The Big Lie about Plan B–What You Really Should Be Telling Your Friends.

It’s time, once and for all, to clear up the confusion about Plan B on message boards, Facebook pages, forums and comment threads. Tweet this: Plan B doesn’t cause abortion. It stops or delays ovulation. No egg, no fertilization, no pregnancy – no abortion. It’s that simple.

In reality, Plan B prevents abortions because it reduces the fundamental cause of abortions—unwanted pregnancy.  About 40% of unintended pregnancies end in abortion. When used within a 72 hour window after unprotected sex or contraceptive failure, Plan B prevents 70% of the accidental pregnancies that would have occurred. One U.S. study estimated that emergency contraception prevented 51,000 abortions in a single year.  Since half of fertilized eggs spontaneously abort under normal circumstances, those who think fertilized eggs are persons should credit emergency contraception with preventing an additional 64,000 fertilized-egg suicides in that same year.

If your friends want more than a tweet worth of accurate information, there are three kinds of emergency contraception (EC) widely available in the United States:

  1. Pills that contain a progestin called levonorgestrel—sold under the brand names Plan B and Next Choice.  Plan B or Next Choice should be taken as soon as possible and within 72 hours of unprotected sex and is 70% effective in preventing pregnancy. Warning:  As of November 2013, research suggests that this kind of EC is ineffective for women weighing over 165 pounds.
  2. Pills that contain ulipristal acitate –sold under the brand name Ella. Ella has a longer window of effectiveness and can prevent ovulation if taken within five days after unprotected sex.  It is 85% effective in reducing pregnancy.
  3. A copper IUD  sold under the name Paragard.  If inserted within five days of unprotected sex, a copper IUD is 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, and it then provides top tier hormone-free contraception for up to twelve years.  For a woman who is worried about the risk of an unwanted pregnancy, this is the most certain option.

All of these options have well established safety records in the U.S., Canada and Europe with no effect on subsequent fertility or health of later pregnancies or offspring. They do not cause weight gain and in fact may help you avoid it. The progestin in Plan B is the same as that in the Mirena IUD, which has been used by European women for fifteen years continuously with normal fertility rates after. Similarly, the copper IUD  track record has been established over decades, with normal rates of conception and healthy pregnancy after years of use. In some countries a formulation similar to Plan B has been marketed simply as a “post coital contraceptive” for women who have sex rarely.

Of these three, the copper IUD may interfere with implantation of a fertilized egg, should one exist. However, its primary mechanism of action is to reduce sperm motility, which means it averts more fertilized egg deaths than it causes. Both kinds of EC pills function by stopping or delaying ovulation. There has been speculation about whether they might also block sperm or implantation, but research has failed to find evidence of either of these.  None of them aborts an implanted embryo.  That requires a different medication.

To quote the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals:

Inhibiting ovulation may be the only mechanism of action for levonorgestrel-only ECPs [emergency contraceptive pills]. Recent studies have found no effect on the endometrium. In one study, levonorgestrel 1.5 mg had no effect on the quality of cervical mucus or on the penetration of spermatozoa in the uterine cavity. Animal studies demonstrated that levonorgestrel administered in doses that inhibited ovulation had no postfertilization effect that impaired fertility. . . . This question of postfertilization effect may never be answered unequivocally because no test exists for fertilization; however, the best available evidence indicates that levonorgestrel does not interfere with any postfertilization events.

So why does the Religious Right keep telling us that emergency birth control pills abort teeny babies and that they are dangerous? Because in the minds of some true believers, when you’re on a mission from God the end justifies the means. That is why religious belief has wildly inconsistent effects on truth seeking and truth telling. Chris Rhodda’s book, Liars for Jesus, focuses on the way that some Christian fundamentalists are rewriting history to justify theocracy. Katherine Stewart’s book, The Good News Club, sheds light on tricks that fundamentalists use to woo grade school children for conversion. A NARAL investigation exposed a host of deceptions that are the stock in trade of Crisis Pregnancy Centers including the falsehood that abortions causing breast cancer. Different lies for different ends.

Of course, the term “lie” implies that the perpetrators know what is real and are intent that others should not. That is probably true of some Religious Right leaders. But psychological research shows that we all are best at deceiving others when we deceive ourselves.  Consequently humans have a vast capacity for self-deception when we are motivated to believe one thing or another. Some religious right activists may know that they are spreading falsehoods. Many more, though, are simply indifferent to the truth value of their arguments or are engaged in “motivated belief” – filtering evidence to convince themselves that whatever serves their ends is true.

Here is why conservative Christians keep insisting that Plan B is an abortifacient, despite all evidence to the contrary: The end they are after isn’t fewer abortions – it’s less sex. Or, at least, less sex that fails their definition of God’s will.  In the words of Rick Santorum: “Contraception is not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. Sex is supposed to be within marriage. It’s supposed to be for purposes that are yes, conjugal but also procreative.”

The reality is that Plan B and other emergency contraceptives are not abortifacients but are in fact genuine contraceptives. This is an inconvenient truth for the Religious Right.  That is because, however much ambivalence there may be in this country about abortion, very few Americans share their aversion to effective contraception — or having an effective back up when Plan A fails.

