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No Plan B: Why Is the Indian Health Service Denying Native American Women Access to Emergency Contraception?

7:17 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Sofia Resnick for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Published in partnership with the American Independent.

Plan B contraceptives

Why is Levonorgestrel (Plan B) contraception unavailable to Native American women?

“No, ma’am,” says the pharmacy tech over the phone at the Choctaw Nation’s health clinic in Hugo, Okla., when I ask if the clinic carries emergency contraception.

At the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Health Services clinic in Dowagiac, Mich., the pharmacy tech who answers the phone tells me the clinic does not carry Plan B or any other emergency contraceptive that can prevent pregnancy up to 72 hours following unprotected sex, failed contraception, or sexual assault. And no, she doesn’t know the nearest place to get any.

The person filling in at the Black Hawk Health Center in Stroud, Okla., after checking with staff, tells me the clinic does not carry any emergency contraceptive. He suggests trying Stroud Drug or the Walgreens or CVS in Edmond, about an hour drive from Stroud. I could also try the Walmart in Shawnee, he says.

I learn from the Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal clinic in Shawnee that it does not carry emergency contraception either; though again, I’m referred to Walgreens, CVS, and Walmart.

Were I a Native American woman — which I’m not — I would have less incentive to go to a retail pharmacy like one at Walmart or CVS. Because at a pharmacy affiliated with the Indian Health Service — a federal agency that provides health services for American Indians and Alaska Natives — emergency contraception, like most medication, would be free. And even if I did have the fifty or so dollars it might cost for the so-called “morning-after pill,” I might not have a way to get to a retail pharmacy, if I don’t have a car or if I live on an isolated reservation.

About a month ago, I reproduced an informal phone survey originally conducted last September by the Native American Women’s Health Education Resource Center, based in Lake Andes, South Dakota. I called the same 63 centers (though I was not able to reach every one), all funded by IHS, asking the questions asked in the original survey: Does your pharmacy carry Plan B or another emergency contraceptive? And is it offered over the counter? I did not identify myself as a reporter.

Though some of the pharmacies contacted in that original survey, and in my own reproduction, said they offered emergency contraception over the counter, more often pharmacy techs or pharmacists said that either their clinics offered the drug by prescription-only, or not at all. In all, the NAWHERC study found that only 11 percent of the pharmacies surveyed carried emergency contraception over the counter, about half carried emergency contraception but required a prescription and a doctor’s visit, and about 43 percent of the pharmacies contacted did not carry Plan B at all.

In 2006, the Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter use of Plan B for women 18 and older. In 2009, the FDA approved the over-the-counter use of Plan B and the updated Plan B One-Step, as well as a generic version of Plan B called Next Choice, for women 17 and older. And last year, the agency approved the generic Next Choice One Dose to be taken without a prescription for the same age group. (Other, prescription-only forms of emergency birth-control have been approved by the FDA, as well.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B reduces the risk for pregnancy by at least 75 percent.

But for many Native American women, it can be difficult to obtain emergency contraception over the counter, which can in turn diminish the chances that the drug will prevent an unintended pregnancy. The time to schedule a doctor’s appointment, attend the appointment, obtain a prescription, and fill that prescription — and the fact that many IHS and tribal clinics close after 5 p.m. and during weekends — further reduces access to the drug.

A 2012 study assessing the accuracy of information on emergency birth control provided to teens and their physicians, published in the journal Pediatrics, noted that “with every 12-hour delay in taking the first EC dose after unprotected intercourse, the odds of pregnancy increase by nearly 50 percent. Therefore, even minor delays in obtaining EC substantially increase the likelihood of pregnancy.”

Native women’s advocates spent the better part of 2012 calling for the Indian Health Service to implement a standardized policy on obtaining emergency contraception without a prescription. The agency has made no official move on this requested policy and has remained largely silent on the issue, repeatedly giving me and other reporters vague responses, to the effect that IHS is “in the process” of standardizing its procedures, without confirming any specific plans.

However, communications provided to me reveal that IHS claimed to be working on a policy months ago.

In the face of silence on when women can expect improved access to emergency contraception on tribal lands, Native women’s advocates — led by NAWHERC Executive Director Charon Asetoyer and consultant Pamela Kingfisher — have taken it upon themselves to help tribal communities learn more about their right to a reproductive health service enjoyed by the rest of the country. They have been collaborating with tribal groups across the nation, hosting workshops and roundtables with women’s shelter workers and community leaders, and pestering government officials for answers on any upcoming policies.

