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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Inconceivable: How Bush is turning your birth control pills into abortion

A few days ago I was upset that McCain didn't really have a clue how to define contraceptives. Now the Bush administration is doing what they do best: when the facts don't match their agenda, they just make 'em up. The Department of Health and Human Services is proposing that many methods of contraception--including the birth control pill, the IUD and emergency contraception (aka "The Morning After" pill)--be relabeled as abortion.

Their explanation? That some of these forms of birth control (might) stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Never mind that these same forms of birth control prevent pregnancy through a bunch of different mechanisms, including making sure that ovulation doesn't occur, insuring that the egg never meets up with the sperm, and/or preventing a fertilized egg from embedding in the uterus. So no one, not even the DHHS, can get all up in your business and figure out exactly why that pregnancy never occurred. In fact, the National Institutes on Health birth control descriptions, which DHHS links to as its primary source of info on contraception, don't even mention that birth control pills might stop a fertilized egg from implanting, only that they stop ovulation. They also, you know, point out that these are used to prevent pregnancy. Not terminate one.

Never mind that the American Medical Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agree that conception doesn't occur until a fertilized egg actually implants in the uterus (this is also the point that the body recognizes pregnancy and starts to have physiological and hormonal responses). The DHHS just decided that they were going to change the definition. And why? According to the DHHS proposal,
Because the statutes that would be enforced through this regulation seek, in part, to protect individuals and institutions from suffering discrimination on the basis of conscience, the conscience of the individual or institution should be paramount in determining what constitutes abortion, within the bounds of reason. As discussed above, both definitions of pregnancy are reasonable and used within the scientific and medical community. The Department proposes, then, to allow individuals and institutions to adhere to their own views and adopt a definition of abortion that encompasses both views of abortion."

Which means, as this great blog at Lazy Circles points out, that if you are a pharmacist at Walgreens and you decide that birth control pills cause abortions, you don't have to talk about them. Or fill prescriptions for them. Which will have the end effect of radically reducing women's access to them (especially women who already experience high health disparities and lack of access to services like immigrant, women of color and poor women). Which also, duh, means more women will actually become really pregnant for real and might actually want real abortions for real.

Of course there are many things about this that are incredibly outrageous, (in the words of Hilary Rodham Clinton). But what fascinates me is the "logic" that DHHS uses to justify it's new definition. A poll. Not just any poll, but a 2001 Zogby International American Values poll that showed that 49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Since when do polls and opinion trump scientific research and data? Well, there is that whole creationism thing, I guess. Oh, and abstinence only, too, huh? Why bother with reasearch at all, then, let's just go with what folks believe. Extra points for earnestness and passion. Let's give UFOs their own landing pads and flight zones. Santa Claus gets a paycheck, a pension and an office.

Oh, let's add one more poll into the mix (and one that's a bit more recent): a poll today of over 100,000 people on AOL News shows that 89% of Americans believe that birth control should not be equated with abortion.

Well, this is enough to get even your Aunt Nellie's ghost inspired to act. Wanna do something? Start by sending this letter to DHHS Secretary Leavitt.

And keep voting in polls.

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