by David C. Reardon, Ph.D.
It is being promoted as the “best kept secret in America.”
One might expect such hyperbole from the manufacturer, which has committed 30 million dollars to promoting this product. But when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is normally a regulatory agency, not a public relations firm, jumps into promoting a new drug, it’s time for America to wake up. Either this is really great news . . . or . . . it is another attempt to manipulate the American people for the purposes of advancing the government’s population control efforts. (Can you guess which of these two opinions I ascribe to?)
So what is the “best kept secret in America?” That high-dosage estrogen and progestin birth control pills can be taken in concentration, within 72 hours after “unprotected intercourse,” to “prevent unwanted pregnancy.”
How does it work? In short, either (1) not at all (in which case it was unnecessary, but women think it worked) or (2) by causing an abortion.
For a more complete understanding of the “morning after pill,” we need to understand how birth control pills work in general. In essence, the Pill is a dose of hormones that overpowers a woman’s normal hormonal cycle in such a way that her reproductive system malfunctions.
Essentially, the Pill is intended to make a woman sick. The medical goal, of course, is to limit the chemically-induced illness to just the reproductive system. In practice, however, it is hard to limit the effects on the rest of the woman’s body, which is precisely why the Pill has so many side effects.
As a birth control agent, the Pill has three modes of operation: (1) it may suppress ovulation, (2) it may thicken the cervical mucous to block sperm passage, and/or (3) it may cause an abortion by making the uterine lining hostile to implantation.
The original high-dose birth control pills had high rates of suppressing ovulation, but in an effort to reduce unwanted side-effects, manufacturers have reduced the dosage levels. As a result, the newer “low-dose” birth control pills are less effective at suppressing ovulation and more dependent on mode of operation number three: abortion by blockage of implantation. The “morning after pill” is a continuation of the trend toward more “birth control” through drug-induced abortion.
Playing with Words . . . and Hormones
Decades ago, even before the legalization of abortion, doctors and pill manufacturers realized that the abortifacient aspect of the Pill needed to be disguised. At the very least, this ugly fact would disturb many “good” Catholic ob/gyns and their Catholic patients, as well as the millions of other Christians who accepted birth control but might be opposed to an abortifacient.
As early as the late 1960’s, the population controllers began to redefine the “medical” meaning of “conception.” According to this new definition, which is now widely used in medical textbooks, “conception” occurs at the moment of implantation rather than at fertilization. According to the logic created by this new definition, if a human embryo never implants, then it was never really “conceived” in the first place — and therefore it is never actually aborted.
This tortured logic proved very successful. Thousands of Catholic doctors sighed in relief and pulled out their prescription pads. Indeed, even many pro-life groups were unwilling to blow the whistle on this deception. They were apparently content to focus on the more visually horrific problem of surgical abortions.
In addition, critics have claimed that some pro-life leaders were afraid to offend donors who were on the Pill by exposing an unpleasant truth that might be seen as an indictment of our own friends. In their turn, some of those leaders responded that we can never really know when the Pill is acting as an ovulation suppressor and when it acts as an abortifacient.
When ignorance is bliss, lies are accepted as common knowledge.
The Push for “Emergency Contraception”
Because the Pill has an abortifacient mechanism, doctors have known for a long time that it can be used as a “morning after pill.” This is possible because it takes a new human embryo six to seven days to travel down the fallopian tubes to implant in the womb. A high dosage of estrogen pills taken during this time can harden the uterine lining and force an abortion before the human embryo implants.
Because the risks of using the Pill in high doses have not yet been tested, using it as a “morning after pill” was an “off-label” use that was not sanctioned by pharmaceutical companies. Therefore, they could not be held liable for any injuries that might result. This is why less than one percent of American women have used the Pill in this way during the last twenty years. But with the help of the Clinton administration, times are changing.
Under the current administration, the FDA has moved beyond its traditional role as a regulator to that of a cooperating partner in population control efforts. We saw an example of this when the Clinton administration and the FDA agreed to reduce testing standards in order to bring RU-486 into the United States more quickly. (See The Post-Abortion Review, Vol. 5, No. 4)
The same path was followed in efforts to expand access to “emergency contraception.” According to the Wall Street Journal, in 1995 the FDA approached Roderick Mackenzie, the chairman of Gynetics, to ask the company to submit an application to market a “morning after pill.” This action was followed by an FDA notice published in the Federal Register encouraging the use of high-dosage birth control pills for the off-label use of “emergency contraception” (EC).
This endorsement by the FDA effectively reduced liability risks for everyone involved. Responding to this encouragement, several family planning agencies set up toll-free hotlines to provide information and even “EC” prescriptions. Major news stories were generated to provide free publicity for what the FDA was now calling a “safe and effective” birth control method.
