RealTime: Pope and Reuters Need A Lesson

It's bad enough that the Pope is now involving himself in the political challenges facing pharmacists and health care providers by calling on both groups to take a stand against providing emergency contraception or the abortion pill to women. But when Reuters reported on this yesterday they proved once again how severely misunderstood women's reproductive health technology truly is.

Does Reuters really care so little about whether or not we're accurately informed about the issues? This was the headline:

"Pope urges pharmacists to reject abortion pill"

The article goes on to say:

"Pharmacists must be allowed to refuse to supply drugs that cause abortion or euthanasia, Pope Benedict said on Monday, calling on health professionals to be "conscientious objectors" against such practices."

Unless Italy has liberalized their abortion laws to such an extent that women can now access medication abortion from a pharmacy, I'm not sure why the Pope would be encouraging pharmacists to refuse to provide the abortion pill to women?! Italy has not legalized medication abortion ("the abortion pill") at all, let alone allow pharmacists to dole out prescriptions for it. Reuters is confusing the issue inexcusably with their factual errors:

"The Vatican has criticised moves by some Italian politicians who favour the pill, which blocks the action of the hormone progesterone that is needed to sustain a pregnancy." This sentence correctly defines how Mifepristone, one drug used in medication abortion, works in the body.

But then the article continues:

"The Pope told the international gathering that individual pharmacists could always choose not to prescribe such a drug."

Am I misreading this or do Reuters and the Pope not understand (or care to understand) that the medication used in the abortion pill is only available for patients through a health care provider? In some countries in Latin America, pharmacists are experimenting with providing drugs that induce abortions to women who cannot access legal abortion. However, as a rule, pharmacists do not provide medication abortion.

Abortion is a surgical or medical procedure that is legally provided only by a health care practitioner – not from your neighborhood drugstore. Women, in certain countries (including the United States), can access emergency contraception (EC) from a pharmacist (or at least according to law they can but what happens in practice is anyone's guess at times). Emergency contraception (let's say it all together now for those that haven't memorized this yet) is a form of birth control – it does not induce an abortion. EC acts by preventing the fertilization of an egg or preventing implantation of an already fertilized egg into the uterus.

I'm hoping this fires you up as much as it does me. The goal here is to ensure that our media outlets are reporting the facts. Lazy reporting can have serious consequences. Our movement would do well to keep an eye on the errors that are made consistently in the media about women's reproductive health issues. We deserve much better than this.

Write to Reuters and tell them to get their facts straight!

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  • invalid-0

    I don’t understand why you are lumping Reuters in with the Pope on this one. Everything you accuse Reuters of stating is merely a quote from the Pope.

    Don’t you see the “Pope Benedict said” and “Pope told” adjacent to these statements?

    Your beef is with the Pope, not Reuters.

  • invalid-0


    VATICAN CITY, OCT 29, 2007 (VIS) – “The new frontiers of pharmaceutical activity” is the theme of the 25th international congress of Catholic pharmacists, currently being held in Rome. The participants in the meeting were received today by Benedict XVI.

    In his brief remarks to them the Pope first considered current developments in drugs and medicine and the therapeutic possibilities they offer, reminding the pharmacists of the need “to reflect upon the ever broader functions they are called to undertake, especially as intermediaries between doctor and patient,” and upon their role in educating patients “in the correct use of medications” and in informing them of “the ethical implications of the use of particular drugs.”

    “In this context,” he went on, “we cannot anaesthetize consciences as regards, for example, the effect of certain molecules that have the goal of preventing the implantation of the embryo or shortening a person’s life. Pharmacists must seek to raise people’s awareness so that all human beings are protected from conception to natural death, and so that medicines truly play a therapeutic role.”

    “Moreover, no individual may be used … as an object to undertake therapeutic experiments.” Such experiments “must be carried out following protocols that respect fundamental ethical norms.”

    The Pope emphasized how “all attempts at cure or experimentation must be undertaken while bearing in mind the wellbeing of the person concerned, and not only the pursuit of scientific progress.” Furthermore, “the quest for the good of humanity cannot proceed at the expense of the wellbeing of the people being treated.”

    In the moral sphere, the federation of pharmacists “is called to face the question of conscientious objection, which is a right that must be recognized for people exercising this profession, so as to enable them not to collaborate directly or indirectly in supplying products that have clearly immoral purposes such as, for example, abortion or euthanasia.”

