VOL 124 NO. 27
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
NYS Catholics ask Pataki to terminate pro emergency contraception bill
Last week, Massachusetts pro-life governor Mitt Romney vetoed a bill that would have amplified the distribution of the so-called morning-after pill and most Catholics in New York State hope their Governor George Pataki will do the same this month.
Also last week, the New York State Senate passed a bill that would permit pharmacists and nurses to distribute morning-after pills. The bill, labeled the Unintended Pregnancy Prevention Act (A.116 Paulin/S.3661 Spano), would make the pills available without a prescription, but would not be sold in the manner of “over-the-counter” medicines such as aspirin.
Billed as a contraceptive, the pill is, in fact, an abortifacient, according to the New York Council of Bishops.
“Oral contraceptives are abortifacients,” said Cindy Falise, director of the Syracuse Diocese Respect Life office. “They are effective because they work in three different ways. First they try to prevent ovulation, because ovulation still does occur on some occasions. [Second] The pill thickens the mucous to make it more difficult for sperm to get through to the egg, because there are some pretty strong sperm swimmers. [Third] The last way contraceptives work is, in the event pregnancy does occur, it provides a hostile environment in the uterus so the egg cannot implant. In that case it works as an abortifacient. That is the same thing for EC [emergency contraceptive].”
If taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, the pill can be effective in protecting the user against pregnancy. Optimal results are obtained if the pill is ingested within 34 hours of the act. The pill introduces a significant dosage of hormones into the woman’s system. It operates basically along the same lines as conventional oral contraceptives.
According to Kathleen Gallagher, director of the New York State Catholic Conference and director of Pro-Life Activities, the state’s bishops oppose the bill on “both moral and practical grounds.”
First of all, the pill can act as a chemical abortion. Second, “It’s just bad health policy,” Gallagher said, as it removes the physician from the equation by empowering pharmacists and school nurses to distribute the pills.
Currently, both Plan B, produced by Barr Pharmaceuticals, and Preven, produced by Gynetics, are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but not without a written prescription from a doctor. Plan B is the drug currently under scrutiny by the state government.
Although two of its advisory committees have approved emergency contraception for “over-the-counter” distribution, the FDA has yet to grant its approval. The FDA has admitted that the most poorly researched and tested element is teenagers.
The fear among Catholic clerics and pro-life activists is that the drug will become widely used by such teenagers.
In May, the parents of Philadelphia teenager Melissa Anspach initiated legal action seeking a permanent injunction to prevent the Philadelphia Department of Health from offering the morning-after pill to minors. A social worker at Philadelphia Health Care Center No. 10 had given the pill to Melissa who had a violent reaction that precipitated two trips to the emergency room.
Pro-choice proponents of the morning-after pill claim that it is a contraceptive only and that it does not affect an established pregnancy. A statement from the Pontifical Academy for Life, however, counters that differences between the pill’s mode of operation and that of an abortion are merely semantic.
“It is clear…that the proven ‘anti-implantation’ action of the morning-after pill is really nothing other than a chemically induced abortion,” the statement reads. “It is neither intellectually consistent nor scientifically justifiable to say that we are not dealing with the same thing.”
A recent letter to the editor published in the Syracuse Post-Standard from Betty DeFazio and Carol Love of Planned Parenthood of the Rochester/Syracuse region asserts, “EC will not affect an established pregnancy. EC is often confused with Mifepristone (sometimes known as RU-486 or the abortion pill). Both are approved by the FDA, but for different purposes. EC prevents a pregnancy from occurring (if taken within hours or a few days); it cannot end an established pregnancy.”
Falise finds the letter’s claim improbable considering the heavy dosage of hormones which make EC effective.
“EC kits are supposed to include a pregnancy test to rule out an existing pregnancy,” she said. “The claim that it can’t affect an established pregnancy is unbelievable to me because EC is a mega dose of hormones and we’ve seen other cases of long-term consequences to ingesting medicines during early pregnancy. So I am not sure we know the answer to that — I think that might be under the category of ‘We don’t really know the answer to long term consequences.’”
The bill must be sent to Governor Pataki from the state assembly by Aug. 5. The governor has 10 days to veto or approve the bill.