———–

Read more about contraception by this author:
Birth Control and Weight Gain–Is There a Relationship?
Picture a Technology Revolution. In Contraception. It’s Here!
Dramatic Drop In Teen Pregnancy Really a Technology Tipping Point
Pamper, Pamper, Pamper – Plus 9  Other Tips for Falling in Love With Your IUD
A Brief History of Your Period and Why You Don’t Have to Have It
Hey Ladies!  Thinking About Ditching Your Period?  A Doctor Answers 12 Puzzling and Hopeful Questions

Valerie Tarico is a psychologist and writer in Seattle, Washington.  She is the author of Trusting Doubt: A Former Evangelical Looks at Old Beliefs in a New Light and Deas and Other Imaginings, and the founder of www.WisdomCommons.org.  Her articles can be found at Awaypoint.Wordpress.com.

About Valerie Tarico

Seattle psychologist and writer. Author - Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings. Founder - www.WisdomCommons.org.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Christianity in the Public Square, Reproductive Health and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The Big Lie about Plan B–What You Really Should Be Telling Your Friends.

  1. paulboylan says:

    I am honored by your ping back. Thank you.

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  3. Sam Wise Gingy says:

    Religion is filled with sexual taboos.Priests need taboos to give them power over those who will inevitably break the taboos. Religion gains power over its own by telling them their nature is bad.
    The more intrusive the taboos are the more power the religion has.

    Conversely, the more control over when and how a woman becomes a mother the more advanced the society is and the more happiness a woman and her child are likely to find in life. None of that is hard to prove or understand.

    Show me a culture that does not leave birth, abortion, and contraception purely at the discretion of the woman and I will show you a backward culture and an oppressive government.

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  5. WP Craig says:

    Hello,

    I suspect that breakthrough ovulation is associated with all hormonal birth control methods for women because the dosages in the current -nth generation drugs have been reduced from the earlier drugs and because we know that pregnancy still occurs sometimes even with nearly perfect usage. Women were having wretched times with the first generation birth control drugs. Dr. Barbara Seaman wrote “The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill” in 1969 and in a subsequent edition of the book in 1995 wrote that birth control pills still pose serious health risks, from infertility and increased heart attacks to blood clots. Women often abandoned these lifestyle drugs due to their side effects, which frequently include depression, weight gain and decreased sex drive, for just three examples. How ironic. Should we be surprised by such unintended effects when the intended effect is to produce a diseased state – infertility? Do you think these effects – intended (infertility) and unintended (depression, weight gain and decreased sex drive) – might have something to do with adultery and divorce? Now I’m not saying that all these effects necessarily apply to Plan B, but I don’t rule it out.

    The comment about “[fertilized-]egg-suicides” is quite tendentious as natural death of human embryos should not be conflated with the destruction of human embryos by an invasive intervention to impair fertility brought about by these drugs.

    And do you trust advocates of legal abortion for truth when they deploy curiosities such as “safe abortion” even though direct abortion (A) may be a risk factor for breast cancer (I’m unsure the debate is settled on this); (B) is a risk factor for cerebral palsy in babies conceived later; (C) is a risk factor for infertility; (D) is a risk factor for ectopic (tubal) pregnancy; and (E) is deliberately fatal to the fetus targeted by the abortion, for a few examples?

    Peace out.

    • Ah, but you’re forgetting something: Human females are built to have lots of babies that die and lots of moms that die of childbearing. That is how our reproductive biology optimized. In Afghanistan one in seven women dies of pregancy. Even in developed countries, morbidity and mortality associated with either contraception or abortion are miniscule compared to morbidity and mortality associated with pregnancy. So you are right, there’s no such thing as a “safe” medical procedure, but there are “safe-er” or “safe-est” medical procedures, and contraception is the safest option for a sexually active woman. Safest is some intersection of most effective with least undesireable side effects. At the moment, meaning given the current state of contraceptive technology, it would appear that on average IUD or IUS provides that combination because of the very high effectiveness (99.6+%) and low or no hormones). Tangentially, I don’t know where you got the list of abortion related risk factors but from what I’ve read it doesn’t stand up to peer review or in court. Also tangential- you are right about break through ovulation. We know that Plan B is only 65% effective in reducing unintended pregancy for example, and even “perfect use” statistics for combination pills have a 2% annual failure rate.

