The Morning-After Pill: Birth Control, Not Abortion

I know this is tough for people who oppose basic sex ed to understand, but you do not actually get pregnant the second a dude ejaculates inside of you. The sperm have to swim! The egg has to be released! The two must meet! There are many factors. And the morning-after pill interferes with some of them, keeping the egg from getting fertilized in the first place:

Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, leading scientists say. Rather, the pills delay ovulation, the release of eggs from ovaries that occurs before eggs are fertilized, and some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming.

It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion, a divisive issue in this election year, is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work. Because they block creation of fertilized eggs, they would not meet abortion opponents’ definition of abortion-inducing drugs. In contrast, RU-486, a medication prescribed for terminating pregnancies, destroys implanted embryos.

Science!

None of this is news to the pro-choicers who have actually read studies on the morning after pill and understand basic biology. But it’s nice to see it all spelled out.

About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Health, Reproductive Rights and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

44 Responses to The Morning-After Pill: Birth Control, Not Abortion

  1. Tim says:

    … some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming.

    Those poor sperm! That must be agonizing for them. We need some kind of spermal pain-and-suffering prevention bill. And it’s just not fair either. That is a MAN’s sperm that is being denied its right to get an egg, a clear violation of the man’s rights.

  2. This. is. so . shocking.

  3. I love your tags, have I mentioned?

  4. Alexandra says:

    Anyone know of studies about the extent to which morning-after pills may or may not prevent implantation rather than simply fertilization? Not sure how you’d determine such a thing, since the zygote would be so tiny, but it’s nice to have SCIENCE to bring up at times like these.

  5. Marksman2010 says:

    But it’s nice to see it all spelled out.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s spelled out. Some hard-headed, Bible-beating redneck in Alabama who believes sex is only for making babies isn’t going to listen.

    To them, it’s an abortion pill.

    The pastor said so.

  6. Becky says:

    Alexandra – the last page of the NYT article Jill linked in her post cites some studies.

  7. Natalie says:

    Not sure how you’d determine such a thing, since the zygote would be so tiny,

    Sorry to be nit picky but it would be a blastocyte not a zygote

  8. Alexandra says:

    Durrr. Thanks, Becky.

  9. It would be nice if this new study actually changed the minds of the conservative lawmakers who make policy. Somehow, however, I doubt it, I mean, look at all of the conclusive scientific data on global warming – that doesn’t make one bit of difference to many people…sigh. Sorry about the negativity – I am still brooding over Wisconsin this morning.

  10. Angie unduplicated says:

    It wouldn’t matter to redneck preachers or their pandering pols. Pregnancy is punishment, and they do, indeed, want us barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen surrounded by little hostages so we can’t leave if hubby mistreats us. All their decibellowing is just framing to support this one fact.

  11. matlun says:

    Sorry to be nit picky but it would be a blastocyte not a zygote

    I will be even more nit picky and note that it is spelled blastocyst.

    How anyone can believe that a blastocyst has rights is just beyond me. But obviously some people do or this debate would not matter at all…

  12. victoria says:

    Bible-beating redneck in Alabama

    I think there’s a way to get your point across without using classist stereotypes. Besides, I can think of quite a few people who believe this nonsense who are not working class southern fundamentalist evangelicals, who instead have advanced degrees, live in mansions, and drive fancy cars: Catholic bishops.

  13. ASH says:

    I really don’t understand why people always go to the “bible beating” rednecks and such, when we all know that there are plenty of urban/suburban “educated” men and women who are all for limiting our freedoms as women and what we should be forced to do/allowed to prevent with our own bodies. Look at all of the men and women who have been anti-women in the last few months with their legislation. Many of them were anything but a backwoods hillbilly.

    As for the bible beating? Well, I think that is the just the convenient venue for these misogynists to control women.

    This scientific explanation wouldn’t do anything to change their minds because these jerks don’t really care about consequences for women because they don’t even consider us people.