“I think it’s upon us women now to challenge our leadership, to step up and stand up for women, especially if the federal government is not going to do it,” said Kingfisher, a member of the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.

‘Moccasin telegraph’

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50 Reasons HHS Should Reverse its Decision on Emergency Contraception

1:40 pm in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Soraya Chemaly for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Here is a $12 billion problem we really can actually go a long way towards eliminating.

There are 62 million American women of childbearing age, 43 million of whom are “at risk” for unintended pregnancy. Women manage their fertility for an average of 30 years. “At risk” — like an unplanned pregnancy is something that just happens to you, out of your control. NOT. These pregnancies have consequences for all of us. Someone needs to introduce the Purity Bear to the $12 billion dollars worth of consequences. And that’s a conservative estimate.

Most girls and women (some of whom are part of a couple…) don’t get pregnant if they don’t want to when they have access to safe, affordable birth control, including emergency contraception. There are no medical or scientific reasons why girls and women need prescriptions for methods relevant to their needs. Just religious, shame-based ones based on stereotypes, control and fear. We should be scheduling birth control biotechnologies the way we do vaccines and they should not require prescriptions. That or we should start requiring prescriptions for condoms. Exactly how long do you think that option would fly with the Pecker Patrol?

The most obvious and immediate issue is the fact that emergency contraception, Plan B, is not available without a prescription and should be. The longer term issue is why American women are ill-informed about and therefore not using long-acting forms of reversible contraception.

It’s been almost exactly a year since, in an unprecedented move, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in an act of what some called scientifically unethical “national malpractice,” overruled a Food and Drug Administration recommendation and restricted access to emergency contraception long known to be safe and effective for all females of childbearing age. This was roundly condemned by reproductive health care advocates as a political act, contrary to good public policy, sound scientific reasoning and bad for women and their health.

Unplanned pregnancies pervasively affect us all: PersonallySocietallyEconomically. And I’m not only thinking about the “motherhood penalty,” direct medical costs or obvious expenses related to children. There are clear linkages to increases in other social ills: like crime, lower education levels, higher incidences of domestic abuse, increased pressure on the welfare system and more. Children who result from unplanned pregnancies are far likelier to experience developmental problems, poorer physical and mental health, to struggle in school. These steep costs exponentially exceed the cost of society’s providing easy, affordable access to birth control.

Here are 50 reasons to sign this petition urging Kathleen Sebelius to do the right thing, get us on the right track, and make safe and effective contraception, especially emergency contraception, available to all girls and women and couples who need it, when they need it.

