Abortion myths vs. realities: Part 2

Here we go – part two in my abortion facts vs. myths series.

If you missed the first part, here’s the background: several months ago I wrote a post criticizing the methods and arguments of anti-choice protesters. Last month, some members of an anti-choice group that I’d counter-protested found the post and began to comment on it. I got fed up with their lies and misinformation and decided to write a fact-based reply to some of the points that anti-choicers use in their arguments.

Just to reiterate my point from the introduction to part one of this post – I’m not going to argue morals here. I’m not arguing right or wrong, or personhood, or anything that is a matter of opinion. I am simply addressing the false and misleading claims that anti-choicers use in their arguments.

factsThe quotes in italics are from the comments on my original post. You can go back to that comment section if you’d like a better idea of the context.

(Please excuse the inconsistencies in spelling; I’m American so I spell things the American way, but many of the sites I’m quoting from are English. You say fertilisation, I say fertilization!).

Myth: contraception is abortion.

“Your posting is interesting but when talking about so called contraception it should be noted that most so called contraceptives are Abortifacient as they work After fertilization has taken place The IUD Some Pills ,Norplant {rod in arm ],,,Depo provera [the injection},The Morning After Pill,and RU486 the abortion pill…”

One of the reasons that many anti-choice groups oppose IUDs and progestogen-based contraception is that while those methods mainly work to prevent fertilization, they can also work to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the wall of the uterus. Since the egg has already been fertilized, there is already a life; they see the prevention of implantation as ending that life, and therefore as abortion.

In fact, one of the major issues concerning the recent Hobby Lobby ruling is that while anti-choice people may “believe” that this prevention is equivalent to abortion, and that they should therefore be allowed to deny those forms of birth control to their employees based on the religious belief that abortion is wrong, medical and legal evidence agree that these forms of contraception do not, in fact, cause abortion.

document provided by the American Bar Association states: “None of the FDA-approved emergency contraceptives or IUDs cause abortion; rather, they prevent unintended pregnancy from occurring and thereby prevent situations in which a woman may consider abortion.”

However, because the leadership at Hobby Lobby believe that it is, they were allowed to claim a religious exemption from covering it in their insurance plans.

This article by an OB/GYN addresses the (medical, scientific) reasons that these claims about contraception causing abortion (even preventing implantation) are erroneous. I personally found this one interesting because I realized that I had been unclear on some of these mechanisms!

Here’s some evidence about how some of the most common contraceptives work. This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive guide – you can find much better ones all over the internet! – but just to address some of the misconceptions about whether or not these methods cause abortion.

IUD:

The primary mechanism of the copper IUD is that it prevents fertilization by preventing sperm from reaching the uterus (source).

“Copper changes the make-up of the fluids in the womb and fallopian tubes, stopping sperm surviving there” (source). While this source also states “IUDs may also stop fertilised eggs from implanting in the womb,” it’s important to note that this is not the primary method by which the IUD works.

Implant and injection:

Both of these methods of contraception work through the continuous release of progestogen, which:

“stops a woman releasing an egg every month (ovulation)
thickens the mucus from the cervix (entrance to the womb), making it difficult for sperm to pass through to the womb and reach an unfertilised egg
makes the lining of the womb thinner so that it is unable to support a fertilised egg”
(source).

So again, while they can prevent implantation, that is not their primary function.

Birth control pill:

The combined pill prevents ovulation, the progestin-only pill prevents fertilization (source).

Emergency contraception:

Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion (source).

“EC works by delaying ovulation (or the release of an egg from an ovary). It may also prevent the egg from being fertilized. It’s possible, although unproven, that EC may inhibit implantation (that is, prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the wall of the uterus)” (source). Emphasis mine.

I’d always thought that emergency contraception worked by preventing implantation – turns out that information was outdated. Look at me, learning stuff!

Myth: Sex ed leads to promiscuity.