By September of 1998, with a green light from the FDA, and apparently no requirements for further testing, Gynetics rolled out PREVEN, a $20 prepackaged “emergency contraception” kit. Government health officials, Planned Parenthood, and all the other usual suspects joined in the fanfare over this “leap forward” in reproductive health care that promised to “slash” abortion rates. Once again, the popular media jumped onto the band wagon by giving this “hot new product” hundreds of millions of dollars in additional free publicity.
At this point, while PREVEN is still a prescription drug, many family planning clinics are calling in prescriptions for women without ever seeing the patients. Some states are even considering allowing pharmacists to prescribe it in lieu of a physician.
But even this isn’t enough for “EC” advocates who want to see the kits in every medicine cabinet. While one “EC” promoter said on Good Morning America that using PREVEN was as simple as taking an aspirin, the Washington Post reported that it “could ultimately join the ranks of smoking cessation products, like nicotine gum and the patches,” which the FDA made available without a prescription “to increase their use.”
Deceptive Trade Practices
Like surgical abortion, acceptance of “emergency contraception” is dependent on the success of a medical con game. Patients need to be deceived and manipulated on several levels.
Lie number one: “EC is highly effective.” The actual effectiveness rate is unknown because the effectiveness and safety of this method have not been thoroughly tested. When pressed for a statistical rating of effectiveness, a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman stated that “emergency contraception” is 70 to 90 percent effective. This wide range of quoted effectiveness speaks volumes about how little is really known. But to reduce the risk that callers will entertain any reasonable doubt, this same spokeswoman hurried to suggest that the actual effectiveness was probably much higher than these conservative estimates since she herself had only seen one or two pregnancies among her EC patients.
A failure rate of up to 30 percent is not exactly impressive. The full story is even worse.
Women are potentially fertile for only four to five days per cycle. This includes the day or two before ovulation that sperm may survive in the cervical mucous. These few days represent only about 18 percent of a typical woman’s 28-day cycle. This means that most women were probably taking EC unnecessarily, because they were not fertile anyway.
As a result, as much as 80 percent of the “morning after pill’s” claimed effectiveness is the result of a free ride because the woman was naturally infertile anyway. All these “successes” get put into the denominator when calculating the “overall” effectiveness rate. The actual failure rate during ovulation, therefore, is actually many times higher than the reported “overall” rate.
(This statistical manipulation is true for the claimed effectiveness rates of all birth control technologies. By comparison, the 2 percent failure rate attributed to modern natural family planning methods is already calculated according to only those “failures” which occur during a woman’s fertile period.)
Do these facts bother “EC” promoters? No. Even when women have no risk of becoming pregnant, their unnecessary use of “EC” is still very profitable. In addition, “EC” promotion is a great sales leader. Women who request “EC” are great potential customers for other birth control products.
Lie number two: “EC is safe.” Actually, what they really mean by “safe” is simply that women aren’t dropping down dead. Once one accepts this limited definition of safety, “EC” must be “safe” since the only common immediate effect of this drug-induced illness are flu-like symptoms of nausea and headaches.
But beyond these few short-term reactions, no one knows what the longer term effects will be. Why? Because “EC” is one of the FDA’s “most favored drugs.” It has been exempted from thorough testing. The FDA is content with the simple presumption that one or more short-term exposures to high levels of this hormonal treatment is no more dangerous than the prolonged low-level exposure experienced by normal Pill users. (Not that the latter is well understood either.)
Breast cancer is related to variations in estrogen levels. Will “EC” use effect breast cancer risks? No one knows. Birth control pill use has been related to subsequent infertility problems. Can “EC” effect a woman’s long-term fertility? No one knows. When “EC” fails to abort the newly conceived child, or when a woman takes this drug after a child is already nestled in her womb, what risks does high exposure to estrogen pose to the unborn child? Again, no one knows.
This is an example of how pro-abortion counselors can use ignorance to their advantage. When a woman becomes pregnant after having tried the “morning after pill,” the counselors will then be able to use her concerns about how the drug may have affected her unborn baby to pressure her into a surgical abortion.
Lie number three: “EC is contraception.” This is only true if you accept the birth control industry’s new definition of “conception.” Since most patients still equate fertilization with conception, and at least many of these patients are morally opposed to abortion, this distinction is an important one.
Some patients will believe the lie that “EC” prevents the conception solely because they simply don’t ask questions. Others may be convinced by counselors who will juggle the two meanings of “conception” in such a way as to “protect” them from the truth.
Still other patients, who may half-suspect the truth, may anxiously embrace this “reframing” definition of when “conception” occurs in the hope that it will enable them to deny moral responsibility for their decision. But any such desire for ignorance reflects a fear of being responsible for oneself. It is not a desire that others are obligated to satisfy. Neither parents nor the state are ever under any moral duty to foster irresponsibility.
If we are to truly become morally responsible for ourselves, we must learn to face the truth. Only then can we honestly choose between good and evil.
Originally published in The Post-Abortion Review 6(4) Sept.-Dec.1998. Copyright 1998 Elliot Institute.