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Morning After Pill: Birth Control, Not Abortion

“Morning After Pill Works As Birth Control, Not Abortion.” That most likely should have been the headline for an important New York Times piece discussing the paper’s own thorough review of the existing science on emergency contraception. Instead, the Times went with a mix of less straightforward headlines, one of which was the awfully fuzzy “Abortion Qualms on Morning-After Pill May be Unfounded.”

In spite of its indirect the headlines, the story clearly demonstrated what feminists have long maintained: EC works by preventing fertilization, not blocking implantation. The Times states that the morning after pill operates like birth control and doesn’t interfere with fertilized eggs. This goes against what many opponents of EC, including Republican presidential candidates, have casually claimed, conflating this pill that prevents pregnancy with a procedure that ends it.

Some reproductive rights advocates saw the piece as unequivocal support for their side, including Anika Rahman from the Ms. Foundation, who, said in a statement, that “the right wing can no longer mask their anti-women conspiracy behind inflammatory rhetoric and unscientific claims.”

But is this wishful thinking? My experience observing the extreme end of the anti-choice spectrum, the driving force behind the “War on Women,” suggests to me that scientific facts matter very little to such a worldview.

For instance here are some facts they ignore: it’s a fact that abortions continue whether they are legal or not. It’s also a fact that abortion is safer and less likely to cause health problems or depression than carrying a pregnancy to full term. It’s a fact that there is no link between abortion and breast cancer. And a fact that a large percentage of women who have abortions are already mothers. Still, they claim that abortion causes depression, breast cancer, and that it’s antithetical to maternal instincts.

It’s a fact that birth control, sex education and emergency contraception prevent unplanned pregnancies, and therefore abortion, but anti-choicers lobby against those too. And it’s a fact that mandatory ultrasounds and other deterrents don’t change women’s minds about abortion, but tend to only provide hurdles, hassles and humiliation – but those are passing in state after state.

So facts have little bearing on the way opponents of abortion, sex education, and contraception view their side of the debate. They’ve even pushed so far that major newspapers become timid in their framing.

In a perfect world we could rely on rational science and practicality when it came to these public health issues. But, sadly, we can’t.

Even the Congress of OB-Gyns has felt the intrusion of rhetoric into their practice. In his own letter to the Times about contraception, the group’s president sounded frustrated: “Our message to politicians is unequivocal: Get out of our exam rooms.” If only they would.

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