“Parental rights are daily abused when young girls, as young as 11!, are given the Pill or the MAP. Sleeping around at this tender age is so unhealthy for the body and the spirit; they are just not ready emotionally, or physically, to have a sexual relationship, yet we’re overloaded with it by the media, by schools, by sexual health organisations…If you ask me this is a form of child abuse and the problems it is incurring are countless.”

This is touching on several different issues. First of all, taking the pill or the morning after pill is not the same as “sleeping around” (which is a rather outdated way of slut-shaming). People take these medications if they’ve had sex once, a hundred times, or, in the case of the birth control pill, not at all.

Please stop equating taking birth control with having lots of sex, and please stop equating having lots of sex with being a bad person / immoral / victimized.

Second, I’m not really sure how schools or sexual health organizations are equal to the media when it comes to the way that children receive messages about sex and relationships. I’d agree that sexualization in the media is a problem; however, giving children and teens the resources to interpret these messages in a critical way and to make informed decisions in their own lives seems nothing but healthy and empowering. (Also, there’s some unclear pronoun reference in that comment concerning what, exactly, the commenter intended to call “a form of child abuse” – a term I’d urge people not to throw around lightly).

Family planning services (including comprehensive sex education and access to contraception) help to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and therefore unwanted births, miscarriages, and, yes, abortions.

Family planning services (including comprehensive sex education and access to contraception) help to avoid unwanted pregnancies, and therefore unwanted births, miscarriages, and, yes, abortions.

“So contraception does not prevent abortion, making sex ed compulsory isn’t going to solve the problem. It’s only going to make children more and more sexually active at a younger age, increase the rate of sexually transmitted infections and cause more pregnancies with a large number ending in abortion (which is already happening).”

While would be silly to make a broad, blanket claim like “contraception prevents abortion,” there are studies that suggest that, well, contraception prevents abortion:

“A recent study of over 9,000 adolescents and women desiring reversible contraception, for which all participants received their choice of contraceptive at no cost, resulted in a significant reduction in abortion rates and teenage birth rates” (source). Emphasis mine.

And while anti-choice people may claim that making accurate, comprehensive sexual education compulsory won’t “solve the problem” (although it’s unclear to what specific “problem” they’re referring), they don’t seem concerned with providing realistic alternatives. Abstinence? We’ve all seen how that works:

“These data show clearly that abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.” (source).

On the other hand, there is evidence that comprehensive sex education is effective in teaching students how to prevent pregnancy. “Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle found that teenagers who received some type of comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or get someone else pregnant” (source).

Furthermore, comprehensive sex education does not encourage children and teens to become sexually active at a younger age. It actually results in their waiting longer to have sex, and having less sex with fewer people.

“Behavioral outcomes [following comprehensive sex education] have included delaying the initiation of sex as well as reducing the frequency of sex, the number of new partners” (source). Emphasis mine.

“Evaluations of comprehensive sex education and HIV/ STI prevention programs show that they do not increase rates of sexual initiation, do not lower the age at which youth initiate sex, and do not increase the frequency of sex or the number of sex partners among sexually active youth” (source). Emphasis (including inconsistent bolding) in original.

Of course, inherent in this argument of anti-choicers is the idea that there is something wrong with teenagers having sex. By pointing out that comprehensive sex education can delay or reduce teen sex, I don’t mean to imply that reducing the number of teens having sex should be the goal of sexual education. However, if this reduction is a result of teens making more informed decisions about their bodies and sexuality, then I’m all for it.

“It is a know fact that dishing out contraceptives have made for a far more promiscuous society”

Fun fact: claiming that something is a “know[n] fact” without providing any kind of evidence doesn’t actually make that claim a fact.

Myth: the teen conception rate has not fallen.

“To believe that the teenage conception rate has fallen is another myth and untruth peddled by the anti life brigade to lull people into thinking that giving children barely out of Junior School Human pesticides known as so called contraception is the panacea for all ills .The conception rate for under 18 s has probably skyrocketed but you see these little unseen conceptions are melted away and aborted at a very early age by Human Pesticides !!!!!!..in the guise of reproductive rights ..sorry wrongs ….so these statistics are only bandages covering the infected wound of this Society”

First of all, where can I get a t-shirt that reads “anti-life brigade”? Second, “probably”?

