NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


April 12, 2006

The debate surrounding abortion and birth control has a new player: emergency contraception (EC), says William Saletan of Slate Magazine.

EC -- also known as the "morning-after pill" or Plan B -- is a drug that women can take after sex to stop the release of an egg, prevent the fertilization of an egg or prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus, says Saletan. It has been available by prescription since 1999, but the Food and Drug Administration is considering making the drug available over the counter.

Lawmakers are split on the availability of EC; some say it should be banned because it causes abortions, while others claim it only prevents them, says Saletan. An egg that will lose its fertility within 12-24 hours after ovulation, but it takes sperm about 10 hours to reach the egg -- and sperm can survive for up to five days. So Plan B can work in three different ways, depending on when it is taken:

  • It can prevent ovulation if that has not occurred.
  • It can prevent fertilization, if the sperm has not reached the egg.
  • Or it can prevent implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine wall, which some prolife groups consider abortion.

As a result of uncertainty as to the effects of EC:

  • The National Right to Life Committee won't take a position until EC's effects are clarified.
  • The South Dakota Legislature -- which banned nearly all abortions in March 2006 -- has now exempted any contraceptive measure if it's administered prior to the time when a pregnancy could be determined through conventional medical testing.
  • Even the Roman Catholic Church is uncertain.

Source: William Saletan, "The birds and the Plan B's," Washington Post, April 2, 2006.

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