  14. Bagelsan says:

    Partly it’s just the timing of the thing, for petesake. It’s generally around the morning after, not the four days after, which would be the point at which you might have a fertilized egg. At which point it might become an abortion, in which case I guess the red-white-and-blue eagle will have to let one sparkly tear run down its cheek for Jeebus.

  15. Bagelsan says:

    As for the bible beating? Well, I think that is the just the convenient venue for these misogynists to control women.

    I think cause and effect run both ways on the religion misogyny question, frankly.

  16. relativenancy says:

    Did anyone read about this case in which a doctor in OK refused to administer EC to a sexual assault victim due to her religious beliefs? http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/05/31/oklahoma-rape-victim-denied-emergency-contraceptives-doctor-cites-religious-objection-as-reason/

  17. Julia says:

    Just wanted to thank the folks on here who are calling out the stereotyping of pro-life folks. Unfortunately, the otherwise inoffensive notions of Christianity and the America South have been deeply tainted by this conservative crusade to define piety in political terms, and it makes me sad.

  18. samanthab says:

    Well, somehow the “redneck(s)” are more responsible than people like Hillary Clinton, who co-sponsored the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, thus codifying dumbfuckery over science. It’s all about location, not logic.

  19. speedbudget says:

    Yes, I did see that relativenancy, and my answer to these conscience clause crusaders is that if you have an ethical/moral problem with an aspect of your job, GET A DIFFERENT JOB.

  20. Marksman2010 says:

    Sorry about the negativity – I am still brooding over Wisconsin this morning.

    If Wisconsin depresses you, how are you going to feel about spending the next 4-8 years with a corporate puke named “Mitt” as President? Oh, let’s not forgot he’ll likely be in office along with a Republican-controlled Senate and House.

    Expect the healthcare plan to be repealed. Expect a war with Iran. Undocumented workers inside the U.S. will be absolutely hammered into oblivion. And I also expect the GOP to start some type of debtor’s prison. Ya know, you’ll have to serve five years on a chain gang if you file for bankruptcy.

    Great group of people those Republicans. Great people. They’ve always been able to identify with the common person’s struggle. Great people. The absolute best.

  21. Bagelsan says:

    Unfortunately, the otherwise inoffensive notions of Christianity and the America South have been deeply tainted by this conservative crusade to define piety in political terms, and it makes me sad.

    “Inoffensive” might be a bit of a stretch when referencing either Christianity or the American South.

  22. Chiara says:

    Tbh you could show catholics this any kind of proof that the morning after pill wasn’t the equivalent of abortion but it wouldn’t make a difference. They’re just generally against they perceive to be interfering with the natural way of things. Like they think that god made things a certain way, so to try to make it better, i.e. not getting pregnant when having sex for pleasure, is like trying to second guess god. Also they’re generally against pleasure and good things for the sake of it: like having a good time and partying it up they’re also against unless it’s done within very strict rules or it’s part of a religious celebration or something. That’s just my experence with the caths.

  23. EG says:

    the otherwise inoffensive notions of Christianity

    No. Just no. There may be a lot of good Christians–goodness knows I’ve met many. And there may be inoffensive branches of Christianity. But Christianity taken as a whole is not “otherwise inoffensive” if we set aside this most recent conservative crusade. I refer you to the, well, Crusades, pogroms, various misogynist actions, etc.

  24. ASH says:

    @Bagelsan – I’ve known atheists who were sexist in nature as well. I wouldn’t say that all Christians are necessarily sexist anymore than I would say all atheists are progressive when it comes to issues regarding women.

  25. miga says:

    I’m also popping in to thank Victoria.

    Insults like redneck are suuuuper classist, and definitely drive a wedge between people who have more in common than we think, all the while ignoring that the people who MAKE and profit from these laws are de-facto wealthy, and have probably not had to work a blue collar job in their lives. I’m poor and from the midwest, and when you say that you are insulting my neighbors–many of whom are just as intelligent, just as committed to making this world a better place, and just as deserving of respect as their northern, urban, college educated, upper-middle class counterparts.

    In fact, the classism expressed in comments like Angie Unduplicated’s make me very angry at so-called progressive movements. You wouldn’t throw around such slurs at urban poor, so why do so at rural poor?

