Pharyngula

Why the wingnuts hate Plan B

There has been an oddly evasive struggle going on in Washington DC for the last several years. We have a safe, easy method of emergency contraception that has been turned into a political football, with Republicans playing their usual role of criminally stupid thugs, trying to crush a simple idea: Plan B contraception. It illustrates exactly how the Religious Right is trying to intrude on your private life, and in particular, how they want to control women.

I’ll explain how Plan B works, but to do so I’m going to have to explain some basics of the hormonal control of the menstrual cycle.

This is a fairly complicated but typical diagram illustrating the various organs, hormones, and changes that go on in the menstrual cycle. At the top is the master gland, the pituitary, that secretes regulatory hormones; below that is a diagram of the changes in the ovary; below that is a diagram of changes in the lining of the uterus; and finally, at the very bottom, is a graph of the concentration of various hormones in the blood during the phases of the cycle.

i-18d0f2236f3b0ba6ce822d6bab539ff7-cycle.jpg

Intimidating, I know. My students are going to get grilled on this in the next month, and will have to memorize it all and much more, but here I will give you the greatly simplified version.

Forget the uterus for the moment. It’s the most familiar part of the story to most women; as you can see in the diagram, there is a thickening of the lining over the course of a month, and then that lining is abruptly sloughed off in the actual process of menstruation. It’s overt, but it’s actually a symptom, not a cause, of the more interesting things going on in the ovary.

The ovary contains a supply of eggs. One egg each month begins to ripen and mature into a large structure called a follicle, regulated by a hormone from the pituitary called Follicle Stimulating Hormone, FSH. The follicle is going to produce estrogen, which is what causes the growth of the uterine lining. FSH is particularly important early in the cycle.

A second pituitary hormone, Luteinizing Hormone, assists in stimulating the mature follicle, and in particular, a rapid surge in LH is what triggers the follicle to pop, releasing the egg, in a process called ovulation. This is a key step, so remember this: a spike in LH levels triggers ovulation.

After ovulation, the egg goes on its way, and might be fertilized, leading to pregnancy. The follicle left behind isn’t done yet, though; it becomes a structure called the corpus luteum, which continues to produce estrogen (necessary to maintain the uterine lining), and also gradually produces more and more progesterone. Progesterone helps maintain the uterine lining, but also suppresses LH production by the pituitary. It’s a kind of timer. The corpus luteum is maintained by the levels of LH, but the corpus luteum also produces rising levels of progesterone, which shut off LH…and when too little LH is produced, the corpus luteum shuts down, no estrogen and progesterone are produced, the uterine lining is no longer maintained, and a woman finds a bloody mess in her panties.

The key thing to remember about this part, though, is that progesterone suppresses LH.

Put two pieces of the story together: a spike in LH levels triggers ovulation and progesterone suppresses LH. Hmmm. This suggests an idea. If you wanted to prevent ovulation, how would you do it?

(Consider this a test. Imagine that Jeopardy jingle playing right now.)

Time’s up—I bet everyone came up with the right answer, though. Giving someone a large dose of progesterone would shut down LH production, so there would be no ovulation, so no egg would be released, and any sperm happening to be in the woman’s reproductive tract would find nothing to fertilize.

You have just figured out what is called Plan B contraception. It is a form of birth control that tells the woman’s ovaries to hold off on releasing any eggs for a short while. It’s called emergency contraception, because it is used by a woman who has, for whatever reason (rape, a broken condom, misplaced enthusiasm, second thoughts, anything) had unwanted sperm in her reproductive tract, and she wants to make sure that this isn’t the moment her ovaries happen to pop a follicle.

Plan B is not an abortion.

Plan B doesn’t help if one is already pregnant, and it doesn’t affect any implanted zygotes. Pregnant women produce progesterone naturally.

Plan B gives women the ability to control, to a limited extent, when they will expel a gamete. In purely reproductive terms, it’s a bit like a male’s ability to control when he will ejaculate, or expel his gametes. That’s it. No fertilized zygotes are involved, so that level of the birth control debate isn’t even relevant. It’s simple, responsible, and safe. You’d have to be insane to object to Plan B.

