Monday 20 September 2010

Myth-busting Monday 'Emergency contraception is the same as abortion'

Every Monday EFC busts myths and takes names, cutting through the misinformation, disinformation, and straight up nonsense to bring you the facts.

Emergency hormonal contraception (EHC), also known as the “morning-after pill”, can be taken up to 72 hours after unprotected sex to help prevent pregnancy (though there is also a new pill called EllaOne that can be taken up to 5 days later- ask your pharmacist!).

The key word here is “prevent”- EHC does not cause an abortion. Some people believe that pregnancy begins when the sperm and egg meet, but this is not medically or legally considered to be the case. In fact the High Court has confirmed that pregnancy legally begins when a fertilised egg implants in the lining of a woman’s uterus (womb). EHC works by keeping your ovaries from releasing eggs, keeping the sperm and egg from meeting, or keeping the fertilised egg from implanting, depending on when you take it. If you are already pregnant, taking EHC does not harm the pregnancy.

People who oppose the provision of a comprehensive range of contraception for women would like EHC to be governed by the same laws as abortion (i.e. needing the consent of two doctors). This would cause delays that would prevent women being able to take it on time.


  1. If one reads the various pages of advice on this site one finds a fairly balanced presentation. However, the above article is clearly biased since it states that a life begins when the British law courts decide it is so, which is obviously based on the consensus of the British medical profession, from whence their "evidence" derives. Unfortunately science has never been able to offer a proper definition of what life is or where it comes from, therefore the medical profession remains unqualified to make this decision. If a scientist can explain the difference between a cadaver (a dead body) and a living person that is, what is it that animates us. That would explain life, that existing in us that is not in rocks, door handles or any other inanimate object. The simple answer is no one knows. Therefore we have to accept that life begins when a unique individual appears. One that has it's own distinct set of genes, different from the mother or father. That would be at the point of conception, i.e. the fertilised egg. Therefore any process that purposefully destroys a fertilised egg is by definition an abortion. And since EHC can cause the destruction of a fertilised egg it can cause abortion as opposed to contraception. Now since your site is called education for choice, I'm assuming it intends to allow people to make informed decisions. Unfortunately this article appears to be clouding the issue. The point of this post is intended to present a more balanced approach, based on facts rather than what appears to be a matter of convenience, as the statement "This would cause delays" suggests. This is made in reference to individuals who "oppose the provision of a comprehensive range of contraception for women" as if this is the only stance objections would come from. My position has nothing to do with this stance, it is one that is concerned with facts and informed decisions.

  2. Thanks for your interesting comment. I think it demonstrates that this is still a very contested area.

    It is not within EFC's remit to tell anyone when life begins, but we can provide information such as that medical law in the UK says emergency hormonal contraception (EHC or the morning after pill) does not cause abortion. Or, that many of those people who believe it does do so because they believe that sacred life begins at the point of fertilisation.

    Whether or not to use EHC following unprotected sex is a totally personal decision for a woman to take. Education For Choice understands why someone women would not choose to use EHC if they felt that doing so would compromise their deeply held beliefs.

    We also recognise that some women who object in principle to EHC see it as less problematic than abortion of an established pregnancy some weeks down the line and would rather take EHC as a precaution than have to contemplate an abortion at, for example, 8 weeks into pregnancy.