Behind the scenes: Monday’s Gazette editorial on contraception — and a reader’s take on it

Last modified: Sunday, November 29, 2015
A reader in Williamsburg called Monday to challenge an argument in our Dec. 2 editorial, “Contraception and the court.” After listening to her, I agree a little more should be said on a topic that seems to invite confusion.

The editorial questioned the Supreme Court’s decision last week to hear a case attacking the birth-control mandate in the Affordable Care Act. The founder of Hobby Lobby, a nationwide chain of craft stores and avowed Christian enterprise, maintains that by requiring health insurance to cover contraception, the law infringes on his right to practice religion as he sees fit.

That’s how we characterized his objection. But our reader in Williamsburg believes his fight isn’t with contraception, it’s with abortion.

While David Green of Hobby Lobby is free to oppose abortion, he is wrong to equate certain types of contraception with abortion.

In a USA Today guest column last year, Green said he considers the morning-after pill and other emergency contraception to be, in effect, abortion-causing drugs because they prevent a fertilized egg from developing.

“A new government health care mandate says that our family business must provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance. ... Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions. Which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill.”

Emergency contraception, including the morning-after pill, uses a hormone treatment to prevent the release of eggs and blocks fertilization from happening. Without fertilization, no one can claim this pill to result in an abortion.

The drug may also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus; according to FactCheck.org, that is the grounds on which some anti-abortion groups object. The actual lawsuit that will bring Hobby Lobby to the high court specifies four types of contraception, including the morning-after pill, also known as Plan B.

Even so, most medical definitions, including those of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, date the beginning of pregnancy to the moment when what’s known as a pre-embryo implants itself into the lining of the uterus. The hormone in these pills can thin the lining of the uterus and make it less likely to allow that implantation.

There are medications that do cause abortions, such as mifepristone, known as the “abortion pill.”

It is entirely fair to call that medication an abortion-causing drug. But it can’t be paid for by federal funds. Since the passage of the Hyde Amendment in 1977, no federal money has been able to pay for abortion unless the mother’s life is in danger, or she is the victim of rape or incest. That policy remains in effect with Obamacare, as the president reaffirmed in a 2010 executive order.

As she was researching this issue as a member of the Gazette’s editorial board, Kristin Palpini found an interesting study at the Washington University School of Medicine that suggests that contraception helps reduce the use of abortion.

According to that study, when women are made aware of contraception and gain access to it, the abortion rate drops. Among women with access to contraception, the rate of abortion was 4.4 to 7.5 per 1,000 women. The national rate during the time studied, 2008-2010, was 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women.

If all women were informed about birth control and had access to it, the researchers suggested, the abortion rate in this country could drop by 41 to 71 percent.

The study supports the common sense, and the humanity, of helping American woman obtain birth control — which was the point of Monday’s editorial.