AP, Gazette articles uncritically reported Republican distortions of emergency contraception

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Following the state Senate's initial approval of an emergency contraception bill, some Colorado media outlets uncritically reported the comments of Republican lawmakers opposed to the legislation, who said emergency contraception "could cause a fertilized egg not to implant" and destroys "developing human fetuses." A variety of facts, however, contradict those statements.

An Associated Press article published in the Montrose Daily Press and The Pueblo Chieftain about the Colorado Senate's preliminary approval of an emergency contraception bill failed to challenge state Sen. Greg Brophy's (R-Wray) assertion that "emergency contraception could cause a fertilized egg not to implant, which he and others consider abortion." Similarly, an article in The Gazette of Colorado Springs uncritically reported state Sen. Dave Schultheis' (R-Colorado Springs) comments that the emergency contraception bill is "inconsistent with his view that destruction of developing human fetuses should be avoided." In fact, a pregnancy does not begin until a fertilized egg is implanted in the lining of a woman's uterus and will not be affected by the use of Plan B, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The AP article by Steven K. Paulson, which was published in the January 29 Daily Press and the January 30 Chieftain, reported that "[t]he [Colorado] Senate gave initial approval Monday to a measure that would require hospitals to tell rape victims about emergency contraceptives." The article further reported, "Emergency contraception is sold under the name Plan B and contains two pills that contain the same ingredients as birth control pills ... It is not the abortion drug RU-486 and its makers say it will not stop a pregnancy once a fertilized egg is implanted in a woman's uterus." The AP then reported the comments of "Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican from Wray, [who] said emergency contraception could cause a fertilized egg not to implant, which he and others consider abortion."

Similarly, the Gazette article, by staff writer Hank Lacey (accessed through the newspaper's electronic edition), quoted Schultheis as saying, "I'm just concerned that if this would advance anything that would inhibit the live embryo in the womb, I couldn't vote for that."

Neither lawmaker's position, however, is grounded in medical fact. Despite Brophy's reported characterization of emergency contraception, medical definitions of the term "abortion" would not apply to Plan B, which employs a high dose of the same hormones found in birth control pills in order to avert pregnancies rather than terminate them. Moreover, the measure itself -- Senate Bill 60 -- explicitly confines the definition of "emergency contraception" to those drugs that "prevent pregnancy," while specifically excluding any "drug or device that induces a medical abortion."

As Colorado Media Matters has noted, HHS contradicts the argument made by some opponents of Plan B that pregnancy begins when a female egg is fertilized. HHS defines "pregnancy" as "encompass[ing] the period of time from implantation until delivery," establishing the commencement of a pregnancy as the time at which a fertilized egg attaches to the endometrial lining of a woman's uterus.

Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary likewise defines "abortion" as "the termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus," all of which can necessarily occur only after implantation and thus beyond the point at which an emergency contraception carries out its intended physiological effect.

Furthermore, contrary to Schultheis' remarks about Plan B's potential to harm an already-implanted embryo, the FDA's "Questions and Answers" webpage on Plan B states: "If a fertilized egg is implanted prior to taking Plan B, Plan B will not work." In other words, even if a woman administers the emergency contraceptive, a fetus will continue to develop.

From the Associated Press article by Steven K. Paulson, published online by the Montrose Daily Press on January 29 and The Pueblo Chieftain on January 30:

The Senate gave initial approval Monday to a measure that would require hospitals to tell rape victims about emergency contraceptives.

[...]

Emergency contraception is sold under the name Plan B and contains two pills that contain the same ingredients as birth control pills. One is taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex and the second is taken 12 hours after the first pill. It is not the abortion drug RU-486 and its makers say it will not stop a pregnancy once a fertilized egg is implanted in a woman's uterus.

Sen. Greg Brophy, a Republican from Wray, said emergency contraception could cause a fertilized egg not to implant, which he and others consider abortion. He said church-affiliated hospitals with moral or religious objections should have the same rights as individuals.

Brophy said the bill recognizes "an individual freedom of religion" but not an institutional freedom.

"I am disturbed that a hospital that is supported by an organization like the Catholic church would be covered by this bill, that for some reason the hospital doesn't qualify for the same type of consideration for their beliefs" that an individual does, Brophy said.

From the article "Contraception bill moves forward," by Hank Lacey, published in the January 30 edition of The Gazette of Colorado Springs:

Among the legislators voting against the bill were Sens. Dave Schultheis, Ron May and Minority Leader Andy McElhany, all Colorado Springs Republicans, and Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock.

Schultheis said the bill is inconsistent with his view that destruction of developing human fetuses should be avoided. He argued that it would force Catholic hospitals to violate church teachings about birth control.

"I'm just concerned that if this would advance anything that would inhibit the live embryo in the womb, I couldn't vote for that," Schultheis said. "I'm also concerned about Catholic hospitals who are going to be required under that bill to provide information that they probably wouldn't care to."

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