Political Science: Plan B and the Implantation Debate

Want to know how effective a bully the anti-abortion lobby is these days? When it comes to labeling emergency contraception pills, the Italian equivalent of the FDA–yes, that Italy, home to the Pope and umpteen Catholics, where, in contrast to the U.S., it actually is illegal to use contraceptives that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg–is less timid. The Italians have accepted evidence the F.D.A has been reluctant to place on emergency contraception for years, even though there appears to be little doubt about its validity.

This week the New York Times reported that there is ample scientific evidence proving that emergency contraception such as Plan B and its generic equivalents does not prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. It delays ovulation, which means it prevents the egg from meeting that sperm altogether. This of course negates the argument abortion opponents use to attack the medication, but why let a little truth get in the way of a good story about bad scientists and the bad women who love them?

The Times’ investigation shamed one federal health agency into admitting the truth:

 After The Times asked about this issue, A.D.A.M., the firm that writes medical entries for the National Institutes of Health Web site, deleted passages suggesting emergency contraceptives could disrupt implantation.

But unsurprisingly, when reporters asked the F.D.A. to comment on their investigation, they declined to discuss their decision-making processes or whether they had any intention of revising the labels of emergency contraception to reflect the scientific consensus about its effect on implantation. They did, however, send a spokeswoman out to package their political cowardice as an abundance of caution on our behalf. “Erica Jefferson acknowledged: ‘The emerging data on Plan B suggest that it does not inhibit implantation. Less is known about Ella. However, some data suggest it also does not inhibit implantation.’

So basically the F.D.A. knows what emergency contraceptives do and do not do. It just has no plans on publicizing those facts anytime soon.

With all due sympathy to the spokesperson forced to deliver the news, using Ella to tweak the subject may not have been the way to go, since the anti-abortifacientic by law Italians have already given it their seal of approval.

Now I’m as leery as the next gal about giving any fuel to the anti-abortion lobby’s fire in an election year, but I’m hoping we’re nearing the tipping point where most Americans–including the majority of Catholic-Americans who support the use of contraception–realize that on this one, at least, the religious right is wearing no clothes.

You can contact the F.D.A. here. In these days of diminished expectations, is it too much to hope we can keep up with the Italians?

About Jodi:
Jodi is a freelance writer and recovering academic with more enthusiasm for sports than athletic talent and a prodigious taste for the health food known as dark chocolate.


  1. Don’t get me going about how much bullshit the FDA is. Thanks for calling out their ass-hattery.

  2. Linda Magid says:

    I didn’t know anything about this until now. So glad I read your article!

  3. :::: This of course negates the argument abortion opponents use to attack the medication, but why let a little truth get in the way of a good story about bad scientists and the bad women who love them? :::

    Another great article with the traditional Jodi-ism’s we know and love so much. I’ll tell ya, you have really opened my eyes on so many subjects, as I’ve followed your articles. I was never a “feminist,” but it is really nice to read things from a woman’s point of view. Damn, we’re so smart. :-)
    Great job, Jodi. Write more.

  4. Lisa Brown says:

    TODD loved this article. Won’t see those words again but he as been ranting about the FDA for years!

    • Lisa, I’m picking my mouth up from the floor!!! Thank Todd and thank Charlie for what I’m sure is his positive influence.

  5. Update:

    FDA Quietly Changes Its Guide to How the Morning-After Pill Works
    by Abigail Pesta Jun 15, 2012 5:20 PM EDT


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