    It is also important, the Pope proceeded, that pharmaceutical organizations practice “solidarity in the therapeutic field so as to enable people of all social classes and all countries, especially the poorest, to have access to vital medicines and assistance.”

    “The biomedical sciences are at the service of man,” the Pope concluded. “Were it otherwise they would be cold and inhuman. All scientific knowledge in the field of healthcare … is at the service of sick human beings, considered in their entirety, who must have an active role in their cure and whose autonomy must be respected.”


  • invalid-0

    “Pope urges pharmacists to reject abortion pill”

    As an editor or a journalist it is incumbent upon you to do your best to print FACTS; to know what you’re writing is the truth. If your job is to inform readers, you do not print inaccuracies and misinformation without saying that is what they are. Here is the full text of the article I’m speaking of:

    Pope urges pharmacists to reject abortion pill

    Date: Tuesday, October 30, 2007
    Source: Reuters

    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pharmacists must be allowed to refuse to supply drugs that cause abortion or euthanasia, Pope Benedict said on Monday, calling on health professionals to be “conscientious objectors” against such practices.

    The Pope told a convention of Roman Catholic pharmacists that part of their job was to help protect human life from conception until natural death — the Church teaching that rules out any deliberate termination of pregnancy or euthanasia.

    “It is not possible to anaesthetise the conscience, for example, when it comes to molecules whose aim is to stop an embryo implanting or to cut short someone’s life,” the Pope said.

    The so-called abortion pill, which is available in many European Union countries and has had regulatory approval in the United States since 2000, has not been authorised in Italy.

  • invalid-0

    It depends on different definitions of when a pregnancy begins. Roman Catholic teaching defines personhood from fertilization not implantation. As a Catholic I regard preventing implantation of an already fertilized egg into the uterus as abortive.

    The Pope is specifically asking pharmacists to use their conscience in regard to dispensing drugs that stop a fertilized egg implanting. Something that you agree Emergency Contraception does even though you disagree with the definition of that as “abortive”.

  • invalid-0

    The Catholic Church for which the Pope speaks is a worldwide organization, not just an influential organization in Italy. What the Pope says influences Catholics all around the world. Also the Catholic church believes that life begins at conception, which is why they state preventing implantation is considered an abortion.

    The Pope isn’t clueless, he just has a different point of view than you.

  • invalid-0

    No – in fact this isn’t about having a “different point of view.” I have no issue with someone deciding that they would not access abortion. But providing INCORRECT information as if it were medical information is wrong. It is false, not “opinion” to claim that emergency contraception causes an abortion. You may believe that life begins at conception but that has no bearing on what the medical procedure called an abortion is nor does it have any bearing on what contraception is medically defined as.

    I have a real problem with the increasing argument among anti-choice advocates who attempt to yank, pull and mold legal and medical definitions to fit their ideology. I am not telling you that you (or the Pope!) don’t have a right to your belief system. I am telling you (and the Pope) that you do not have a right to twist fact and medical definition to fit your own belief systems. Abortion is a medical or surgical procedure that ends a pregnancy. Contraception is technology that works to prevent pregnancy. You can decide that life begins at conception and so therefore any technology or birth control that works to stop the implantation of a fertilized egg is murder BUT that is not a legal or medical definition no matter how much you want that to be true.

  • invalid-0

    Actually the definition of pregnancy beginning at implantation is fairly recent. The American Academy of Obstetrics and Gynecology stated that implantation was conception in 1965 in a terminology bulletin. Prior to that the accepted point was fertilization.

    In 1963 a US public health service leaflet stated:
    “All the measures which impair the viability of the zygote [newly created human] at any time between the instant of fertilization [union of sperm and egg] and the completion of labor constitute, in the strict sense, procedures for inducing abortion”

    It’s rational to conclude that a new individual is evident when their unique genetic structure comes into being.

    “The chromosomes of the oocyte and sperm are…respectively enclosed within female and male pronuclei. These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development.”
    [Larsen, William J. Human Embryology. 2nd edition. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997, p. 17]

    The symbology of language can be changed, we can each redefine until blue in the face but the science is objective.

  • invalid-0

    Well, then, you must eschew regular birth control on the same grounds the, since EC is just a higher dose of regular birth control. Though they are theoretically capable of preventing implantation, they have not been shown to do that in lab studies.

