An otherwise excellent TIME Magazine article written today on TIME.com by Amy Sullivan gets everything right in its explanation of the medicaid waiver for family planning taken out of the stimulus bill earlier this week….except for emergency contraception, which it gets all wrong.
Sullivan explains clearly the intention of the family planning waiver, how it would help women and families, and notes some of the grounds supporting it.
She goes on, however, to equate emergency contraception with abortion, which it is not. In question and answer style, she asks:
Would the provision have required states to cover emergency contraception or abortions?
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No. The policy of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is
that abortion "may not be claimed as a family planning service" under
any circumstances. Since 1976, the Hyde Amendment has barred the use of
federal funds to pay for abortions. Individual states can use their own
funds to pay for "medically necessary" abortions for Medicaid
recipients, and at least 17 states currently do so.
In her Q and A, Sullivan therefore perpetuates an unfortunate and even dangerous myth: Emergency contraception is not an abortifacient. It is a method of contraception.
As a quick visit to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration website would have shown her:
1. What is emergency contraception?
Emergency contraception is a method of preventing
pregnancy to be used after a contraceptive fails or after
unprotected sex. It is not for routine use. Drugs used for this
purpose are called emergency contraceptive pills, post-coital pills,
or morning after pills. Emergency contraceptives contain the
hormones estrogen and progestin (levonorgestrel), either separately
or in combination. FDA has approved two products for prescription
use for emergency contraception – Preven (approved in 1998) and Plan
B (approved in 1999).
Plan B [one name for emergency contraception] works like other birth control pills to prevent pregnancy.
Plan B acts primarily by stopping the release of an egg from the
ovary (ovulation). It may prevent the union of sperm and egg
(fertilization). If fertilization does occur, Plan B may prevent a
fertilized egg from attaching to the womb (implantation). If a
fertilized egg is implanted prior to taking Plan B, Plan B will not
In short, emergency contraception is not abortion, because abortion is defined as ending a pregnancy and a pregnancy begins with implantation of a fertilized egg. If you are pregnant, emergency contraception does not work.
This is the widely accepted medical definition of emergency contraception shared by our own federal agencies and also by international bodies such as the World Health Organization.
Similar information can be found on other easily available websites, such as The Emergency Contraception Website, which offers not only straightforward information on many frequently asked questions about EC, but also enables women to find EC when and where they need it.
No, using emergency contraceptive
pills (also called "morning
after pills" or "day after pills") prevents
pregnancy after sex. It does not cause an abortion. (In fact,
because emergency contraception helps women avoid getting pregnant
when they are not ready or able to have children, it can reduce
the need for abortion.)
pills or the IUD as emergency
contraception work before pregnancy begins. According to leading
medical authorities – such as the National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists –
pregnancy begins when the fertilized egg implants in the lining of
a woman’s uterus. Implantation begins five to seven days after sperm
fertilizes the egg, and the process is completed several days later.
Emergency contraception will not work if a woman is already pregnant,
and it also will not harm the woman
or her fetus.
This mistake, common to mainstream media and fostered by the far right misinformation machine continues to create confusion and further spread confusion in the public about emergency contraception. In doing so, it can prevent women from understanding that they can access emergency contraception "as contraception" under family planning servcies because it is…..contraception!
Someone reading Ms. Sullivan’s piece might read it and erroneously assume they cannot get the help they need before pregnancy occurs, and instead wind up having to turn to abortion. If we all are interested in preventing unintended pregnancies in the first place, we have an obligation to get the data and science on contraceptives right.
I applaud Ms. Sullivan on her otherwise excellent article, but hope you will help bring to her attention this mistake by commenting on the site at TIME.com.