Opinion

Serious consequences of making morning-after pill "as available as cough syrup"

LETTER — Posted April 5, 2004

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Regarding "Doctors assess impact of morning-after pill going OTC" (Article, Jan. 19): One of ways the "morning-after pill" works is to not allow the fertilized egg to implant in the uterus. Presumably, most women seeking this medication will do so when they are in the part of their menstrual cycle that they may get pregnant; it is likely this will be the usual way this medication works.

As noted in the referenced article, most advocates for "over-the-counter status" for the "morning-after pill" consider implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterus to be the beginning of pregnancy. If implantation is prevented, a pregnancy is not terminated because, by the above definition, a pregnancy did not occur.

These are word games. That the word abortion is not used does not change the fact that a fertilized egg, with its unique genetic material, is purposely not being allowed to implant in the uterus. Many, if not most, people consider life to begin at conception. With this medication a new life is not given the chance to develop and, by an act of will, is being terminated. Thus, the term abortion, or chemical abortion, is appropriate.

This medication would be more available to victims of sexual assault. However, this probably would be a small segment of women seeking this medication. It is likely that it will be used more often to end inconvenient pregnancies, or those resulting from irresponsible or promiscuous behavior. Such behavior is likely to increase if this measure is adopted. ("What the heck, I can take the morning-after pill.") This medication does nothing to prevent other consequences of this behavior, some of which are fatal. It is unclear what long-term effects inappropriate use of this medication will have. Inappropriate use will certainly occur if this medication becomes "over the counter."

Society must take a long look at the consequences of this medication being as available as cough syrup. Besides moral and ethical questions, there are physical and mental health issues to be considered. If approved, it will be a step backward for society.

Stephen F. Spontak, MD, Homer Glen, Ill.

Note: This item originally appeared at http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2004/04/05/edlt0405.htm.

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