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The prospect of abortion has been an issue of everything from hostile discord to undying horror among people on both sides of this most controversial of issues, and to everyone reading this I am sure that it is by no means new news to say that modern advancements have changed the way we approach the topic. Long gone are the days of coat hanger abortions (for the most part at least) (source): modern controversy now surrounds abortions that can be had as over the counter contraceptives, with the queen of these earth-shakers being the progestin Levonorgesrtel, better known by its brand name, “Plan B,” or its infamous nick name: “the morning after pill.” It was the agonist of the 2014 Burwell (Sebelius) v. Hobby Lobby Stores Supreme Court decision (source) to allow corporate entities the right to religious freedom, and the subject of the more recently refused case 2017 Stormans v. Wiesman (source) involving the right of a pharmacy to refuse sale of the drug. To opponents of Levonorgestrel the morning after pill is the height of evil in the pro-choice movement today. To turn to abortion as a means of contraception is simply evil.
That said, there’s one minor flaw in this line of reasoning: the morning after pill doesn’t cause abortions.
Levonorgesrtel is classified as an emergency contraceptive (source), emergency contraceptive being medically defined as a method of birth control that “…uses either emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) or a Copper-T intrauterine device (IUD) to help prevent pregnancy following unprotected vaginal intercourse (source).” Abortion, on the other hand is “…termination of pregnancy before the fetus is viable (source).” Given that abortion ends pregnancy, and emergency contraceptives prevent pregnancy in the first place, then by definition emergency contraception cannot induce an abortion. If the morning after pill were to cause abortion, then it would have failed to act against (source) conception (source), and by definition no longer be a form of emergency contraception.
Levonorgestrel as an emergency contraceptive, rather than an abortion pill (source), goes well beyond wordplay. It is a common misconception that conception happens upon orgasm, but this couldn’t be further from the case. A woman’s ovaries will normally release an egg once a month, and whether or not she has done the deed has no bearing on this fact. This is why women get periods: her fertility is directly based on her menstrual cycle. Pregnancy itself has been shown to result from intercourse occurring up to five days before this release, yet the earlier you go the less likely a successful impregnation becomes (source). Levonorgestrel works by delaying the release of the egg until sperm have had time to decrease in potency or die off entirely. For this reason the morning after pill becomes less effective the longer you wait, unlike abortion pills, which are not dependent on conception and as such do not see a decrease in how well they work within the first week. The pill has also been found to increase vaginal mucus, effectively slowing sperm down, although outside of large dosages the evidence of this has been inconsistent. In any case, Levonorgestrel has been clearly shown to control birth from before conception (source).
One criticism of emergency contraceptives is that the medical sciences have circumvented the issue of abortion by re-defining pregnancy as “The period of time from confirmation of implantation of a fertilized egg within the uterus,” rather than the more common normal definition of conception to birth or the condition of having a growing fetus or embryo within the body (source). This would be a problem, as it would open an avenue to preventing pregnancy without having to prevent conception, yet there are a few problems with this argument. Firstly it ignores the context. This is not a definition used by endocrinologists (hormone doctors) or gynecologists, but obstetricians. As such this definition is not concerned so much with the prospect of getting pregnant as with the physiological effects of being pregnant. For the most part these effects do not happen noticeably until after implantation. That said, even if obstetricians across the states were conspiring to make abortions easier through wordplay, this argument still falls short because according to the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) it is a well tested fact that Levonorgestrel has little to no effect on the endometrium (where implantation occurs), and even go so far as to indicate that there is no mechanism for Levonorgestrel to impact the endometrium at all (source).
So, now that we know the morning after pill does not cause abortion, what does this mean for the issue? Well, for starters, pro-life individuals who believe life begins at conception should come out wildly in favor of Levonorgestrel since without conception there is no reason to be against the pill. Furthermore every woman who is not pregnant is a woman who is not getting an abortion. In this light it’s perplexing that the pro-life crowd was against the pill in the first place. This mix up shows us just how easy it can be to jump to quick and thoughtless conclusions in this most controversial of issues. The myth of morning after abortions is one of many cases that show just how important it is to seek out facts when the emotions of everything from hostile discord to undying horror beg to be in control.