct Dr. Stevens’ all too common "gross misrepresentation" about the morning after pill:

Let’s get clear on two important points. First, "morning-after" does
not mean "after-fertilization." To repeat what I wrote about this two years ago:

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An egg loses its fertility within 12 to 24 hours. It takes sperm about 10 hours to reach the egg, and sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract for up to five days.
If you want to get pregnant, you’d better send in the sperm before the
egg shows up. But if you don’t want to get pregnant, and the sperm are
on their way or already there, you still have time to stop the egg.

Second, of all the ways in which a morning-after pill might block
pregnancy, preventing implantation is the least plausible. Chemically,
a morning-after pill is a form of oral contraception. Here are the facts:

The risk that oral contraception will prevent implantation of an
embryo is purely theoretical. There is no documented case of such a
tragedy, since we have no way to verify conception inside a woman’s body prior to implantation without causing the embryo’s death. Even theoretically, the risk is vanishingly small, since the primary effect of oral contraception is to prevent ovulation, and the secondary effect is to prevent fertilization. To classify oral contraception as abortifacient, one would have to posit a scenario
in which the drug fails to block ovulation, then fails to block
fertilization, and yet somehow, having proved impotent at every other
task, manages to prevent implantation.

Saletan does not always agree with the general opinions of writers on this site but on this matter he concludes that a federal Health and Human Services regulation that protects ideology over science is certainly not a good idea:

So what Stevens says is, at a minimum, a gross distortion. And it’s a
particularly evil distortion because it steers women away, not from
abortion, but from the measure that is at that moment most likely to
prevent them from later resorting to an abortion. If I ran a medical
facility and found out one of my doctors was feeding patients that kind
of propaganda, I’d fire him. And the government, particularly a
government that calls itself conservative, has no business standing in
my way.

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