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Emergency Contraception (EC)

Access to EC by military women

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Access to EC for the general public:

In the U.S. two brands of emergency contraceptives were originally made available to adult women. However, women under the age of 18 had to have a doctor's prescription. Unfortunately, EC must be taken within a short time of intercourse in order to be most effective. There often was insufficient time for a young woman to get an appointment, obtain a prescription, get the pills, and take them within the 72 hour limit.

In the fall of 2006, after a major battle, and an unusual temporary veto by the Commissioner of the FDA against the conclusion of an expert panel, the FDA switched EC to non prescription status for women and men 18 years and older. Most newspapers' editorials and opinion pieces reacted positively to the development. However some articles by conservative Christian groups disapproved.

In 2009, EC was made available to 17 year-olds without a prescription.

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Review of attitudes towards EC:

It is originally believed that emergency contraception:

  1. Prevents the release of an ovum if one has not been already released from an ovary,
  2. Prevents conception if an ovum has been released.
  3. Prevents the implantation of the zygote in the wall of the uterus if conception has ocurred

However, subsequent medical research showed that the third method is evtremely unlikely or impossible. Many pro-life groups refuse to accept these findings.

Whenever access to EC is made available to more women, the same argument quickly surfaces.

bullet Pro-choice and women's rights groups applaud the decision. They view EC as a pregnancy preventer that avoids the possible need for a future abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy. Properly used, they can reduce the number of abortions to a small fraction of their current number.

They generally view EC as a medication that prevents the release of the ovum, or prevents conception. Thus it is a contraceptive, and cannot be considered an abortifacient.

bullet Pro-life and various conservative religious groups condemn the decison. These groups generally believe that human life, in the form of a spermatozoon and an ovum, becomes a human person during the process of conception, Further, in spite of medical evidence to the contrary, they generally believe that EC can prevent implantation. Some groups teach that EC always acts as an abortifacient. Thus they view EC as a potential abortifacient. They believe that the use of EC is as ethically unacceptable as a surgical abortion, because a human person is killed in both cases.

Some groups have backed away from their opposition, and view EC as a contraceptive.

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EC in military hospitals and clinics:

During 2002, the Pentagon's Pharmacy and Therapeutics Committee recommended that service women be given access to emergency contraception at all of the U.S. military hospitals and health clinics worldwide. The committee is formed from an independent panel of doctors and pharmacists. Their recommendation was vetoed by President George W Bush's administration.

In early 2007, Rep. Martin Meehan (D-MA) and a group of other members of congress promoted bill HR 6024, which would have made EC available at every military hospital and clinic. The bill was referred to the House Armed Services Committee, but did not proceed. 1

In 2009-DEC, Senator Al Franken (MN-D) and 16 cosponsors introduced bill S-2904, the "Compassionate Care for Servicewomen" bill. It was referred to the Senate Armed Services Committee. Rep. Michael Michaud (ME-D) and 43 cosponsors introduced an identical companion bill in the House, which was referred to the House Committee on Armed Service's Military Personnel Subcommittee. They would give servicewomen access to EC equivalent to what women have in civilian life. 5,6

Meanwhile. the same Pentagon committee reviewed the EC availability during 2009-NOV and came to the same conclusion as it did in 2002. Their recommendation to mandate availability of EC in every millitary clinic and hospital was accepted by the Pentagon on 2010-FEB-03. Both the brand-name EC pill Plan B and the generic Next Choice will be added to the list of medications that must be stocked at all military medical facilities. Cynthia Smith, spokesperson for the Defense Department, did not know when the policy would be in place. However, in the meantime, hospitals and clinics do stock various types of oral contraceptives; a multiple dose of them would have the same effect as Plan B or other ECs.

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Reactions:

bullet Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America said: "It's a tragedy that women in uniform have been denied such basic health care. We applaud the medical experts for standing up for military women." 2

bullet Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council -- a fundamentalist Christian advocacy group -- said (incorrectly, according to medical research that: "It can prevent the embryo from implanting and therefore destroy a human life. Women serving in the military deserve to know the truth about their medications. Because this can be the difference between preventing and destroying life, a requirement to carry this drug could violate the conscience rights of military personnel who have moral objections." 2

bullet Denny Hartford, owner of the Vital Signs blog, sent a letter to the Department of Defense stating: "I would like to urge the Department of Defense to drop its new policy requiring MTFs to stock "emergency contraception" drugs. Why? 1) These powerful drugs have been proven to carry serious health risks to women; 2) They have potential abortifacient actions which thus involves our military in lethal actions against preborn boys and girls; and 3) The new policy creates undue and unfair pressures on health personnel to act against their pro-life conscience, creating a terrible problem in military morale. Please reconsider your decision on this important matter." 3