  26. pheenobarbidoll says:

    Insults like redneck are suuuuper classist, and definitely drive a wedge between people who have more in common than we think

    Yup

  27. Arielle says:

    I think this misses the point. The Religious Right Republicans understand science just fine, it is their conscience that is all important. For years birth control has been touted as a chemical abortion by the Religious Right. This is an agenda being enacted, not ignorance. If you REALLY want to understand the war on women and birth control, watch this trailer and buy this book.
    http://youtu.be/5Cb0hVWB2ic website: religiousright101.com

  28. yes says:

    @ASH

    Very much granted, but we’re talking about Christianity as a belief system, not every individual Christian. And bagel’s claim seemed to be that conservative rhetoric isn’t the only source of offensive things in Christianity.

    “The bible says X, so a woman’s place is below a man.”
    I know plenty of Christians who might disagree a little/lot/completely with this statement, but it’s a statement based in Christianity as a belief system. And a very common one explicitly backed up by the book that more or less all Christianity uses. It has a history that extends beyond modern conservative politics.

    There are plenty of enlightened, reasonable ways to not use whatever quote you want to plug in for X, but you can’t pretend those quotes don’t exist and haven’t been used in many places and times by fairly distinct Christian groups.

  29. Natalie says:

    The only thing I hate is seeing the morning after pill misused, people not being responsible and thinking twice before they jump into bed with someone. But if my daughter were to come to me, I would much rather give her the morning after pill then go through a pregnancy at a young age because abortion would not be an option

  30. L. Grabenstetter says:

    I would much rather give her the morning after pill then go through a pregnancy at a young age because abortion would not be an option

    …I’m sorry Natalie, but that wouldn’t be your decision, your daughter being an individual human being and not your pet or plaything. Geez.

  31. maggiemay says:

    my personal opinion—the right is absolutely furious with women and the left is doing nothing about it because men of all persuasions correctly perceive a threat to all the free labor and free goodies they’ve been gettin from women for all these centuries—make no mistake about it, unpaid female labor props up male wealth and power, and if that pillar is yanked away, then OMG they might have to wash a dish or change a diaper or something!! GAAAAHHHH!!!

  32. Chiara says:

    The only thing I hate is seeing the morning after pill misused, people not being responsible and thinking twice before they jump into bed with someone.

    You hate to see the morning after pill being misused by people using it to prevent pregnancy after forgetting/being unable to use other contraception? That’s not misuse, that’s exactly the use it was designed for.

  33. maggiemay says:

    @ arielle—thanx 4 the link, i am reading an excerpt of the book online right now—everyone needs to read this

    • Arielle says:

      @Maggiemay,
      Thank you. Many women know there exists a prejudice against them, many may even know it comes from conservative Christianity. But very few understand how this all fits into “traditional family values” and the Religious Right’s ultimate agenda towards women. Few really know all the pieces and how they fit together. There are several chapters in the book on the agenda towards women, including a hard-hitting interview, that goes into how their agenda drives what we are seeing in politics today.

      After reading it, I am better informed and I read articles such as this one and can see where the real issue has been missed. I really think every feminist in America should read this book – IMHO.

      • maggiemay says:

        @ arielle—i saw the direction this stuff was heading in the 80’s and mistakenly thought no one would take them seriously—i wont make that mistake again

        i dont think anything will affect the opinions of the hard-core faithful—but there are plenty of fence-sitters that can be reached

  34. EG says:

    I’ve always assumed that facts don’t change their mind; if they were amenable to evidence, they wouldn’t be the religious right.

    • Arielle says:

      What is the definition of Religious Right? Who are their leaders and organizations? Where do they get their vision for America (it isn’t the Bible really, it is an author)? How are they taking over ALL aspects of government and the culture, including the schools and moderate churches? This book is critical to all feminists, all parents, all citizens, IMHO. http://www.religiousright101.com/

      This work is a timely expose on the Religious Right that gives insight into the network’s blueprint for America. From Christian Reconstructionists, Dominionists, Quiverfull, Seven Mountains Mandate, to attacks on public schools and all birth control. Find out who the leaders of the movement are and their tactics. It explains and documents a stealthy hijacking of the government, courts, schools, even our history, and popular culture. Book includes interviews, research, and bibliography. Presentation is organized and systematic while in plain English. Shares how to get involved and make a difference in your community to protect your rights and preserve democracy.