50 Facts About Unplanned Pregnancies

  1. Rank of the US for unplanned teen pregnancies among developed nations: 1
  2. Rank of the US for abortions globally: Second
  3. Percentage of pregnancies in the US that are unplanned: 49%
  4. Percentage of women by the age of 45 who have experienced an unplanned pregnancy in the US: +50 percent
  5. Number of girls or women who can get pregnant: 43 million
  6. Number of boys or men who can get pregnant: 0 million
  7. Age at which a boy or man can independently acquire over the counter birth control that meets his needs and for which he is responsible: Any age, unrestricted access
  8. Average cost to a boy or man: About $1.34 per condom
  9. Average costs of birth control technologies to women: $15.00-50.00 for month of pills, or Handy-dandy calculator for other methods
  10. Average at which a girl in the United States is able to become pregnant: 12.6 years
  11. Average age at which a boy in the United States is able to become pregnant: Never
  12. Age at which a girl can get emergency contraception if the pharmacist doesn’t mislead her: 17
  13. Percentage chance of getting pregnant from one act of sex: 5% to 30% depending on where a woman is in her reproductive cycle
  14. Rank of condoms in terms of efficacy among four categories of contraception: 4th
  15. Reason given by a pharmacist in Topeka who refused to sell emergency contraception to an adult man : “I don’t feel comfortable with it.”
  16. No of states with “conscious clause” legislation allowing pharmacists to decline to fill birth control prescriptions because of their religious objections: 12
  17. Percentage of US women in their 20s whose pregnancies are unintentional: 69%
  18. Rate change in unintended pregnancy for high-income women since 1994: 29% decrease
  19. Rate change in unintended pregnancy for low-income women, or those beneath the poverty line, since 1994: 50% increase
  20. Percentage of unintended pregnancies in the US that end in abortions: approximately 38%
  21. Percentage of US adolescents today who have had sex: 46%
  22. Percentage of all teen births in the developed world that take place in the US: 71%
  23. Likelihood that a teenage who has sex without contraception becomes pregnant within a year: 90%
  24. Percentage decrease in chances of an abortion with birth control use: 46%
  25. Percentage of adolescents in the a recent survey given the wrong age for requirements for emergency contraception by pharmacists: >50%
  26. Percentage of American women currently living in states whose legislatures are hostile to Planned Parenthood: More than 50%
  27. Decline in unwanted pregnancies when free birth control (all kinds) were made availableto teen girls: from 34 per 1,000 teens nationally to 6.3 per 1,000 teens in the study group
  28. Rank of US for maternal mortality in the world: 50th in the world
  29. Rate at which the US maternal mortality has changed in the past 25 years: Doubled
  30. Rate at which African American women die due to maternity related issues compared to women of European descent in the US: 3.2 to 1
  31. Estimated reduction in maternal deaths due to increased contraceptive use: up to 35%
  32. Estimated number of pregnancies and abortions that would have been avoided if 65,000 women participating in a study had had easy, regular access to birth control pills: 1,300 publicly funded pregnancies and 300 abortions
  33. Chances that Emergency Contraception causes an abortion: 0%
  34. Chances that EC, when effective, prevents the need for an abortion: 100%
  35. State in which a rape victim was denied emergency contraception based on pharmacists objections: Oklahoma
  36. Number of women who get pregnant from rape every year: 32,000
  37. Percentage of rape victims who are under the age of 18: 15%
  38. Amount the federal government spent on abstinence programs since 1982:1.5 billion dollars
  39. Percentage of students who got pregnant that drop out of New Yorks public school system: 70%
  40. Percentage of boys who fathered babies who dropped out: Not measured.
  41. Percentage of parents who opted out of a New York City pilot program to provide contraceptives in school: 1-2%
  42. Percentage of teachers who think students should be taught about contraception: 90%
  43. Percentage of teachers in the US who are prohibited from teaching about contraception: 25%
  44. Grade that Florida received on The Population Institutes 2012 state-by-state report card on Reproductive Health and Rights: F (the others being AZ, LA, MS, NE, NV, ND, SD, TN)
  45. State in which a 14-year old girl faces life imprisonment because she did not want to tell her mother she was pregnant, delivered a baby in her bathroom and then killed it: Florida
  46. Amount inserted, so to speak, into our current budget for failed Abstinence Only programs: $50 million
  47. Number of states that applied for grants to these programs in 2010: 30 including Puerto Rico
  48. Percentage of US sex education programs that teach that abstinence is the only option “birth control” for unmarried, heterosexual couples: 35%
  49. A stated goal of Republican party leadership: defund Title X Family Planning Legislation
  50. Amount that every $1.00 spent on contraceptive access saves in Medicare expenses: $4.02

Many people still do not understand how Plan B works and think that it causes abortions, which they object to. This drug is safer than Tylenol, as easy to use and understand, and is not an “abortion pill.” You should consider sending this excellent explanatory video, along with a copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves as a holiday gift to your representative in Congress or your state legislature.

Objections seemed to hinge on the horror of young girls buying emergency contraception. I don’t understand this. First, boys can buy condoms and this pill is as easy to comprehend and easier to use than micro-thin latex. Object away if you must in equal measure. Second, concern centered (surreally) on a relatively small group: young girls who need emergency contraception. Being “concerned” at this stage — about an eleven year old seeking, by herself, emergency contraception, too little, too late. Asking her to get parental permission, possibly from the very person who impregnated her, is beyond contemptible and falls into the equally repugnant “lemons into lemonade” basket. It’s a desire to ignore and make worse horrible things happening every day to children. If an 11-year-old is seeking contraception there are many other things to be worried about. This is the point at which she needs not to get pregnantIt’s ridiculous to use this reasoning to deny the overwhelming number of girls and women who are not 11 years old access to emergency contraception.

But, beyond Plan B. Last week the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) endorsed over-the-counter birth control pills.