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  7. Hello, I ask the world and tell women across the world, that this issue is deeper than what type of birth control we use. Forgive me, I am a Spanish speaking woman and my education is very little. I think about how many women are truly listening to their inner voices. Mrs. Tarico, I am also a Christian woman. And I know you are not referring to every christian persons only to the ones that ‘lie to justify the ends’. I will say to everyone that Christians that do that type of stuff are not true Christians. They are Christians wannabe’s. That to me is the first clue and should put to rest the debate between Christians and non Christians persons. Having an abortion will scar you for life as it has scarred me. I am 48 years old and I had an abortion when I was 25 years old. Poor, without a place to live and other circumstances drove me to take that decision. Yes I know many will say, sure is easy for me to step back now and condone abortion. Believe me, I hope it would be different , but it is not. I live with remorse and I know it has affected me emotionally. After that I tried few method of contraceptives but none seemed to work out. I think condones were and are very reliable even though not the most comfortable. When we put our lives in the hands of pharmaceuticals maybe not everything will be on laboratories tested for. Our bodies are so unique [that is the way Our Lord Jesus Christ created us] we are amazing creatures. I am not by any means a Christian woman that believes in having as may children as I want to. I want to be a good steward of everything that I have been given. If I do not have enough money why would I want to have a bunch of children? And believe me I no way I am doubting that the Lord will provide for them, He will, he always has. He has provided for me in so many wonderful way even to be able to correspond with you. I just think women need to stop looking for ways to get out of , when their hearts take them to men that will not marry them or will not want to support them if they get pregnant. Also to become strong women absolutely in control of our lives specially the honor of giving birth. The easy road never makes character, the road less traveled is priceless and worth living life. Let life be what God intended it to be, Lived. I really appreciate your explanation here on how the Plan B and other birth control work. We Christians , very far from been perfect as you can see from my life. I can only speak from my own personal experience. No political agenda behind my comments. Just a simple woman, I work hard in my home, love my 2 children and have let my heat be in peace for my mistakes. I want to live a simple life. Not expecting the world to pay for my errors. I wish you success and my prayers are with you.

    • Thank you for your beautiful, honest, telling of your journey. For me, my abortion was a blessing. My elder daughter who I adore could not exist without it. But that doesn’t mean I had no grief at releasing that pregnancy. And I know that for every woman the story is different.
      Warmly,
      Valerie

  8. sherry says:

    For me as a christian it is the lack of consent, I am sure there are others who go against this completely but I have not seen those comments on fb just the minor child being able to get this without their parent knowing. Its really a catch 22 as those who need this being so young most likely wouldnt tell their parents in enough time to use it but would wait until all options are gone. But thats the heart of it, they are too young to make this choice. I thank you for your article though for if its facts are true then I have learned something today and thats always the goal for me. To be informed. Thank you

  9. Michael says:

    Something to ponder: When does God start creating the life, and “breathe” in a spirit? When fertilization occurs? Implantation of the zygote in the wall of the uterus? Because although Plan B can stop fertilization from occurring, it may already have begun and the now fertilized and developing egg has four days still until implantation (as it travels down the fallopian tubes)…

    So.. does that mean a baby born from an eptopic pregnancy was never created by God, or was not meant by Him to have life such as in a pregnancy that He sovereignly chooses to end through miscarriage or rejection of a fetus anywhere between fertilization and the projected date of birth? Does a person who was born in such an instance have a spirit and a soul? Because for nearly 96 hours a fertilized egg is dividing and growing as it travels through the fallopian tubes towards the uterus… and Plan B if not taken before the fertilization occurred will now go into action to stop this developing zygote from implanting in the uterus…

    Apparently 1 in 100 pregnancies are eptopic and in 70% of those cases a healthy baby is born (says Wikipedia). Even if that number is off by a few decimals places, that is a great number of people alive at this very moment who either do not have a soul or spirit and were not created by God… or Plan B is ending what God has began.

    I am sure the author here is trying to help women… but now it’s far worse than ironic that this post is titled “The Big Lie About Plan B…” This will sound harsh in its truthfulness but it’s looking a lot more like “The Big Lie About the Big Lie About Plan B”…

    I strongly recommend that any medical professionals or people who plan to engage in sexual intercourse spend a good deal of time in prayer before our awesome God and ask Him, “Father… when did you start creating me?” and read His Word and listen for His Spirit… really listen.

    King David wrote this 139th Psalm, and he had a heart after God’s own. Perhaps he can help us find the truth as God revealed it.

    “For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
    I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.”

    If a person wishes to avoid pregnancy they should use the pill (which prevents ovulation – stops the release of eggs). To be doubly safe, use a condom as well. And if pregnancy STILL occurs, God obviously intends for that life to start developing.

    Be blessed, and may God be glorified!

    You may wish to read this my references;
    Conception Process:
    http://health.howstuffworks.com/pregnancy-and-parenting/pregnancy/conception/conception-process3.htm
    And Plan B’s official site info:
    http://www.planb.ca/how.html, http://www.planb.ca/faq.html
    Eptopic Pregnancy Info at Wikipedia:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ectopic_pregnancy

    • Michael -
      Your comment is full of misinformation. First off, Plan B prevents ovulation, just like the Pill does. Secondly, I don’t know where you got the 70% of ectopic pregnancies grow into healthy babies. It is wildly, wildly wrong. By your own reference, half of ectopic pregnancies are aborted by God himself (or nature, depending on which you believe runs this process). Most of the others are dangerous. Per Wikipedia, rarely an intra-abdominal pregnancy produces a healthy baby, but 98% of ectopic pregnancies are in the fallopian tubes where this is not possible. And you do understand that until the advent of modern medicine those inter-abdominal pregnancies simply killed the mother as well?

      More broadly, our best information suggests that a majority of fertilized eggs simply flush out onto somebody’s tampon or menstrual pad. If they have souls, why is God wasting so many souls?

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