Memo to Michele Bachmann: You Can’t Have an Abortion If You Are Not Pregnant


At a certain point, trying to have a conversation with fundamentalist anti-choicers about what is and is not a contraceptive and what is and is not an abortifacient is like trying to talk to an obstinate two-year-old. There isn’t much room or apparent capacity for reasoning. 

People can believe whatever they want and I will fight to the death to defend their freedom to believe in misinformation. But when it comes to politics, policy, and the effects of ideological beliefs on the health and lives of all the rest of us, I draw a line. 

And so should the media.

In the GOP-Tea Party debate Monday night, co-hosted by CNN, Michele Bachmann repeated the falsehood once again that emergency contraception, also known as the “morning after pill,” causes abortion and that by including contraceptives under health reform without a co-pay, the Obama Administration was forcing people to pay for abortion. 

What the Obama Administration did was to include contraception under health reform without a co-pay, because it is an essential form of primary preventive care for women and because among other things, the use of contraception to space and limit births also contributes to dramatic improvements of infant and child health in planned pregnancies. 

And what the morning after pill does not do is to cause abortion, because it prevents pregnancy and by definition you can’t have an abortion if you are not pregnant.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the Food and Drug Administration, and the World Health Organization among other medical bodies define pregnancy as beginning when a fertilized egg successfully implants in the uterine lining.  Implantation leads to the production of human chorionic gonadotrophin (hCG), which then inhibits maturation of additional eggs by the ovaries.  Successful implantation and the presence of hCG, which in fact can’t even be easily detected for some weeks after implantation, signals the establishment of a pregnancy. 

“The definition [of the beginning of pregnancy] is critical to distinguishing between a contraceptive that prevents pregnancy and an abortifacient that terminates it,” writes Rachel Benson Gold of the Guttmacher Institute.

“[O]n the… question of when a woman is considered pregnant, the medical community has long been clear: Pregnancy is established when a fertilized egg has been implanted in the wall of a woman’s uterus. And on this point, federal policy has long been both consistent and in accord with the scientists: Drugs and devices that act before implantation prevent, rather than terminate, pregnancy.”

According to a website dedicated to emergency contraception co-hosted by Princeton University and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, “The way emergency contraceptive pills work depends on where you are in your monthly cycle when you take them. EC works primarily, or perhaps exclusively, by delaying or inhibiting ovulation (release of your egg). It is possible that EC may affect the movement of egg or sperm (making them less likely to meet), interfere with the fertilization process, or prevent implantation of a fertilized egg.” (See also this ACOG fact sheet.)

Emergency contraception therefore prevents pregnancy.

I realize that anti-choice fundamentalists have declared of their own accord that a woman is pregnant the minute a sperm penetrates the wall of an ovum–indeed going further they equate a fertilized egg with a person–but this is not either the accepted medical definition nor is it the the way most people even think about pregnancy.  But since their agenda is to re-define all contraceptive methods as abortifacients (the “personhood” movement and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops also claim for example that the pill and the IUD act as abortifacients) and ultimately make contraception illegal or at the least inaccessible, it behooves fundamentalist politicians like Bachmann to keep repeating these lies until they gain traction.

And corporate media it appears, is doing everything it can to help.  An otherwise factually-based CNN story today ran with this headline:

“Are health plans forced to cover free ‘abortion pills?’”

And this evening on CNN, according to our colleague Sarah Burris, John King further perpetuated the misinformation by doing a “truth test” on Bachmann with a “truth meter” on her statement that referred to whether the Obama Administration had mandated inclusion of coverage under health reform of the “Morning-After Abortion Pill.” These headlines and the misuse of medical terminology are all part of the broader problem of the obfuscation of medicine and science through which inaccurate media reporting contributes to the increasingly ideological and dangerous attacks on women’s health and rights.

Clearly, Bachmann and other extremist anti-choicers need a truth meter, but it would be helpful if both the media claiming to check the facts and the “truth-o-meter” itself were held to a higher standard of accuracy.

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  • choice-joyce

    Although it’s long been thought “possible” that EC interferes with fertilization or implantation, no evidence has ever been found that it does, and the growing scientific consensus is that it does not. It’s only proven mechanism is to delay or prevent ovulation. Same with birth control pills.