Allow yourselves to dream for a minute, ladies: Imagine not having to pay, with your time and money, for doctors visits to get prescriptions. Waiting for or dealing with a pharmacist, who may or may not have religious or other objections to your private decisions. Imagine being able to walk into a store and buy months worth of your contraception of choice by picking it up on a shelf and taking it to the cash register where some nice person smiles, takes your money, gives you change and puts your cute (or garish) little box in a bag, or you even casually drop it in your pocket, and make your way out.

And, men, day dream for them. Because, well, you know. There are some serious upsides that accrue for you guys. Not to mention just basic fairness. I mean, your boxes are so easy to get and even have the advantage of being thematically organized for maximal pleasure. Heck, you can even customize them.

“Fertility control” is more accurate term because it makes both of these words: “pregnancy intentions,” more relevant and important, and, last but not least, it shifts the focuses where it should be: on the people whose reproduction is at issue. Especially women. Who should be fully in control of their own fertility and are clearly NOT. I say women because a man — as described above — can currently control his fertility by walking into a drug store and buying a condom for $1.34. This is entirely unregulated, unlike women’s fertility. Which is regulated. And, of course, women can buy condoms. Which “reduce chances of pregnancy by 97 percent, [but] in reality fail five times as often because of improper use.” For many women, trusting their futures to a thin tissue of rubber just doesn’t cut it.  If ever there was a public health problem with long-ranging costs that we know how to solve this is IT.

And yet, we don’t. We make women jump through hoop after hoop after expensive, time-sucking, regulated fertility hoop. WHY on earth do we tolerate this from pro-natal legislators? And entertain Bishops who have no place in women’s health care. Ever. At all. Never. Forever and ever. Amen.

Birth control is even more reliable and effective if it is available at no cost. landmark study released in October, involving more than 9,000 women, revealed the totally unsurprising effects of providing free birth control: far fewer unwanted pregnancies and “dramatic reductions” in abortions. This study’s findings are echoed in the terrific fact that our teen pregnancy and abortion rates, while still ridiculously high, have been going down.You would think that these findings would make even the hoariest God-Fearing Patriarchs giddy. But, GFPs actually believe researchers, like voting machines, are colluding with entitled, lying harlots in order to dupe good Christian men and take away their magical powers. This isn’t happening due to the fact that teenage girls are using both hormonal and other forms of long-acting birth control (like IUDs) more effectively not opting to wait to have sex in exchange for the traditional “protections” of marriage.

We need to get birth control pills and emergency contraception into the hands of the people who need it, including teenage girls. These methods are safe and proven to work. But, if we are serious about reducing unplanned pregnancies, we also need to think about forms of birth control that are not popular in the US and not used by American women, many of whom are unaware of their options for reproductive health and fertility management. Many countries already make birth control pills available to girls and women at no or low cost, but, these girls and women also use long-acting, reversible forms of contraception – what the Contraceptive Choice project here calls “LARK Methods.”

The rates of success for some of these methods across the board are staggering, especially when women can choose among options to select what will work best for them. Family planning and birth control are critically important parts of modern life and successful modern economies. This is backlash taken to its most ridiculous and expensive extremes. Join the Reproductive Health Technologies Project and urge Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to get us on the right track today and put women’s interests back into the women’s health equation.

“Emergency contraception needs to be on the pharmacy shelf between condoms and pregnancy test kits, available to women and couples without delay or hassle,” explains Kirsten Moore president and CEO of RHTP, which has led a coalition advocating for this very action for more than 10 years. “Doctors are leading the way saying that all contraception should move over the counter and be available to women of all ages. Politicians need to follow doctors’ lead and get the politics out of women’s health care once and for all.”

Teen Immaturity Is Not the Problem with Plan B. The Immaturity of Politicians Is.

11:56 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Plan B (photo: vixyview/flickr)

Plan B (photo: vixyview/flickr)

Written by Catherine Rivera for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Teenagers get a lot of crap for going above, under, and around the laws that are established to keep them “safe.” Some of these laws are completely well-founded. Others are not.  President Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, betrayed millions of teens and young people (along with their doctors, parents, and supportive adults) by telling them that they were not mature enough to decide to prevent a pregnancy.

