Saletan On HHS Conscience Regulation and The Morning After Myth


William Saletan, a blogger at Slate.com and self-described "liberal Republican," commented on Bush’s proposed HHS conscience regulation that would bar "any entity" that gets federal money (e.g., private companies that
happen to be funded in part by a grant) from disciplining any employee,
including one "whose task it is to clean the instruments" for refusing to participate in medical services on the basis of conscience.  Saletan cites an article in today’s LA Times which includes a comment by Dr. David Stevens, president of the Christian Medical Association, who reminds us all that the expansive proposed regulation is not limited only to abortion:

It will protect doctors who do not wish to prescribe birth control or
to provide artificial insemination, said Dr. David Stevens, president
of CMA. "The real battle line is the morning-after pill," he said.
"This prevents the embryo from implanting. This involves moral
complicity. Doctors should not be required to dispense a medication
they have a moral objection to."

Saletan goes on to mercifully correct Dr. Stevens’ all too common "gross misrepresentation" about the morning after pill:

Let’s get clear on two important points. First, "morning-after" does
not mean "after-fertilization." To repeat what I wrote about this two years ago:

An egg loses its fertility within 12 to 24 hours. It takes sperm about 10 hours to reach the egg, and sperm can survive in the female reproductive tract for up to five days.
If you want to get pregnant, you’d better send in the sperm before the
egg shows up. But if you don’t want to get pregnant, and the sperm are
on their way or already there, you still have time to stop the egg.

Second, of all the ways in which a morning-after pill might block
pregnancy, preventing implantation is the least plausible. Chemically,
a morning-after pill is a form of oral contraception. Here are the facts:

The risk that oral contraception will prevent implantation of an
embryo is purely theoretical. There is no documented case of such a
tragedy, since we have no way to verify conception inside a woman’s body prior to implantation without causing the embryo’s death. Even theoretically, the risk is vanishingly small, since the primary effect of oral contraception is to prevent ovulation, and the secondary effect is to prevent fertilization. To classify oral contraception as abortifacient, one would have to posit a scenario
in which the drug fails to block ovulation, then fails to block
fertilization, and yet somehow, having proved impotent at every other
task, manages to prevent implantation.

Saletan does not always agree with the general opinions of writers on this site but on this matter he concludes that a federal Health and Human Services regulation that protects ideology over science is certainly not a good idea:

So what Stevens says is, at a minimum, a gross distortion. And it’s a
particularly evil distortion because it steers women away, not from
abortion, but from the measure that is at that moment most likely to
prevent them from later resorting to an abortion. If I ran a medical
facility and found out one of my doctors was feeding patients that kind
of propaganda, I’d fire him. And the government, particularly a
government that calls itself conservative, has no business standing in
my way.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

To schedule an interview with Brady Swenson please contact Communications Director Rachel Perrone at rachel@rhrealitycheck.org.

  • http://equality4women.org invalid-0

    While I respect the promulgation of facts about the “morning after pill,” I deplore the exercise of the kind of abstract expertise that writers like Will Saletan parade on the subject of abortion. Saletan’s overwrought reference to the possible prevention of the implantation of an embryo as “a tragedy” typifies the nonsense that pervades the rhetoric of abortion as an issue created and dominated by men. This website unfortunately typifies the complicity of many women who find professional work as scientific and legal policy wonks supporting conservative and liberal men’s fake jousting over the “sides” of what is simply constitutionally allowable sex discrimination against women.

    If there were a shred of reality to the abortion issue, all efforts would be directed to devising regulatory limits on male fertility since the need for abortion is largely the result of men’s uncontrolled fertility and their social and physical coercive power over women and girls.

    The most telling fact about all legal barriers to abortion is that not a single one places any limit whatever on men’s exercise of their reproductive options.

  • invalid-0

    Well good luck with that, pbutler…but between now and the instant the earth crashes into the sun, let us give those most disproportionally impacted by male fertility (you cannot be serious here) the information and access they need to control their own fertility.

    Seriously, I’m not sure what to make of your post, pbutler. Just as I am not into regulating “female fertilty (read sexuality), I am not about to seek additional regulation regarding male fertility.

    Are you sure you want to go here?