by Susan E. Wills
March 2, 2002
Rosie the Riveter's getting a makeover by the American Society for Emergency Contraception (ASEC). As the 1941 poster girl recruiting women to work in defense manufacturing, Rosie – showing off a (petite) flexed biceps – proclaimed "We Can Do It!" ASEC gives 21st century Rosie a tattoo: "EC," for emergency contraception, in a heart pierced by Cupid's arrow. She's probably thinking "We Can Undo It!"
Still, the campaign "Back up your Birth Control with EC" is no laughing matter. It exacerbates what feminist Germaine Greer calls "the cynical deception of women by selling abortifacients as if they were contraceptives," a deception she finds "incompatible with the respect due to women as human beings." Some of the deceptive claims we'll hear:
CLAIM: EC does not interrupt a pregnancy; it won't work if you're pregnant.
FACT: Only if you redefine pregnancy as beginning when the 6-7 day old embryo begins to implant. But medical texts agree that pregnancy is "the gestational process ... of a new individual from conception ... to birth."
If taken pre-ovulation, EC may prevent conception by delaying or inhibiting ovulation. Taken after ovulation (and sometimes even when taken before it), EC can inhibit implantation of a developing embryo, causing death.
CLAIM: EC prevents pregnancy and should not be confused with RU-486 which terminates a pregnancy.
FACT: Untrue. Also, RU-486 has been used as EC and as a daily "contraceptive."
CLAIM: Easy access to EC will reduce the number of abortions.
FACT: EC has been readily accessible in Scotland for years, but abortions increased from 1990 to1999. Teen pregnancy and abortion rates have not gone down. EC prescriptions grew by almost 300% in Glasgow between 1992 and 1999, with no drop in the abortion rate.
CLAIM: EC is "safer than aspirin."
FACT: Common side effects of EC – a megadose of daily contraceptives – are nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, headache, dizziness, breast tenderness, vomiting, diarrhea, and bleeding. Preven's "Prescribing Information" warns: "Blood clots that form in the leg can cause blockage of blood flow in the leg veins [and] can travel to the lung, causing serious disability or death." This risk is greatly increased for women who smoke.
CLAIM: Increased access to EC will not increase promiscuity.
FACT: A recent Scottish report suggests two causes behind high levels both of EC use and abortion: "more unpremeditated sexual activity" and "more failures in contraception with increased use of condoms" (instead of more effective hormonal "contraceptives"). The report also notes an "alarming rise" in sexually transmitted diseases paralleling greater use of EC. And more than 11% of EC prescriptions at England's family planning clinics last year were for girls under 16, the legal age of consent for sex.
Making EC available over-the-counter in pharmacies and school clinics will prevent doctors from assessing risks based on family medical history, and from screening and treating girls vulnerable to STDs. Such access impairs parents' ability to protect their daughters from risks to their health and their spiritual and emotional well-being.
Susan Wills is associate director for education, USCCB Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.
[Note to editor: To keep under the 500 word count, citations are not included. If you want to include them – the Germaine Greer quote is from The Whole Woman, 1999, p. 93; the definition of pregnancy is from Mosby's Medical, Nursing & Allied Health Dictionary, 2002; and the Scottish report giving information on Glasgow EC use, etc. is -- Scottish Council on Human Bio-ethics' "Briefing Paper on the Morning-After-Pill," Jan. 2002.]