  • choice-joyce

    Although it’s long been thought “possible” that EC interferes with fertilization or implantation, no evidence has ever been found that it does, and the growing scientific consensus is that it does not. It’s only proven mechanism is to delay or prevent ovulation. Same with birth control pills.

  • nownyc

    Jodi, NOW-NYC couldn’t agree more!

    Take action here and tell CNN that fact-checking presidential candidates’ claims about women’s health should be held up to the same standard as comments on jobs and Medicare.

     

     

  • freetobe

    comment sent. Nothing is ever going to get better if the media continuously keeps ignoring half the population. I am out of patience with all this to tell you the truth.

    It has been way too long for women to be heard really heard by the media. I beleive it is also why there are so many uneducated voters out there. They believe what they hear on the media instead of the truth.

     

  • jfl1950

    anti-choicers you turned off 80% of the people why not say pro-life?

    And what the morning after pill does not do is to cause abortion, because it prevents pregnancy and by definition you can’t have an abortion if you are not pregnant. help me out here? Why take the The so called morning after pill if there was no pregnancy? So there fore if you take the morning after pill you are pregnent and you abort the baby killing it.

    You have sex own up to what happens and do what is right have the baby or give it up for adoption.

  • jfl1950

    anti-choicers you turned off 80% of the people why not say pro-life?

    And what the morning after pill does not do is to cause abortion, because it prevents pregnancy and by definition you can’t have an abortion if you are not pregnant. help me out here? Why take the The so called morning after pill if there was no pregnancy? So there fore if you take the morning after pill you are pregnent and you abort the baby killing it.

    You have sex own up to what happens and do what is right have the baby or give it up for adoption.

  • katwa

     Why take the The so called morning after pill if there was no pregnancy? So there fore if you take the morning after pill you are pregnent and you abort the baby killing it.

    This is like saying “Why use condoms if there is no pregnancy? Therfore you must be pregnant if you use condoms and condoms are causing abortions.” It’s used in order to prevent pregnancy from occuring. For example, say someone uses condoms for birth control. One time the condom breaks, so they use Plan B, thus preventing a pregnancy. 

     

    You have sex own up to what happens and do what is right have the baby or give it up for adoption.

    You seem to be a bit unclear about how pregnancy and adoption work. First, you do not have a baby just by having sex. I’ve been having sex for 15 years and I’ve never even been pregnant. Second, the options are not “have the baby OR give it up for adoption” unless you can adopt a fetus now without even giving birth to it? If you choose adoption, you still need to HAVE the baby. So adoption is not really a choice for someone who does not want to be pregnant or give birth.

  • jennifer-starr

    You take it to prevent a pregnancy, not to cause an abortion. The morning after pill is NOT  RU486–it is not an abortion pill.  It is simply a higher than usual does of a regular birth control pill.  So you’re not aborting anything. 

    As to ‘what is right’,  that depends on the personal situation of the woman–what is right for you may not be right for someone else.  As to owning up to what happens, in many circumstances choosing to end a pregnancy is the most responsible action to take. 

  • colleen

    why not say pro-life?

    Because it is highly misleading and inaccurate to call the religious right ‘pro-life’.

  • ack

    Why take the The so called morning after pill if there was no pregnancy?

     

    Emergency contraception is just a really big dose of the same hormones in birth control pills, which women and girls take to prevent pregnancy. It prevents ovulation, just like the pill does, except you don’t have to take it every day because the dose is so large. But because of this, it only protects against pregnancy for very recent sex.

     

    Even if she hasn’t already ovulated at the time of sex, pregnancy is still a possibility because sperm can live in the uterus for up to five days. EC protects against that possibility by stopping the release of an egg.

     

    I suggest seeking information about emergency contraception from actual doctors and scientists instead of propaganda sites.

  • crowepps

    Why put on your seatbelt when you get in the car?  Why not wait until you see the other car is going to hit you?

    The morning after pill/Plan B only works if one of the eggs ripening has not yet been released.  The morning after pill has a failure rate of 15% BECAUSE that’s how often there has already been an egg released.  If one of the eggs ripening has not yet been released, MAP tricks the ovary into believing that an egg has been released and the ovary does not release any eggs.  If an egg is not released, the woman cannot get pregnant.  If a woman is already “pregnant” and a placenta and embroyo are already developing, Plan B/MAP does not disturb that pregnancy.

    Following is a link to a step by step explanation of human reproduction.  With (relatively innocuous) diagrams.  It includes the following statement:

    Once deposited within the vagina, the sperm proceed on their journey into and through the uterus and on up into the fallopian tubes. It is here that fertilization may occur if an “egg” is present

    http://users.rcn.com/jkimball.ma.ultranet/BiologyPages/S/Sexual_Reproduction.htm

    Note the “MAY occur”.  Women who only have sex at the times in their cycle when no egg has been released can have sex for YEARS without using hormonal birth control and not get pregnant (especially if their husbands have low sperm counts).

  • crowepps

    There is an Anti-Reproduction fringe, which believes abortions aren’t a big deal, thinks they should be encouraged, and which is not ProChoice because it thinks women’s reproduction should be tightly controlled to save the overcrowded world by reducing the population.

    There is a segment of the ProChoice group that believes abortions aren’t a big deal, thinks they should be legal, and thinks women should be able to make their own choices without anybody else interferring.

    There is a segment of the ProChoice group that would also say they are ProLife, who believe that abortion are a big deal, but that making them illegal would kill women, and thinks women should be able to make their own choices in early pregnancy without anybody else interferring, but which also wants a series of gradually increasing restrictions as the pregnancy progresses.

    There is a segment of the AntiChoice group that is ProLife, believes abortions are a big deal, thinks most of them should be illegal, but in order to safeguard women’s lives and health would outline a rigidly defined group of SOME abortions to remain legal, so long as doctors and judges make the decision and not the women involved.

    And then there is the extremist fringe of AntiChoice, who believes women shouldn’t have sex for any other reason than reproduction, and that the process of reproduction is sacramental in its ‘natural’ process, and that any interference with it is evil, even to save the woman’s life.  The most extreme of them think having sex is a felony crime that deserves to be punished with pregnancy, and that pregnancy complications are a capital crime with execution by withholding medical treatment and death in childbirth.  These people are NOT ProLife.  They’re EAGER to kill women.

  • davem48

    I think it should be apparent to most if not all by now that “family values” and related phrases are merely code for “controlling other peoples’ sex lives”.  If, by some terrible possibility, today’s “conservatives” managed to ban abortion, they would immediately go after contraceptives (in face, distributing contraceptive information was once illegal in this country–see Margaret Sanger’s experience).  If sex did not cause pregnancy, I do not believe there would be any controversy over abortion.

  • katie-stack

    Conflating contraception and abortion is an anti-choice strategy. They know full well that the two are actually very different, but as both (in their minds) allow women to be “promiscuous” they promote the idea that they’re the same. After all, coming out and saying “I’m opposed to contraception” would not be very popular. True, but fringe. Appearing to care about unborn babies is a lot more effective.

  • catseye71352

    A more accurate descriptrion of these people would be “forced-childbirth advocates” or maybe “domestic terrorists”.

  • courtneylynn

    I am sorry, Ir efuse to support anyone’s inane beliefs that this world was formed in 7 days by a magic man. Freedom of religion is probably the msot damning amendment we have because it allows for freedom of stupidity and freedom to create more stupid generations. 

  • aero56

    I have used the “morning after” package 3 times in my lifetime. It worked all 3 times. This package, which consists of the normally used birth control pills in a more concentrated formula, prevents fertilization of sperm and egg. It does not cause an abortion.

  • laura-0

    Part of the problem, too, is that MANY many people truly do not understand the difference between emergency contraception (like Plan B) and mifepristone (RU-486).  When the CNN guy used the term “Morning After Abortion Pill”, he may have really thought that was a correct description.  People confuse these two different things all the time, whether they are pro-choice or anti-choice.  I think this partly stems from anti-choice rhetoric, but I think it also stems from the fact that they both came to the forefront of the public’s mind at around the same time.  I’ve worked in a women’s clinic for years, and I’ve often heard people use the two terms interchangeably, including women and their partners seeking birth control or emergency contraception, and who know they are not in fact pregnant.  I’ve also heard women ask for the “morning after pill” when they actually are pregnant and seeking an abortion.  There is just a lot of confusion.