The truth of emergency contraception

New rules under the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, require contraception coverage without cost to women as part of basic health care coverage. Despite overwhelming evidence that the ability to plan and space pregnancies critically impacts a woman’s health and the health of her children, many employers, most notably the Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby, are suing the federal government, claiming that the requirement to cover contraception violates their personal religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit specifically addresses the requirement to provide emergency contraception, the “morning-after pill,” which they equate with abortion.

Logically, anti-abortion advocates should be among the strongest proponents of all types of contraception, but instead, they seem “fooled” as Kierkegaard’s quote above describes.

Abortion foes believe what isn’t true when they equate contraception and emergency contraception with abortion. They don’t believe what is true when they fail to see that the best way to prevent abortion is to provide reliable birth control.

After unprotected intercourse, sperm can live in the woman’s reproductive system for up to five days. The morning-after pill works by preventing the release of the egg, thereby preventing fertilization and pregnancy. It decreases the likelihood of pregnancy by about 80 percent.

The product descriptions for the two available medications state that blocking implantation of an embryo is a possible mechanism for these medications, but newer studies dispute this. Neither medication interrupts an established pregnancy, so the idea that emergency contraception equates to abortion is false.

Access to emergency contraception is vital for rape victims and for women who have a contraceptive failure. The impulse to shame women who require this medication is counterproductive and hypocritical.

The practice of medicine has always helped people recover from the consequences of their lifestyle choices. We provide emergency care to people injured from risky behavior and cardiac care to patients who develop heart disease from their diet and exercise habits, and we treat lung cancer patients who smoke.

Half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned, and almost half of those end in abortion. We know from our own history and from experience in other countries that making abortion illegal does not prevent its occurrence.

However, a new study in the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology demonstrated the effectiveness of providing no-cost contraception to women in the St. Louis area. Without cost as a determining factor, more women chose the very effective long-acting methods of contraception. The women in this study had 75 percent fewer abortions than other women in the same region. The teen pregnancy rate in study participants was 6 per 1,000 teens compared to 34 per 1,000 for the region.

Public policy should be guided by facts rather than personal prejudice. We must educate the public and promote women’s reproductive health so that those who wish to prevent abortion will no longer be fooled by false assertions.

We must expand access to the only proven method of abortion prevention: effective contraception.

Stone is an OKC obstetrician/gynecologist.