A BUZZFLASH NEWS ALERT
by Meg White
We’re all familiar with the popular chant among conservatives that “life begins at conception.” But does that mean our government can say that life ends at contraception?
Apparently, yes, if a proposal from the Department of Health and Human Services that carefully redefines contraception as abortion is adopted.
The religious fervor is carefully hidden in the minutia. The leaked proposal initially reads as a defense of healthcare providers who fear being discriminated against for refusing to provide services that are contrary to their religious beliefs. Basically, just because a clinic or insurance plan receives federal funding “does not authorize any court or any public official or other public authority to require” the entity to provide or pay for services such as sterilization or abortion.
Which seems somewhat harmless, until you change the meaning of abortion to include contraceptive medicines that 40 percent of women in the U.S. use regularly.
Some conservatives argue that contraceptives could cause a woman to unwittingly release a fertilized egg during menstruation. But most doctors do not consider pregnancy to have begun at such a point.
While U.S. law is often informed by the American Medical Association (AMA), which defines pregnancy as occurring after implantation of a fertilized egg in the lining of the uterus, the proposal rejects the medical group’s advice.
Instead of using this well-established idea of the beginning of pregnancy, the proposal cites popular opinion from seven years ago to bolster its claim of conception as the beginning of life:
“A 2001 Zogby International American Values poll revealed that 49% of Americans believe that human life begins at conception. Presumably many who hold this belief think that any action that destroys human life after conception is the termination of a pregnancy, and so would be included in their definition of the term ‘abortion.’”
The proposal does cite a few dictionary definitions to bolster its case, but when defining medical and scientific terms, it becomes necessary to use “operational definitions” of things that can actually be measured. The main reason most medical groups use implantation as a marker is that there is no way to prove conception has occurred before that point.
Although there’s no proof that contraception causes abortion, many anti-abortion activists insist that it does. At a 2001 AMA meeting, voted against informing women that using contraception could cause a fertilized (but not implanted) egg to be expelled from the body. The reason for the vote was explained in an article at the time by Dr. John C. Nelson, described as a conservative member of the group’s executive committee:
“Many people from the American Society of Reproductive Medicine … decided that they would testify, and their testimony was that there is not sufficient scientific evidence to suggest” that birth control substances can induce abortions. “One of the foremost infertility doctors in the country [said] that’s not the way it works … I have no reason to doubt him.”
Even doctors opposed to abortion shy away from establishing contraception as abortion. Cristina Page, in her article for The Huffington Post on this matter noted the following:
In 1999, the physicians — who, like the movement at large, define pregnancy as beginning at fertilization — released an open letter to community stating:
“Recently, some special interest groups have claimed, without providing any scientific rationale, that some methods of contraception may have an abortifacient effect … The ‘hormonal contraception is abortifacient’ theory is not established fact. It is speculation, and the discussion presented here suggests it is error … if a family, weighing all the factors affecting their own circumstances, decides to use this modality, we are confident that they are not using an abortifacient.”
Another worrying element is the individual protections provided by the proposal. It would protect staff members from being forced to do anything contrary to their religious beliefs, which would ostensibly allow a pharmacy tech to refuse to hand over a prescription issued by a doctor without any fear of losing their job. Also, no applicant could be turned down employment based on their refusal to engage in certain activities, opening up healthcare providers to possible hiring discrimination lawsuits. The provision extends to internship programs and even research, with more implications that can be considered here.
The effects could be far-reaching. According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, a rape-victim who goes to a health clinic for treatment could be denied emergency contraceptives, women who rely on Title X-funded programs could be denied prescribed contraceptives, and some could even be denied a referral to a clinic which supports reproductive care.
The legal basis for the proposal, the Church and Weldon Amendments, are described as “religiously influenced interference in medicine” by Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health.
A BUZZFLASH NEWS ALERT