Plan B: Prevention or Termination?

02 Oct

Katie Couric recently asked Sarah Palin about her position on Plan B, the controversial pill often referred to as the “Morning-After Pill,” or in some circles, an “Abortion Pill.”  Palin’s answer, though shrouded in her trademark non-specifity, indicated that she does not condone the pill because of her pro-life position – though she is supportive of contraception.

I was curious about the actual effects of this pill, so I did some research.  Emergency Contraception is branded as a form of pregnancy prevention that can be taken up to 5 days AFTER intercourse.  For many non-biology majors, that doesn’t really compute unless it implies that the pill terminates a pregnancy that has already had the opportunity to begin.

Here is what I found…

Plan B prevents ovulation.  So, if you have any lingering … um … “gentlemen callers” in your system after the fact, taking the pill will prevent a new egg from coming out to meet them, thereby preventing fertilization.

Plan B does NOT dislodge a fertilized egg from the uterus – so unlike RU-486, it does NOT cause an abortion in this way.  So if you’re already pregnant when you take it, it won’t help you.  It basically won’t have any effect.

ECPs do not interrupt an established pregnancy, defined by medical authorities such as the United States Food and Drug Administration/National Institutes of Health and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as beginning with implantation.*

But there’s a missing link in the chain.  Eggs that have not been released won’t be.  Eggs that have been released, fertilized and have made their way into the uterus to attach to the lining are not at risk from the pill.  But what about an egg that has already been released, gets fertilized, and is still on its way toward the uterus (a process that takes about a week) when the pill takes effect?

The jury is still out on whether the pill prevents implantation of a fertilized egg.  Many scientists don’t think it affects implantation, but admit they don’t know for sure.

The reduced efficacy with a delay in treatment, even when use is adjusted for cycle day of unprotected intercourse, suggests that interference with implantation is likely not an inevitable effect of ECPs. If ECPs did prevent all implantations, then delays in use should not reduce their efficacy as long as they are used before implantation.*

Clinical associate professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Pharmacy, Don Downing, promotes the theory that Plan B does not interfere with implantation.  When he is questioned on the assurance of his data, his response is typically, “Do you have 100 percent proof there’s a God?  Or that the lunch you ate yesterday or the Tylenol you took this morning didn’t interfere with implantation?” 

I know.  Not the most convincing answer.

At any rate, the clinical definition of pregnancy begins with implantation, so in scientific terms Plan B never causes an “abortion” even if it does interfere with implantation.  Incidentally, implantation is also the medical definition of “conception.”

So the real question for any anti-abortionist forming a position on Plan B, is when you believe life actually begins.  Many conservative pro-lifers believe life begins at conception, and that true definition of “conception” is fertilization.  This has been the traditional viewpoint since science first shed light on the egg-sperm process.  If a fertilized egg is a human life, then anything that interrupts the implantation of that egg effectively terminates that life.

However, it is somewhat difficult to assert the significance of a fertilized egg as a human life, when the human body naturally discards up to half of all fertilized eggs.  Most of these implant-failures go completely unnoticed.

It may seem like splitting hairs to debate the exact moment that human life begins, but the issue is critical to the millions of Americans who see a sacred value in that life.  At some point, you have to be able to say, “This counts, but this doesn’t.”

So what do you think?

*”Emergency Contraception” by James Trussell, PhD and Elizabeth G. Raymond, MD, MPH, September 2008

  1. jane

    October 2, 2008 at 10:36 pm

    I think you are remarkable. Your ability to grasp what you’ve read & put it so concisely for your readers, well, let me just say, I could never do that. You have written it to where I can pretty much understand it… which is a compliment to you!

    I don’t think the issue of the “Exact moment human life begins” will ever be resolved. Just as I don’t think the issue of “Is there really a God?” will either. (Although, for the position that gentleman has, his “God” comment was pretty dumb)

    I know you & I would disagree on the abortion issue. I have a few reasons for being pro-free will. It seems as if the teaching of abstinence doesn’t work very well, so it seems to me that birth control would be the most logical solution.

    The discussion that Couric had with Palin, I believe was in reference to a 15 year old girl being impregnated by her father & Palin believes victims of incest or rape should have the child. I find that absolutely unbelievable. I don’t think the woman should be forced to have an abortion, of course not! But I don’t think she should be forced to not have one either.

  2. Erin

    October 3, 2008 at 9:00 am

    You really made me think.  I also, up to this point, believed that life began at conception, but as you mentioned so many eggs pass through that are fertilized, but never implanted.  Now I don’t know what I think!  You have rocked all of the fundamental principles and beliefs I held as gospel!!!

  3. Erin

    October 4, 2008 at 8:23 am

    Okay, we discussed and decided that our opinion is life begins at the point where the cells start to divide.  At this point, a baby is actually being “grown.”  As far as abortion, I am against anything that meaningfully causes you to undo a mistake you were stupid enough to make in the first place.  Rape on the other hand is a different story.  Okay, there you go, I officially have an opinion.

  4. jane

    October 4, 2008 at 12:52 pm

    I’m not looking for an argument, but I’ve got to say something. Not every woman that accidentally gets pregnant is irresponsible. Birth control pills aren’t 100% reliable, neither are condoms or other methods of birth control. I realize this is the exception & not the rule, but I don’t think it’s right to refer to women who get pregnant, but weren’t raped, as being stupid.
    Perhaps I misunderstood & if so, I apologize.

  5. Amy

    October 4, 2008 at 7:25 pm

    Erin and Jane,
    Thanks for contributing, I’m always interested to see where other people draw their lines when it comes to morality issues, and more specifically, WHY they think what they do.  One day maybe I’ll expound on my own viewpoint concerning this issue, but I’m not sure anyone would want to read it, lol.  I think I’ve already scared people away by talking about politics too much, so I’d better get back to posting pictures!

  6. jane

    October 4, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    You wrote about politics? That must have been when I couldn’t find you!
    I would like to hear your opinion about abortion. I’ve had different view points at different times in my life, and for different reasons.
    I’ve been thinking about this, not the abortion issue, but discussing respectfully & realized tonight there are assumptions I make about people that are just as incorrect as the one that bothered me.
    I think it’s healthy to speak our mind, it seems that people don’t want to talk about why they believe like they do & to me, that is very important. We have different perceptions for reasons & perhaps your experience can enlighten me & vice versa, know what I mean? (I’m talking in general terms)