Author comment: EC consist of an extra-strong dose of ordinary oral contraceptives. If a woman was to take them daily over a long interval of time, they definitely could result in serious health risks. However, they are only used once -- after unprotected intercourse.

bullet The American Civil Liberties Union commented: "This is a welcome change: Today, women make up 15 percent of the military. More than 356,000 women currently serve in the Armed Forces and more than 222,000 women have been deployed thus far to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan. It should go without saying that these women should have access to basic contraceptive care — EC can prevent pregnancy if taken less than 72 hours after unprotected sex or a contraceptive accident (the earlier the better)."

"The DOD deserves more credit than it sought for reversing a nearly decade-long policy that undermined servicewomen's reproductive health. But given what happened the last time DOD tried to make EC available to its servicewomen, it's easy to see why they might have been a bit gun-shy about publicity."

bullet The Washington Post article accepted comments from readers. Some were:

bullet BookOfDoug wrote: "Finally, a little sanity."

bullet Lazarus2010 wrote: "Don't use taxpayers' dollars for this morally questionable program. How about some military discipline instead?"

bullet Jerry224 wrote: "The morning after pill is not healthcare; it is abortion. It does so by preventing the embryo from implanting in the womb. In effect, the ban on federal spending on abortion is being broken. Also, getting pregnant is reason number 167 for not having women in the military."

bullet Davidaronus2000 wrote: "It's about time for our Government to recognize a problem that has been around since the founding of this country. Women have always been 2nd and 3rd class people when it came to the Military service. They were only allowed to be nurses, secrataries, gophers, etc.. for yrs. Now they can serve in combat yet they are still lowclass people. They are treated like trash and noone stood up for them unti now. Thank you President Obama for having the balls to do it. It's about time we had a president who will stand up for us Americans."

bullet Scholls3 wrote: "If a person in the military is so damn stupid as to have unprotected sex, in today's era, then give them the means to cancel the pregnancy, then kick them out of the service. Under the stupidity clause. The military needs smarter people than that."

bullet Rick386 wrote: "Good for them, but I don't know how popular the pill's gonna be. If I was a chick and serving in a war zone, getting knocked up and sent home would be my # 1 priority."

bullet Alicecream wrote: "I guess I am stupid but I can't understand why anyone would be opposed to this rational decision."

bullet Tenorlove wrote: "If the government wasn't so dead-set on feminizing the military in the name of political correctness, to the detriment of its ability to fight, this issue would not have even come up, because there wouldn't BE any female soldiers/sailors around for soldiers to rape or have consensual sex with. It used to be that fraternization between male and female soldiers was a court-martial offense. Perhaps it should be so again."

bullet Blakesouthwood wrote: "The Republicans in the Senate are not going to like that. And Sarah Palin and John McCaine are going to filibuster until all of the morning-after pills on earth are buried in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge."

bullet Bourassa1 wrote: "This decision must be terribly confusing to America's legions of religious fundamentalist right-wing whackos. After all, these people tend to see the Pentagon as God's Army on Earth, and worship the military with religious fervour as the epitome of all things good. And yet here it is handing out Plan B. Life is so confusing when you're part of the Red State Taliban."

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References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Rick Maze, "Emergency contraception still available," Marine Corps Times, 2007-APR-30, at: http://www.marinecorpstimes.com/
  2. Rob Stein, "Pentagon to stock health facilities with morning-after pill," Washington Post, 2010-FEB-04, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
  3. Denny Hartford, "Pentagon requires military to dispense 'Emergency Contraception'," Vital Signs blog, 2010-FEB-09, at: http://vitalsignsblog.blogspot.com/2
  4. Alex Kolbi-Molinas, "Military lifts ban on emergency contraception," Blog of Rights, ACLU, 2010-FEB-05, at: http://www.aclu.org/
  5. Megan Carpentier, "Al ranken plushes military to offer emergency contraception to soldiers aborad," Democratic Underground, 210-JAN-11, at: http://www.democraticunderground.com/
  6. Text of S. 2904 and HR 4386 may be searched for at: http://thomas.loc.gov/
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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on 2010-FEB-09
Latest update: 2010-JUN-20
Author: B.A. Robinson
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