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October 1, 2006

It’s about time, claims bioethicist Arthur Caplan. In a recent commentary on MSNBC, Dr. Caplan, Director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, lauds the recent decision to make emergency contraception (also known as Plan B or the “morning-after pill”) available without a prescription. After all, he goes on, preventing pregnancy is better than abortion. Isn’t that what both sides want?

Well, it depends. For one thing, it depends on how you define pregnancy. Science has traditionally taught that pregnancy begins with fertilization, the union of sperm and egg in the reproductive tract of a woman. Except that such a definition of pregnancy has become inconvenient lately. For a number of reasons, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists now describes pregnancy as “beginning with the successful implantation of a fertilized egg.”

Human life begins at conception, but it takes six days for a new embryo to travel down the Fallopian tube to implant in a woman’s womb – long enough for the powerful dose of progestin in Plan B to interfere. In other words, at least part of the time Plan B causes an early abortion.

Supporters of abortion rights have long claimed that widespread availability of Plan B would reduce the number of abortions overall, but a disturbing report from Great Britain indicates otherwise. Plan B has been available without prescription in the U.K. for many years. Yet between 2001 and the present, the number of abortions has actually increased (from 186,000 to 194,000). With full over-the-counter approval of Plan B by the FDA two months ago, such a pattern will likely be repeated in the U.S.

Abortion centers are endorsing a pill that does not live up to its promise of providing an “easy fix” for unplanned sexual activity. In this way, they offer false hope, and may actually increase the numbers of abortions in the process.

Oh, by the way, last year Planned Parenthood made $25 million in profits on Plan B.

Arthur Caplan’s commentary is available at: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14398371/

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