While I applaud the attempt at imagery, the thing is, statistics (while imperfect) aren’t bandaging or covering anything. They’re actually revealing that the conception rate for under-18s in England has been on a decline in recent years. Also, since the study cited in the section above this one found that access to no-cost contraception resulted in reductions in both the birth rate and abortion rate; therefore, a reduction in the conception rate.

Myth: abortions involve violently attacking fully-grown babies.

When women in the US have abortions.

When women in the US have abortions.

“.how can you be keeping a little Soul of 26 weeks alive in one room while Aborting a much older gestation Baby in another ,and operating en utero on a sick baby then piercing another baby’s heart with a needle or sticking scissors in its neck to kill it ..the difference one is wanted the other is not!!!!!…”

This kind of dramatic imagery seems popular with anti-choicers. This makes sense, as the image of an injured child can pull at anyone’s heartstrings. However, it may surprise you to learn that legal abortion doesn’t actually involve sticking a needle into a baby’s heart or scissors in its neck to kill it. This link provides some information about what to expect when having an abortion at different stages of pregnancy.

While reading that link, keep in mind that  78% of abortions in the UK happen before 10 weeks, and 91% before 13. In the US, 71.7% happen before 8 weeks, and 91.9% before 13. (US source, UK source).

Myth: pro-lifers are peaceful grannies who just want to help.

“Pro lifers are not threatening types.”

The plaintiff in the recent buffer zone ruling by the US Supreme Court was Eleanor McCullen, a grandmotherly type who tried to become the face of anti-choice “counselors” by claiming that buffer zones remove her ability to “walk and talk gently, lovingly,” as she attempts to persuade women that they should give birth instead of having an abortion.

Unfortunately, while these gentle, caring anti-choicers exist, I have to imagine that that’s little comfort to abortion providers, their staff, and their patients. “Not all pro-lifers!” is not an effective argument when people are harassed, injured, and killed for daring to provide or receive medical care.

Here’s a history of anti-abortion violence.

Here’s another one in convenient .pdf format.

Let’s not forget that these acts are acts of terrorism. I know that in the past 13 years, the meaning of that word has shifted, for Americans especially, but acts of clinic violence are acts of terrorism. They’re categorized that way by wikipedia, and they’re categorized that way by the Anti-Defamation League.

Just this week, there have been several articles about anti-choice groups stalking abortion providers and their patients, recording their license plate numbers to try to work out the identities of the providers and to determine which patients their intimidation tactics worked on.

Myth: CPCs are honest!

“I have to say that never do any places lie as much and as often as PP and BPAS. Videos secretly taken have exposed them for what they truly are.”

“Please prove where and how these places, and our group for that matter, ‘by providing them with inaccurate, deliberately misleading information’ ?”

Crisis pregnancy centers are dishonest and dangerous.

Crisis pregnancy centers are dishonest and dangerous.

Crisis pregnancy centers are centers that are usually run by anti-choice or religious groups. While they imply that they will discuss a pregnant woman’s options with her, they often provide “Erroneous Facts and Misinformation” aimed at coercing or tricking the woman into giving birth.

For instance, “Many crisis pregnancy centers give inaccurate medical information regarding the risks of abortion. Overstating risks stigmatizes abortion, seeks to intimidate women and is unethical” (source).

While there have been several anti-choice sting operations performed on Planned Parenthood clinics (mostly trying to link PP to sex trafficking), there does not appear to be any evidence that the organization or individual clinics have lied or provided misleading information to clients. I clicked on some anti-choice sites to see what kinds of “lies” these commenters might be referring to. Most of the “lies” cited on these sites seemed to be things like “abortion is a low-risk procedure” and “abortion does not affect future fertility”. So, actually, not lies at all (you can go back to my previous post if you’d like links to research on these issues).

Remember, not liking something doesn’t make it untrue!

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