Anti-Plan B-ers Shoot Themselves in the Foot

Kathleen Reeves

The real divide in the debate over EC is between those who support the well-being of teenage girls, and those who pursue an anti-choice and anti-contraception agenda so inflexible that it hinders its own aims.

The Baptist Press half-heartedly argues against the extension of Plan B’s over-the-counter status to 17-year-olds. After reminding us that Plan B causes abortions and making groundless arguments about ease and frequency of use of the drug, the article concludes, surprisingly, with the FDA’s original finding: that the drug is just as safe for 17-year-olds as it is for 18-year-olds. 

The effect of these facts is to undermine the Baptist Press’s entire argument and to reveal the real divide in this debate: those who support the well-being of teenage girls, and those who pursue an anti-choice and anti-contraception agenda so inflexible that it hinders its own aims. Opponents of Plan B claim that the drug causes abortion. The drug does one of three things: it inhibits ovulation, or it prevents an egg from being fertilized, or it prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. The third way of working is most offensive to the drug’s opponents; though the fertilized egg is not yet implanted, and thus not an embryo, some people still consider it a living thing. 

Those who believe that life begins at fertilization won’t budge on this. But by slinging around the phrase “abortion-causing,” they’ve helped create great misunderstanding of Plan B among people who don’t share their definition of when life begins. People often confuse Plan B with RU-486, which causes chemical abortion.

Perhaps more significantly, anti-Plan B-ers are neglecting their purported aim of preventing abortions. Their thinking is that an abortion is an abortion: that preventing fertilization is just as reprehensible as aborting a fetus. But I find it hard to believe that they have no sense of degree—that a not-yet-fetus should be defended at the cost of a weeks-old fetus. Steven Waldman gets into this in a piece which argues that the focus of the abortion debate should be timing. While I don’t agree with all his points, he’s undoubtedly right in that we’ll never meet each other on the question of when life begins. It’s more likely that many of us can agree that Plan B—whether you think it prevents pregnancy or "causes abortion"—is preferable to the abortion of a fetus. 

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This is, after all, why Plan B was developed in the first place. Let’s not forget that demand for drugs comes from the ground up. Women wanted an option before abortion. They want to prevent abortions. So why are some pro-lifers so hostile to Plan B? Why are they shooting themselves in the foot?

Their purported arguments can be dispensed with quickly. They appeal to the parent-child relationship. One particularly clumsy argument claims that if high school girls can’t get aspirin from a school nurse without parental permission, then they shouldn’t be allowed access to Plan B. But of course, Plan B is not being dispensed by a school nurse—it’s sold in pharmacies, where girls of any age have long been allowed to buy aspirin and far more dangerous substances without parental consent. Let’s not forget that 17-year-old girls can buy cigarettes in these same pharmacies.

Wendy Wright reverts to her time-worn argument for “women’s health.” She turns reality on its head by calling the Judge Korman’s March order (to grant access to 17-year-olds) and the Obama administration’s acceptance of the order “political,” when Korman was undoing a blatantly political, and scientifically irresponsible, maneuver by the FDA in 2004 Then she claims that we’re all going to start using Plan B as birth control: 

"Pregnancy counselors report that women are relying on Plan B as a regular form of birth control because it is easy to get," she said. "They are not aware that it is less effective than other methods of birth control and that it has not been tested to determine the effects of using it multiple times."

While a “pregnancy counselor” is, in theory, a wonderful idea, it’s code for an organization that uses intimidation and false data to prevent a woman from having an abortion, regardless of her situation or beliefs. These pregnancy counselors are committed to manipulation and distortion to further the anti-choice agenda. Even if you didn’t know that, could you possibly believe that women would use Plan B as their primary form of contraception? The cost alone, about 40 dollars, is prohibitive, and even it if came down in price—and let’s hope it does—there is no way it could ever compete with condoms or birth control pills as an economically feasible method. More importantly, it’s hard on your body. It’s not easy to incorporate into your life, day after day. With easier, cheaper, more comfortable methods of birth control available, there’s no reason any woman would “rely on” Plan B. 

The title of the Baptist Press’s article is “Plan B Decision Violates Parent-Child Relationship,” but the article fails, finally, to make any convincing argument against giving Plan B access to 17-year-olds. What is does show is that the age-based denial of Plan B for the past five years violates reason and medical wisdom. And it reminds me that we’re still neglecting those under 17 (as this doctor points out in the New Haven Register). Younger teenagers need more help, not less, in preventing unplanned pregnancies.

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