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Dear Media: There’s No Such Thing As A ‘Morning-After Abortion Pill’

As I was (briefly) watching Fox and Friends this morning, I heard Republican presidential hopeful Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) reference the “morning-after abortion pill,” the second time I’ve heard a GOP candidate mention the mythical drug in the past week. Host Steve Doocy failed to correct Bachmann, and although this bit of misinformation hasn’t spread much yet, I’d like to dispel it before it attaches itself to the media’s uterine wall. Any interviewer who hears this phrase has a duty to correct it.

From a propaganda standpoint, I understand the activist urge to cast Plan B, the “morning after pill,” in as sinister a light as possible. Hell, even President Obama succumbed to the urge to demonize the drug to a lesser degree, explaining the decision to make the drug prescription-only to those 16 years old and under by raising the scary-sounding, false prospect that it would be sold “alongside bubble gum or batteries.”

But the fact is, Plan B is not an “abortion pill,” it is an emergency contraceptive. In fact, as the drug label clearly states, it won’t work if you’re pregnant:

When is it not appropriate to use Plan B One-Step®?

Plan B One-Step® should not be used:

  • If you’re already pregnant, because it won’t work
  • If you’re allergic to levonorgestrel or any of the ingredients in Plan B One-Step®
  • In place of regular birth control. Plan B One-Step® should not be used as routine birth control, as it’s not as effective.
  • Plan B One-Step® won’t protect you from HIV infection (the virus that causes AIDS) or any other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)

Furthermore, a “morning-after abortion pill” is a scientific impossibility, since you can’t become pregnant the “morning after” unprotected sex. Not only isn’t Plan B a “morning-after abortion pill,” there will never be anything called a “morning-after abortion pill.”

As Dr. Susan Wood pointed out during her appearance on Up With Chris Hayes, the drug is effective, carries negligible side-effects, and has far fewer safety warnings than over-the-counter children’s pain relievers. If there is common ground in the abortion debate, it’s that fewer unintended pregnancies are a good thing, and Plan B is a safe, effective way to prevent abortions. As such, calling it an “abortion pill” is not just ignorant, it’s dangerous. It implies a much more traumatic, scary biological event that could dissuade someone who otherwise might have used Plan B, with possibly devastating consequences.

Calling Plan B an “abortion pill” is more than just propagandistic exaggeration, because there actually is something called an “abortion pill,” and confusing the two is dangerous. RU-486 is a drug that causes nonsurgical termination of pregnancy, but it’s not as simple as a trip to the pharmacy and a glass of water. It requires at least three visits to a doctor, and can take weeks to complete. Just as conflating RU-486 with Plan B can give women a false sense of danger about Plan B, it can also lead to a false sense of ease with RU-486, which carries significant risks that Plan B doesn’t.

The first time I heard the phrase “morning-after abortion pill” was in an oppo memo from supposed conservative “intellectual” Newt Gingrich. In normal times, it would have merited more than a passing mention, but in today’s GOP, scientific ignorance is a feature, not a bug. When I heard Bachmann mention it on national television (not her first brush with dangerous medical misinformation) , though, I decided to see if the phrase had taken root elsewhere in the news media. A three-month search through the TV Eyes transcripts database turned up multiple mentions of the “morning-after abortion pill” by Michele Bachmann, in speeches and remarks in Congress, but only one other instance. Anchor Rachel Platt of Kentucky ABC affiliate WHAS teased a Dec. 7 segment on the FDA’s Plan B ruling. That’s a good thing, but this is how these things get started.

So, to Steve Doocy, and anyone else who interviews Michele Bachmann or Newt Gingrich (or anyone else who uses this phrase), please don’t let it slide. All political lies are not created equal, and this one is dangerous.

Here’s the clip of Rachel Platt’s Plan B tease, followed by Rep. Bachmann’s Fox and Friends appearance, via WHAS and Fox News, respectively:


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