Commentary Abortion

Memo to Michele Bachmann: You Can’t Have an Abortion If You Are Not Pregnant

Jodi Jacobson

In their constant effort to obfuscate and redefine the issues, anti-choicers are trying to change the definition of pregnancy as a precursor to outlawing contraception. Unfortunately, corporate media "fact-checkers" aren't doing too well keeping it straight either.

At a certain point, trying to have a conversation with fundamentalist anti-choicers about what is and is not a contraceptive and what is and is not an abortifacient is like trying to talk to an obstinate two-year-old. There isn’t much room or apparent capacity for reasoning. 

People can believe whatever they want and I will fight to the death to defend their freedom to believe in misinformation. But when it comes to politics, policy, and the effects of ideological beliefs on the health and lives of all the rest of us, I draw a line. 

And so should the media.

In the GOP-Tea Party debate Monday night, co-hosted by CNN, Michele Bachmann repeated the falsehood once again that emergency contraception, also known as the “morning after pill,” causes abortion and that by including contraceptives under health reform without a co-pay, the Obama Administration was forcing people to pay for abortion. 

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What the Obama Administration did was to include contraception under health reform without a co-pay, because it is an essential form of primary preventive care for women and because among other things, the use of contraception to space and limit births also contributes to dramatic improvements of infant and child health in planned pregnancies. 

And what the morning after pill does not do is to cause abortion, because it prevents pregnancy and by definition you can’t have an abortion if you are not pregnant.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Food and Drug Administration, and the World Health Organization among other medical bodies define pregnancy as beginning when a fertilized egg successfully implants in the uterine lining.  Implantation leads to the production of human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), which then inhibits maturation of additional eggs by the ovaries.  Successful implantation and the presence of hCG, which in fact can’t even be easily detected for some weeks after implantation, signals the establishment of a pregnancy. 

“The definition [of the beginning of pregnancy] is critical to distinguishing between a contraceptive that prevents pregnancy and an abortifacient that terminates it,” writes Rachel Benson Gold of the Guttmacher Institute.

“[O]n the… question of when a woman is considered pregnant, the medical community has long been clear: Pregnancy is established when a fertilized egg has been implanted in the wall of a woman’s uterus. And on this point, federal policy has long been both consistent and in accord with the scientists: Drugs and devices that act before implantation prevent, rather than terminate, pregnancy.”

According to a website dedicated to emergency contraception co-hosted by Princeton University and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, “The way emergency contraceptive pills work depends on where you are in your monthly cycle when you take them. EC works primarily, or perhaps exclusively, by delaying or inhibiting ovulation (release of your egg). It is possible that EC may affect the movement of egg or sperm (making them less likely to meet), interfere with the fertilization process, or prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.” (See also this ACOG fact sheet.)

Emergency contraception therefore prevents pregnancy.

I realize that anti-choice fundamentalists have declared of their own accord that a woman is pregnant the minute a sperm penetrates the wall of an ovum–indeed going further they equate a fertilized egg with a person–but this is not either the accepted medical definition nor is it the the way most people even think about pregnancy.  But since their agenda is to re-define all contraceptive methods as abortifacients (the “personhood” movement and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also claim for example that the pill and the IUD act as abortifacients) and ultimately make contraception illegal or at the least inaccessible, it behooves fundamentalist politicians like Bachmann to keep repeating these lies until they gain traction.

And corporate media it appears, is doing everything it can to help.  An otherwise factually-based CNN story today ran with this headline:

“Are health plans forced to cover free ‘abortion pills?'”

And this evening on CNN, according to our colleague Sarah Burris, John King further perpetuated the misinformation by doing a “truth test” on Bachmann with a “truth meter” on her statement that referred to whether the Obama Administration had mandated inclusion of coverage under health reform of the “Morning-After Abortion Pill.” These headlines and the misuse of medical terminology are all part of the broader problem of the obfuscation of medicine and science through which inaccurate media reporting contributes to the increasingly ideological and dangerous attacks on women’s health and rights.

Clearly, Bachmann and other extremist anti-choicers need a truth meter, but it would be helpful if both the media claiming to check the facts and the “truth-o-meter” itself were held to a higher standard of accuracy.

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