Today’s Seattle Timesand Post-Intelligencerlead with news that a regulatory board is moving to allow Washington pharmacists to decline to fill prescriptions for reasons of conscience.

The prescriptions in dispute are for the emergency contraceptive Plan B. And the reason a few pharmacists don’t want to fill the prescriptions is because they consider Plan B abortion.

There’s cynical manipulation at work here plus a monumental failure of logic.

  • The cynical manipulation is this: many in the public confuse Plan B (aka, “the morning-after pill” or “emergency contraceptive pills”) with Mifeprex (aka, “mifipristone,” “RU-486,” or “the abortion pill”). So anti-abortion organizations have campaigned against the former by equating it with the latter. Some pharmacists (who, of all people, should know the difference between these two pills) have colluded in this misinformation.

    The failure of logic is this: if Plan B is abortion, then so are the birth control pill, the IUD, and even breastfeeding. (This point is the most interesting one in the much-noted New York Times magazine article of May 7 “Contra-Contraception.” )

    Why?

    All of these things can cause a fertilized human egg to fail to implant in the uterine wall.

    For those who believe that human life (and full human rights) begins at conception (aka, fertilization), abortion is murder. And there can be no logical distinction between Plan B and breastfeeding. Both can cause fertilized eggs to “die” by failing to implant. Follow the logic: mothers nursing their babies since the dawn of our species have been unwittingly murdering hundreds of millions of their own children. Breastfeeding should be banned. Indeed, for sexually active women, breastfeeding is manslaughter, if not premeditated murder.

    It’s logical fallacies like these—and the fact that only half to two-thirds of fertilized eggs implant even in the absence of contraception—that explain why scientists and obstetricians don’t consider a pregnancy to have begun until implantation is complete. And why most North Americans believe that human rights develop gradually, in a continuum from conception to birth.

    Closing note: As I’ve argued before, even if one insists on holding to this peculiar notion of full moral rights beginning at fertilization, it’s illogical not to support over-the-counter access to Plan B. In the overwhelming majority of cases (maybe 90 percent), Plan B prevents ovulation or fertilization, not implantation. And about half of the pregnancies that Plan B prevents will otherwise end in abortion later. So Plan B saves something like five times as many fertilized eggs as it destroys.