      The book is written by an insider who left the Religious Right fold and now shares why they believe they are mandated to have dominion over every aspect of life in the United States. How their vision for America is not a democracy at all. A must read.

      Well researched with current events included and explained. Never dull and answers all your questions.
      This book explains in plain English so you can finally understand:

      How the Religious Right came to be the Political power brokers we see today.

      Why they are driven to be in the sole decision makers in America’s politics.

      Know who the main players are in the Religious Right and their organizations – some may surprise you.

      Understand their highly successful marketing tactics.

      Understand the Religious Right’s passionate views towards: women, sex, education system, science, alternative belief systems, arts and literature and WHY.

      Understand why they view Feminists and Gays/Lesbians as their enemies.

      Why they believe they must take dominion over every aspect of american life from business, government, media, arts and entertainment, education, the family, and religion.

      Why and how the Religious Right’s world views influence international relations.

      Exactly how does The Religious Right impact you, where you are in your home – today, right here and right now.

      How you can become active and protect your rights and your family.

  35. Andie says:

    You hate to see the morning after pill being misused by people using it to prevent pregnancy after forgetting/being unable to use other contraception? That’s not misuse, that’s exactly the use it was designed for.

    This is downright sensible, right here.

  36. Shining Moon says:

    Anti-abortion politics oppose the morning after pill and call it abortion for one reason only. If they can ban it based on their belief it’s an abortifacient, then they can ban birth control pills all together down the road for the same “reason”. It’s smoke and mirrors, ban abortion, ban contraception, it’s incremental.

  37. Partial Human says:

    [1]The only thing I hate is seeing the morning after pill misused, [2]people not being responsible and thinking twice before they jump into bed with someone. But if my [3]daughter were to come to me, I would much rather give her the morning after pill then go through a pregnancy at a young age because [4]abortion would not be an option
    30

    [1] What, taking it with juice instead of water? Taking the two-pill version’s doses 11 hours apart, and not 12? Trying to use it to treat fleas?

    [2] Casual sex is not de facto “irresponsible”

    [3] I doubt she will

    [4] Why, has it already been made illegal in your place of residence?

    I’d assume you meant “I wouldn’t allow it”, but obviously nobody’s foolish enough to say that on a feminist site.
    Also, you’re aware that Plan B only delays ovulation, yeah? If someone is just about to ovulate, or already has, then it’s useless. It lessens the risk of pregnancy, it doesn’t remove it. So what then for your kid?

  38. Mxe354 says:

    I’ve always assumed that facts don’t change their mind; if they were amenable to evidence, they wouldn’t be the religious right.

    Word. At least in my experience, when I argue with anti-abortionists, they only accept only appeals to emotion as valid points. Rational arguments just fly over their head, unfortunately. I wish there was a better, more rational way to persuade them. I don’t think there is one, though.

    It seems to me that it is lived experience and a decent amount of empathy that generally lead anti-abortionists to change their mind or at least analyze their position more critically. Sometimes that’s the only way someone can understand – and perhaps even accept – the common pro-choice position. Interestingly, I’ve seen this happen even to people who oppose abortion for religious reasons.

    FYI, I’m not advocating emotional manipulation as a way to change their hearts, but rather describing what I think usually leads them to become pro-choice.

  39. Partial Human says:

    Lucky – exactly. it’s progesterone, actually needed in large amounts to sustain a pregnancy.

    this is what happens when science is shunned, stupidity.

  40. Chataya says:

    You can actually use regular birth control pills as emergency contraception if you need to.

    I’ve found that expecting any kind of logic or reason from people who at least claim to see a fertilized egg as the equivalent of a 5-year-old child will only lead to disappointment.

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