by Maureen Kramlich
December 19, 2003
It seems pregnancy, especially showing-off pregnancy, is very fashionable. The December issue of Glamour reports that one of the "best trends" of 2003 is "fearless young moms" -- celebrities who "are having babies even at the risk of temporarily interrupting their careers and altering their perfect bodies."
Yet trends vanish almost as quickly as they appear, and the fashionableness of pregnancy is no exception. While carrying embryos may have been the trend in 2003, discarding them--by something as easy as a trip to the local drugstore--may be the new trend in 2004.
Pills that may kill newly conceived human embryos are now being considered for over-the-counter availability. On December 16, two FDA advisory panels approved an application to make the "Plan B" brand of so-called "emergency contraception" pills available over-the-counter. The recommendation is not binding, and FDA commissioner Mark McClellan will make the final decision.
Pro-abortion groups have urged Dr. McClellan to make a decision based on science, not on politics. I agree. Here are some of the scientific data he ought to consider:
- The pills can act as abortifacients, depending on when in a woman's (or a teenage girl's) cycle they are taken. The progestin-only pills may suppress ovulation or may hinder an embryo's movement through the fallopian tube so he or she cannot implant in the womb. The progestin in Plan B, levonorgestrel, can also "alter endometrial receptivity" to the human embryo.
- The pills carry a significant risk of ectopic (out of the uterus) pregnancy. Health officials in the United Kingdom and New Zealand have sent out alerts to physicians about this risk. In the UK, health officials found 12 ectopic pregnancies out of 201 unintended pregnancies following the use of these drugs, representing a nearly five-fold increase in ectopic risk.
- Over-the-counter availability will allow these drugs to be used routinely, despite the fact that they are contraindicated for such use. A study in the UK found "high levels of repeat use." Studies on long-term effects have not been done. Smaller doses of the same drug used as ongoing contraception are contraindicated for women who have breast cancer, unexplained bleeding, liver tumors or acute liver disease. If the pills are available for routine use, women for whom the drug is contraindicated will not have the benefit of any clinical advice to alert them to the risks. Studies presented at the FDA meeting confirm that many women do not understand that the pills should not be used routinely. FDA data showed that a third of all women (and a majority of women with low literacy) do not understand that the drugs are indicated for "back-up use" and contraindicated for routine use.
- Making the pills available over-the-counter could increase sexual risk-taking behaviors among young girls. The marketing of the drugs already promotes this behavior. One ad shows a group of guys standing outside a college dorm with the caption: "So many men. So many reasons to have back-up contraception."
Maureen Kramlich is a public policy analyst with the Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities in the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops