Conversation with Sarah Posner

Sarah Posner from Religion Dispatches was very kind to invite me on to her bloggingheads program yesterday (see below). We talked for about 30 minutes about evangelical political engagement in the aftermath of the presidential election. For those of you who watch the video, that’s not the shekinah beaming off my face. I just set myself up in bad lighting in my basement. Nevertheless, I do look like a luminous being, although I am no Jedi.

About midway through the conversation, we started talking about Obamacare’s abortion mandate and morning after pills. I am not happy with this portion of the conversation because it is apparent to me that I misunderstood the point that Sarah was making. At first, I thought she was talking about the fact that social conservatives differ with some medical authorities over what constitutes an abortion. Some medical authorities only count as abortions procedures which destroy a fetus that is already implanted in the uterine wall. Pro-lifers count as abortion any procedure that destroys a fetus whether or not it is implanted. The point that I was making was a good one, but it wasn’t what Sarah was talking about, which I only sort of picked up on at the end of that segment.

So here’s what I should have said had I been firing on all cylinders. Sarah was talking about the fact that some medical authorities dispute how the morning after pill works. The New York Times ran a story last summer arguing that, “Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb.” In short, some medical authorities contend that morning after pills are not abortifacient.

That point is still very much in dispute. In spite of this disagreement, the FDA still defines the mechanism as follows:

It works mainly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary. It may also work by preventing fertilization of an egg (the uniting of sperm with the egg) or by preventing attachment (implantation) to the womb (uterus) [Emphasis mine].

The Mayo Clinic also says that these pills may work by “keeping a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus,” though they note the recent dispute in the literature. It’s significant that even after all of the public dispute last summer, the FDA and Mayo continue to describe these drugs as abortifacients.

If it were ever proven that morning after pills never worked as abortifacients, then many Protestant Christians would probably reevaluate their disapproval of this drug. But that is not where we are right now. The FDA still defines Plan B as an abortifacient. The studies that allegedly vindicate Plan B do not exist for Ella. So the concerns with Ella remain.

Even if none of these drugs were abortifacients, a religious liberty violation would still confront Roman Catholics and other Protestants who believe birth control to be immoral. For this reason, many Protestants who care about religious liberty would still object to the mandate even if none of these drugs were caused spontaneous abortions.

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