As a recent teenager, I want to set the record straight on some things that our politicians may not have realized. Teenagers do have the maturity to know how and when to take Plan B. Teenagers know that emergency contraception is what you use when the condom breaks, when pulling out doesn’t go as planned, when contraception wasn’t available. They know it can stop pregnancy from occurring and that they shouldn’t wait until Monday when they MAY be able to go to the doctor to get a prescription.

Because let’s face it, sex for teenagers happens more often when their parents are out for the night, when they don’t have school the next morning, and when they have the most free time. Monday isn’t going to cut it and while teenagers may want to go to the pharmacy and pick up Plan B because they want to protect themselves or their partners from becoming pregnant, they can’t. Not because they are going to abuse it, not because they don’t know how to use it, not because they lack the maturity to know what consequence the lack of action could have, but because politicians have deemed that it’s immoral to let teenagers to access Plan B. They are denying teenagers access to something that could help them continue being teenagers, because isn’t that what every parent, neighbor, and president wants?

Teenagers under 17, who can’t legally access Plan B, do sometimes have access to it. The majority of people that I know who have used Plan B were not 17 and they didn’t go to a doctor to get a prescription to get emergency contraception. Teenagers know that there are faster ways to get Plan B and so, while millions of adults don’t have the maturity to admit simple (or big) mistakes, teenagers admit to their friend, their sibling, their cousin that they messed up and they need that person to buy them or their partner emergency contraception. These teenagers use their birthday, babysitting, or lawn- mowing money to buy a $50 pill that will prevent a pregnancy and enable them to continue being teens. Read the rest of this entry →

A Young Doctor’s Response to President Obama’s Plan B Failure: Where Is the Scientific Integrity?

11:34 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Broken Caduceus (Photo: truthout/flickr)

Broken Caduceus (Photo: truthout/flickr)

Written by Dr. Megan Evans for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Cross-posted in partnership with Amplify Your Voice. See all our coverage of Kathleen Sebelius’ 2011 Emergency Contraception Reversal here.

Like most of the pro-choice community, I was shocked by Secretary Sebelius of the Department of Health and Human Services overruling the FDA’s decision to make Plan B over-the-counter and available for all ages. This was unexpected, unprecedented, and extremely unfortunate.

Experts, who we count on for guidance and sound evidence-based medicine, have repeatedly shown Plan B to be not only extremely effective, but incredibly safe. Although the experts in the FDA agreed with the well-researched and well-presented data on Plan B, Secretary Sebelius and President Obama chose to ignore their expertise and base their decision on politics, not science.

Not only is this infuriating, but hypocritical. A certain document found on by The Obama Administration dated March 9, 2009 expresses quite the different sentiment. Interestingly, this release from The White House Press Secretary is entitled “Scientific Integrity” and the first line states “[s]cience and the scientific process must inform and guide decisions of my Administration on a wide range of issues, including improvement of public health…”

I suppose I missed the footnote that implied exceptions for family planning.

As I read the press releases on Secretary Sebelius’ decision and the news about President Obama’s unwavering support of her overruling, I could not help but pick apart their few but telling remarks:

President Obama stated that ten- to 11-year-olds would be able to buy Plan B next to “batteries and bubble gum,” potentially putting these young girls at risk for adverse events if they did not use Plan B correctly. Interestingly, Tylenol is over-the-counter and far more dangerous with far more potential for adverse outcomes. Oh, and pregnancy in a ten- to 11-year-olds also has FAR more adverse outcomes than a small, but effective dose of Plan B. Read the rest of this entry →

Denying Access to Plan B: An Act of Political Cowardice

11:43 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Lorraine Berry for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Fool me twice. I’m an idiot.

I keep thinking someone in this administration is going to take a stand that will mean something.

It’s a small thing, really, but a huge thing when you’re a teenager. You need access to emergency contraception and you can’t get it because your government is controlled by fundamentalist body haters who think that sex is for procreation only.


I’m still hunting for the right words to say. Nearly 40 years after abortion was made legal in this country, 50 years since we’ve had the Pill, and women are still told, day-after-day, that the only thing that matters about them is their ability to bear children. And if bearing a child costs you your life, well, what greater sacrifice can you make? (And besides, there are plenty of women to replace you.)


To visit the local cemeteries is to see this philosophy carved in stone–acres of stones that tell the same story. One man will be buried with two, often three, wives. He died in his 80s. The first two wives died in their 20s or early 30s, but the third wife grew old with him. Frequently, there are newborns whose death dates approximate the death dates of their mothers.

