Dear New York Times: Emergency Contraception is Not Abortion

This week, the New York Times published an article hand-wringing over declining fertility rates in America, which it blames over in part on access to birth control. Here’s the problem: it included a parenthetical falsely suggesting that using emergency contraception, like Plan B, causes abortion. Spoiler alert — it doesn’t.

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For years, conservatives have baselessly claimed that emergency contraception causes abortions, often to fuel attacks on contraceptive access. When Plan B and other emergency contraceptives were first approved for sale in 1999, scientists didn’t fully understand how it worked. Anti-choice activists exploited that uncertainty, saying that emergency contraception prevents fertilized eggs from implanting in a uterus — and thus, that access should be sharply restricted, making it far harder for women to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

But almost 20 years later, the science is abundant, and it’s clear — Plan B is does not cause abortion.

According to NPR, “there is now fairly definitive research that shows the only way [Plan B] works is by preventing ovulation,” the process by which egg cells are released. No egg cells means no fertilization — and thus, no pregnancy. There is absolutely no evidence that Ella (another widely available brand of emergency contraception) prevents fertilization, and plenty that shows it doesn’t; one study found that women who take Ella after ovulation got pregnant at the same rate as women who didn’t take it at all.

Worse, the Times piece ignores important root causes for declining fertility rates. The piece blames the trend on expanded access to birth control, poronography, and cellphone usage. But the piece doesn’t bother to consider skyrocketing the skyrocketing costs of housing and childcare, which can today cost more than university tuition. Nor does it consider millenials who are delaying or forgoing parenthood because they don’t have access to paid family leave, good health insurance, or just the economic security needed to raise a kid in America.

The Times printed an extraordinarily misleading “some people say” line of anti-choice propaganda without bothering to fact-check the science behind it. “Some people say” that Santa Claus is real and that Obama wasn’t born in the United States, but we don’t print those lies uncorrected in the paper of record. The Times owes readers context, truth, and a correction.

Image Credit: Seventeen

Sejal Singh is a columnist at Feministing, where she writes about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice. Sejal is a Policy and Advocacy Coordinator for Know Your IX, a national campaign to end gender-based violence in schools, where she has led several state and federal campaigns for student survivors' civil rights. In the past, Sejal led LGBT rights campaigns for the Center for American Progress. Today, she is a student at Harvard Law School and a frequent speaker on LGBTQ rights and civil rights in schools.

Sejal Singh is a law student and columnist at Feministing, writing about educational equity, labor, and reproductive justice.

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