Tuesday 12 August 2008

International media, ignorance and the morning-after pill

Reuters in New York reported yesterday that “Urban-living minority girls appear to lack general knowledge about emergency contraceptive pills” but evidently those girls aren’t the only ones who lack knowledge!

The Reuters report goes on to say “Morning-after pills … consist of hormones that prevent a pregnancy from occurring” but Reuters is telling only part of the truth. The morning-after pill manufacturers say that they can prevent or delay ovulation which prevents conception. However, the makers also concede that these drugs can affect the lining of the womb so that embryos can't implant. This may be a death sentence for young human lives.

Seven years ago, SPUC took a case to the High Court to defend these lives.

In December 2000, UK drug licensing law was amended to allow morning-after pills to be sold without prescription in pharmacies. The following year and in 2002, we in SPUC went to the English high court to try to stop it. Our case was based on section 58 of the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which prohibits the use of means with intent to procure miscarriage.

Mr Justice Munby held that the act wasn't contravened by the administration of morning-after pills with intent to prevent the implantation in the uterus of any embryo conceived as a result of sexual intercourse. Mr Munby decided that a mother is not pregnant until the embryo implants in her womb. Although an embryonic child is present before implantation, the judge said, the mother is not legally pregnant.

Justice Munby’s decision has been strongly challenged in the academic press and elsewhere. In a careful analysis of the evidence considered by Justice Munby, Drs Fleming, Neville and Pike concluded that the substantial majority of dictionaries uphold the proposition:
  • that conception is to be equated with fertilisation
  • and that a woman is pregnant from fertilisation/conception onwards
  • and that miscarriage, being synonymous with abortion, refers to loss of the preimplantation embryo, potentially caused by the morning after pill.

Professor John Keown of Georgetown University, Washington, DC, also found that the Justice Munby’s judgment was deeply unsatisfactory. Writing in the 27 April 2007 edition of Legal Studies, Dr Keown, Rose F Kennedy professor of Christian ethics at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, questioned the judgment made by High Court Justice Munby that preventing the implantation of an embryo in the uterus by administration of the ‘morning after pill’, does not constitute the procurement of a ‘miscarriage’. Dr Keown’s paper provides an excellent analysis of the relevant legal precedents, expert evidence, and legislative intentions. More importantly, it critiques Munby’s weighing of this evidence and shows how the judgment is ultimately unjustified. Details of how to obtain Dr Keown’s article can be found here.

Whatever the legal judgements upholding the political status quo on the morning-after pill, urban-living minority girls in the US and women and men everywhere are entitled to the full truth about the abortifacient nature of the morning-after pill.

The Reuters New York piece was about research by Dr Cynthia J Mollen of Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and colleagues, is reported on in this month's Paediatrics. There are serious questions to be asked about this research. I intend to return to it in a future post.