We tell ourselves that this was before modern medicine. That puerperal fever, or ruptured uteri, or hearts weakened by childhood diseases and then too weak to bear the strains of pregnancy, that these things are all things of the past.

But, we maintain maternal mortality statistics because pregnancy is still potentially deadly. And lest any American think that we have the best health care system in the world, ask yourself why our rates of maternal death are among the highest in the industrialized world?


The FDA cannot find a single reason why Plan B contraception can’t be on a shelf where anyone can buy it. Katherine Sebelius, and her boss, Barack Obama, they moved the football again.

We were all so happy when Obama chose a pro-choice champion to head HHS. But, it turns out, just like her boss, she’s a political coward.

So what, the right wing thinks teenagers shouldn’t be having sex? How has that changed in all the years that we’ve been talking about it?

Sebelius, no doubt ordered to by her boss, overruled the FDA, denied scientific evidence, to make moralistic assholes happy.

I really thought you were going to hold the football steady this time, Obama. I really did.

I’m an idiot. I keep hoping against hope that you’re not going to throw women under the bus. That you can stand up to the ladies who swoon at the Concerned Women for America. You think they’re going to vote for you because you said no to Plan B?

I know you’re not stupid.

You’re a coward.

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

9:02 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Editor-in-Chief Jodi Jacobson for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

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 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.

WaPo FAIL: Nothing “Controversial” About ella

7:21 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Jodi Jacobson for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Once upon a time, newspapers such as the Washington Post and the New York Times displayed an ability to discern fact from fiction. It seems that era is over.

Today the Washington Post swallowed hook, line, and sinker the rhetoric of the far right anti-choice community on “ella,” a new emergency contraceptive now available to women in the United States.

Let’s start with the headline of the article, which reads:

Controversial ‘ella’ contraceptive now available in U.S. for first time

What exactly is controversial about ella? Research reviewed by the Food and Drug Administration showed that ella, or ulipristal acetate (UPA), is a safe and effective option for women seeking to dramatically reduce the risk of a pregnancy for up to 5 days after unprotected intercourse or contraceptive failure. The FDA approved ella in August. According to the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, it was approved in 2009 by the European Medicines Agency and is already available in 22 countries outside the United States.

The Post states:

Studies involving more than 4,500 women in the United States show ella is safe, causing only minor side effects, such as headaches, nausea, abdominal pain and dizziness, the FDA said.


Ella can cut the chances of becoming pregnant by about two-thirds for at least 120 hours after a contraceptive failure or unprotected sex, studies have shown. The only other emergency contraceptive on the market, the so-called morning-after pill sold as Plan B, becomes less effectual with each passing day and is much less effective after 72 hours.

No controversial scientific findings, no evidence of high risks of side effects, already available and in use in other countries. It’s a method that effectively addresses a public health problem (unintended and untenable pregnancies), enables women to exercise their right to decide whether, when, and with whom to have children, and reduces the need for abortion.

Controversial? Not really. But to the extent that the first impression is the most important, readers would get that sense right off the bat.

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Washington State Moves to Allow Pharmacies to Refuse to Dispense EC

6:07 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Amie Newman for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

In Washington State, a small group of pharmacists are putting on the pressure to allow pharmacies to refuse to dispense medication to which they object – and the State Board  of Pharmacy seems to be bending over backwards to do all they can to help them do so.

The Washington State Board of Pharmacy has voted 3-2, according to the News Tribune, to move ahead with a reversal of a 2007 rule that prevented pharmacies from refusing to dispense certain legal medication – including emergency contraception (EC) for the women of Washington State.

When the rule was first implemented (with the support of the state’s Governor Christine Gregoire) – to ensure that anyone who needed timely access to legal medication from a pharmacy could get it -  owners of a grocery store, Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, WA, responded with a lawsuit. The owners of the store refuse to carry Plan B (the brand name under which emergency contraception is sold) out of “moral opposition” to the drug. While the majority of pharmacists don’t have a problem with dispensing emergency contraception, there are some who seem to feel that that the medical community’s “evidence” that EC is actually contraception gets in the way of their personal opinion that it’s actually an abortifacient. Further, they feel that regardless of the safety, legality and FDA approval (PDF), women simply don’t deserve access to this medication.  . . . Read the rest of this entry →