    Pregnancy must be defined as occurring at implementation because it is simply not possible to detect a pregnancy before the body starts producing the hormones that it does upon implantation. If you’re going to assert that pregnancy begins at fertilization, and there’s no way to know when that happens, every time a man ejaculates into a woman, by definition she’d have to be considered pregnant. How many people are going to accept that as a viable option? No one in their right mind, of course.

    • invalid-0

      The fact that the Catholic Church is defining what a medical technology is or isn’t is a completely moot point when it comes to public policy or science. Whether you like it or not, Catholic leaders are not infused with the power to do whatever they like, to force citizens of the world to live by their ideology and push said ideology in the form of public policy. I am not Catholic. I do not believe that birth control and contraception are abortifacients. In fact, if we build public policy around the idea that life begins at fertilization, why are we not throwing women in jail who may be pregnant but don’t know they are pregnant (they bleed anyway, they don’t get their period for one cycle but chalk it up to stress) and then do something unknowingly to end that pregnancy accidentally? Isn’t that “accidental” murder? If we start creating laws based on the Catholic Church’s ideology – based on any religion’s ideology – where does it stop?

      Please understand that I’m not telling you not to hold your own belief system near and dear to you. But your religious beliefs do not belong in the realm of public policy or medicine. What I believe is that controlling one’s fertilization and reproduction through man-made technology, like birth control, is moral. I believe that everyone has the right and the responsibility to complete autonomy when it comes to their physical and spiritual bodies. A fertilized egg or an embryo growing inside of a woman’s body is a life that depends completely on the woman to mature into a separate body. With that in mind, the most spiritual and moral thing we can do for women is to give them information, education, tools, encouragement and support to make sure they are able to make the best choices for themselves and that person growing inside of them. If the best choice is to end that life right now, and for the woman to choose not to use her body to continue that life, then it is not for ANYONE to judge. If the best choice is to use birth control, then it is not for you or anyone else to judge. You may choose differently but for you to judge all women will never make you happy and it certainly won’t change the world. However much you’d like for that to be so.

  • invalid-0

    The birth control pill is also an abortifacient, and the Catholic church defines it as such. Its effects are four-fold, some effects will cause a fertilized egg to not implant, or implant and then be shed. Bottom line, the baby is killed, aborted.

    Just because you can’t detect it doesn’t mean its not a baby. Theoretically we could have means to detect it, if we went beyond simple hormone methods.

  • invalid-0

    You’re absolutely correct about hormonal contraception, and I don’t use it, and that is exactly one of the reasons why.

    I use the Billings Ovulation Method which is a bio-assay of my oestrogen levels by observable characteristics of vulval sensation and any visible mucus. I know when I am fertile and I abstain from sex during those times. An ovum only exists as viable for fertilization for up to 24 hours and you only have one ovulation per cycle. And sperm can only survive (with optimal conditions) for up to 5 days. Otherwise a woman is infertile.

    One of the objections I have to hormonal contraception is that it masks our fertility and what’s actually happening with our bodies. Fertility is a sign of health, not a disease. I know what is happening with my body. I know when I’m ovulating and when I’m infertile.

  • scott-swenson

    Because these arguments come around so often and the misinformation is repeated as though fact, we have some very helpful studies on our site's Fact v. Fiction section, you might find this one of particular interest. Read them all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

    Be the change you seek,

    Scott Swenson, Editor

  • invalid-0

    FYI – Reuters does a weekly roundup of the emails they receive about their articles and the editor responds to them. Please contact Reuters at the link provided and they will listen!

  • invalid-0

    I appreciate the information and the encouragement as do our readers, I’m sure!

  • invalid-0

    I too am getting quite weary of the definitions of the religious and political zealots misrepresenting facts in regard to contraception.

    Emergency contraception is just that, emergency contraception. The two pills DO NOT cause an abortion. There is never a baby or fetus there to abort! All the two pills do is prevent implantation. Big deal! The CELLS are then disposed of by the body with menstruation. Yes, they are CELLS not a baby, not a zygote, not an embryo, they are CELLS!

    The birth control pill DOES NOT cause abortion of anything as there can be nothing there to begin with! When taking the birth control pill, the woman’s body is prevented from releasing an egg (ovulation). If there is NEVER an egg, there can never be fertilization and thus there can never be implantation as there was nothing ever there to begin with!

