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Debunked: Emergency Contraception Is Not a Form of Abortion

By Bob Cesca: There's a slim chance Obamacare's contraception coverage could survive the ideological knee-jerk of Supreme Court conservatives -- that is as long as a strong scientific case is made for the fact that, no, the morning after pill, also known as Plan-B or "emergency contraception," does not induce abortion.
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I'm old enough to remember when tort reform was a thing. The issue was mostly driven by Republicans in the name of politicizing so-called "frivolous lawsuits." Certainly there's some merit in the idea of legislating against lawsuits by nimrods who bite into a hot apple pie and burn their mouths. We're all familiar with the tales of consumer stupid.

Since then, a new series of frivolous lawsuits is underway. And they're almost as dumb.

As you're surely aware, conservative religious groups and various conservative-owned corporations have been engaged in a mostly winless legal battle against the Affordable Care Act. The latest in the series to be shot down by the Supreme Court was a suit brought against the government by Liberty University, the Christian academic institution founded by televangelist Jerry Falwell.

The Falwell suit claims that the commerce clause doesn't allow Congress to mandate that employers cover full-time employees with health insurance. Additionally, the univeristy (snarf) also objected to the contraception coverage in the law, suggesting that it would be forced by law to pay for contraception coverage that includes abortions.

The Supreme Court thankfully rejected the appeal.

Last week, meanwhile, I was fairly pessimistic about the future of the ACA's contraception coverage requirement. However, there's a slim chance it could survive the ideological knee-jerkery of the conservatives on the Court -- that is as long as a strong scientific case is made for the fact that, no, the morning after pill, also known as Plan-B or "emergency contraception," is not an abortifacient.

In other words, emergency contraception isn't intended to block the implantation of a fertilized egg. It blocks ovulation. Taking one of these pills after having sex is not -- repeat, not, not, not -- the same as abortion.

This rampant myth has to end now.

Brian Powell and Samantha Wyatt at Media Matters for America compiled some research -- you know, actual science -- proving that the morning after pill in fact prevents ovulation, not the implantation of a fertilized egg.

You might've heard more than a few reactionaries on Fox News and AM talk radio spreading the "abortion pill" myth. They're lying. Emergency contraception is unequivocally not an abortion pill.

The New York Times (via MMFA):

Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, leading scientists say. Rather, the pills delay ovulation, the release of eggs from ovaries that occurs before eggs are fertilized, and some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming. [...]

By 2007, scientific consensus was building that morning-after pills did not block implantation. In one study using fertilized eggs that would have been discarded from fertility clinics, Dr. Gemzell-Danielsson found that adding Plan B in a dish did not prevent them from attaching to cells that line the uterus.

International Federation Of Gynecology Obstetrics (via MMFA):

Two studies have estimated effectiveness of [emergency contraceptive pills] by confirming the cycle day by hormonal analysis (other studies used women's self-reported cycle date). In these studies, no pregnancies occurred in the women who took ECPs before ovulation while pregnancies occurred only in women who took ECPs on or after the day of ovulation, providing evidence that ECPs were unable to prevent implantation.

The FDA's former women's health assistant commissioner on NPR (via MMFA):

The constant references to Plan B and Ella as abortion-causing pills frustrates, a professor of health policy at George Washington University and a former assistant commissioner for women's health at the FDA.

"It is not only factually incorrect, it is downright misleading. These products are not abortifacients," she says. "And their only connection to abortion is that they can prevent the need for one."

Shocker that Hobby Lobby's owner wasn't aware of the actual science behind emergency contraception.

To recap the Hobby Lobby thing, a chain of arts and crafts stores known as Hobby Lobby is refusing to cover its employees with health insurance that includes free contraception. And because all policies are required to cover contraception without co-pays, there aren't any policies available to the corporation.

The entire Hobby Lobby case against the ACA is that emergency contraception is the same as abortion, and so it objects to the law on religious grounds even though science doesn't support the abortion claim. But, naturally, it won't be the first time the religious right has ignored science in support of a myth, talking point or archaic dogma. The climate crisis is a myth. Homosexuality is an abomination. Jesus rode a dinosaur. The usual rogues gallery of hooey.

So, sure, government lawyers could slowly explain the science to Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas as if they were 4-year-olds, but conservatives on the Court won't buy it. They'll decide against the ACA no matter what because Obama. However, the government only needs to convince Justice Kennedy that emergency contraception isn't an abortifacient and, therefore, the claim by Hobby Lobby that it refuses to support a law that mandates abortion coverage isn't supported by science. That might be a challenge as well since Kennedy decided against the Obamacare individual mandate last year and against late-term abortions back in 2010.

Ultimately, the future of the contraception mandate isn't as grim as it could be. But you can bet that it'll be a 5-to-4 nail-biter in yet another frivolous, scientifically unsupported legal challenge.

Adding... It's important to emphasize that Plan-B and "emergency contraception" is not the same as RU486 which does, in fact, block implantation. However, RU486 is not covered by the new ACA rules because it's not considered contraception.