A review of 23 studies on the different types of “emergency contraceptives,” published in the January issue of the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology, finds no evidence that use of the pill lowers pregnancy or abortion rates.
Another report, published Jan. 8, confirmed the failure of the morning-after pill to reduce abortion. A Spanish Web site, Forum Libertas, analyzed what had happened in the country since the pill’s introduction. In 2000, the year before the pill was introduced, there were 60,000 abortions, a rate of 7.5 abortions for every 1,000 women under 20.
By 2005, fewer than 506,000 morning-after pills were distributed. At the same time, however, the number of abortions that year had risen to 91,000, and the rate of abortion for women under 20 rose to 11.5 abortions for every 1,000 women.
Similar findings were reported in Britain last year. The Sept. 15 issue of the British Medical Journal published an editorial authored by Anna Glasier, director of a National Health Service unit in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Glasier wrote: “Emergency contraception has been heralded as the solution to rising abortion rates.” “Some authors have suggested that almost a million abortions could be prevented in the United States annually if every woman used emergency contraception every time she needed it.”
“Yet, despite the clear increase in the use of emergency contraception, abortion rates have not fallen in the United Kingdom,” the article continued. In fact, wrote Glasier, they have risen from 11 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1984 (136,388 abortions) to 17.8 per 1,000 in 2004 (185,400 abortions). She added that increased use of emergency contraception in Sweden has not been associated with a reduction in abortion rates.
Concerns had already been raised over the use of the morning-after pill in Scotland. In a report published in November 2005 by the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, Dr. Anne Williams observed that the morning-after pill “is wrongly and misleadingly labeled ’emergency contraception’ by medical and government bodies.”
“It is misleading because it conceals the fact that it may work, not by preventing conception, but by preventing further survival and development of an already existing embryo,” the report explained.
The term contraception is insufficient to describe the full effect of the morning-after pill, wrote Williams. In fact, the pill may act to prevent implantation (attachment of the embryo to the wall of the uterus), which occurs approximately seven days after conception has taken place. Contraceptives prevent conception, not implantation. “Acts which are post-conceptive cannot reasonably be included in the definition of contraception,” she stated.
The report cited evidence from seven family planning clinics, showing that more than half the women had used the morning-after pill at least once that year, and 25% had used it three or more times. Tracking health problems due to frequent use of the morning-after pill will also be problematic due to the nature of programs implemented by some governments, which include free distribution without a need for medical prescriptions.
Williams also argued that diminishing the fear of pregnancy through recourse to the morning-after pill may bring about a casual approach to entering a sexual relationship, with little excuse for a young woman to refuse. Greater sexual activity could well contribute to higher levels of sexually transmitted diseases.
Concern over the health effects of the pills were also raised by Susan Wills, associate director for education at the pro-life office of the U.S. bishops’ conference. Plan B, one brand of the morning-after pill, and other methods of “emergency contraception” are the equivalent of taking from four to 40 times the daily dose of various oral contraceptive pills in a 12-hour period, she noted in an article published Aug. 15 on the Web site National Review Online.