    What’s more, there are some women out there, myself included, in which a pregnancy could potentially kill them, who in the $%*# is the Poop to tell me I cannot protect my life?

    If the Poop had to live as many women do in this world wondering where he was going to get his children’s next meal, maybe his holiness would be a little more sympathetic. Can you even imagine having to decide which one of your children is strongest and most able to survive and feed that one instead of your other children? Can you even imagine being pregnant for the 5th, 6th, 7th, who knows how many times and knowing fully well you can’t feed the kids you have let alone the one on the way? No of course not, you have never had to make such decisions but you feel in your self righteous minds you have the right to make such decisions for others. Yeah, there’s a true Christian for you!

  • invalid-0

    Sorry for this post being so long, but I think it’s important that you hear another opinion. Some pro-life/anti-abortion arguments are very emotive. I believe that this dialog can happen in a rational and logical manner. So…

    One argument is purely scientific in nature. When does a human being begin at a cellular level?

    I quote:

    “The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote.”
    [Sadler, T.W. Langman’s Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

    The zygote already has a full genetic identity separate from it’s parents. And there is a possibility that EC or hormonal contraception may not allow that human zygote to implant and thus continue the cellular development.

    It’s semantic word play to argue over the definition of the abortive (or not) nature, when we both agree that – and I quote here from your own FAQ – “EC works by preventing ovulation (first), fertilization (second), and implantation (third).”

    The issue is that preventing implantation terminates the development of the zygote.

    You ask why we don’t “throw women in jail”; murder is the _intentional_ destruction of an innocent life. Here in New Zealand if you kill someone through accident you are charged with manslaughter, not murder. Perhaps people are liable for negligence that leads to the manslaughter, but the _intent_ of death was not present. We have a duty of care to not be negligent in our actions.

    I believe that women have a duty of care towards any possible zygote that may be fertilized in order to allow that zygote to be implanted in order to further cellular development.

    There is credible scientific evidence that neither EC or other hormonal forms of contraception stop a zygote from implantation. Therefore I feel that women should be informed of the possibility and then make an informed choice as to their own duty of care in regards to any possible zygote.

    Now there is the philosophical argument of what legal protection we should have for _implanted_ embryos… Which we both agree is an established pregnancy, that stopping the embryo’s continued development is indeed abortive.

    Here I believe that the intentional destruction of an embryo or fetus is ethically unacceptable. All persons have a right to life. (I also thus disagree with capital punishment, torture, pretty much all war etc., excessive capitalism, poverty etc. Abortion isn’t the only legal way to kill people.) Personhood isn’t a fact of our cognitive abilities or functions or age, thus the disabled and elderly are persons albeit sometimes very vulnerable.

    Yes, an embryo or fetus is totally dependent on her mother for existence. But (I assume) you would agree that a newborn baby is also totally dependent too. Obviously a woman could give her child to another to care for, this is not possible for an unborn person. Therefore you have a clash of rights. The fetus’ right to continue living and the woman’s right to personal autonomy.

    Pregnancy is temporary, death is permanent. Women can choose to abstain from sex or contracept in order to avoid pregnancy. Thus a woman on the pill, using condoms and having EC as a backup is unlikely to require an abortion.

    There is also an inherent psycho-social relationship between mother and child that I feel abortion destroys. I personally think abortion is overall harmful to women, both in a spiritual and psychological way.

    There are two provisos here. Rape and examples such as ectopic pregnancy. I feel that all available options to save the mother should be made available. If this causes the _indirect_ death of the fetus, that is ethically acceptable (although terrible). But the death of the fetus must not be the direct intent of any medical intervention.

    In the case of rape. I personally could not abort. I would hope that a mother wouldn’t, but legislatively there is some wriggle room here I think. I would like to see raped women given so much support and assistance that they can manage to continue the pregnancy to term and I think any government has a duty to offer this.

    Women need ethical choices!! So for example single motherhood should have generous welfare support. There should be accessible maternal health care. Psychological and financial support for women. Education and health for children should be free. We have to make having an unexpected baby possible for women. Violent men need to stop raping and domestic violence needs to be stopped. Women need explicit education about their fertility and sexuality. We should make abortion disappear because women have better options!

    Abortion isn’t a choice when it’s a woman’s last hope.

    As to Catholicism in the public policy sphere, in a democracy I’m allowed to exercise myself politically according to my beliefs, as are we all. In the end, I only desire that women and their children and families have more positive lives.