So why are Republicans holding it up?

This is an issue on which we can completely ignore any assertion that life begins at fertilization (which I personally find absurd), because it’s irrelevant: fertilization doesn’t take place. No zygote, no fetus, no embryo, no babies. The claim that this argument is about the life of a baby is null and void, and the opposition to Plan B makes it glaringly, brilliantly clear that this isn’t about the sanctity of life at all: it’s all about controlling a woman’s ovaries. She will not be allowed to tamper with the timing of ovulation.

The ugly intent of the right wing fundies is unmasked right here, with no phony piety to hide their goals. They want the power to regulate a woman’s physiology against her will.

What contraceptive method do you use? If it’s not abstinence, you ought to realize that these kooks will be after you, next.

Comments

  1. #1 NonyNony
    April 6, 2006

    What seems to be going on is an (intentional?) conflating of “Plan-B” with “RU-486”, at least in a lot of the material I’ve read. Thank you for your description, because even though I knew that the two of them were different, I had yet to get a really good description of what Plan B was doing. This clears up a lot of questions that I had about the issue.

  2. #2 Leon
    April 6, 2006

    Thanks for that explanation!! It’s neat to know how it works. It’s also good to know how it doesn’t work (doesn’t kill a fertilized egg; it prevents conception). I think a good way to put it might be that, on a reproductive level, this is the chemical equivalent of a condom. (As always, STDs are another thing of course.)

  3. #3 Rocky
    April 6, 2006

    As above, thanks for the explanation. PZ, somehow your very clear-cut rational explanation needs to be widely distributed.

  4. #4 Andy Groves
    April 6, 2006

    I’m embarrassed not to know the answer to this: how long is an oocyte viable in utero once it has been expelled from the follicle? I have a very vague recollection that it’s about a day……..

  5. #5 Greenthing
    April 6, 2006

    A right wing fundie such as myself would be OK with this. I don’t understand what the fuss is all about.

  6. #6 Andy Groves
    April 6, 2006

    Likewise, how long are sperm viable? Again, my vague idea is that they can be viable for several days, but I really don’t know…..

  7. #7 DrYak
    April 6, 2006

    To be fair there is also some evidence that one of the modes of action (albeit a tertiary mode and certainly not the primary mechanism) is by changing the endrometrial lining and thus hindering implantation.

    Of course, given the high % of fertilised blastocysts that fail to implant anyway this doesn’t do anything for the wingnuts arguments whatsoever. It is, however, better to note these things just so we don’t get accused of misrepresenting things.

    None of this is in any way an argument against plan B – as far as I know this is one of the modes of action of IUDs as well and I don’t see most evangelicals (catholics are a different kettle of fish) arguing against whether they should be available – somewhat of a hypocritical stance.

  8. #8 Leon
    April 6, 2006

    Yes, sperm are viable for several days. Around 4-5, I think.

  9. #9 NelC
    April 6, 2006

    If I can go off on a tangent for a moment, how on Earth does an ovary ripen only one egg at a time (usually)? Probably needs another blog entry to answer properly, but the question just struck me.

  10. #10 Jeremy
    April 6, 2006

    That was perfect: Quick, painless, and simple for anyone to understand. I didn’t even bother to enlarge the diagram and graph. Thanks for the explanation PZ.

  11. #11 Bruce
    April 6, 2006

    My wife and I have discussed this very thing many times and have both come to the same conclusion. If someday we were able to develop a magic pill that was 100% effective against not only pregnancy but also against all STDs, the religious conservatives among us would still be against it. Their primary agenda is not about saving unborn fetus babies. It is about controlling womens’ sexuality.

  12. #12 bmurray
    April 6, 2006

    Vasectomy. Will they force me to reverse it? It would certainly invalidate your “controlling women” hypothesis and make us all equal anyway.

  13. #13 demoman
    April 6, 2006

    Question: What might happen to a fertilized embryo when traveling enroute to implantation in the uterine wall and is subjected at that point to Plan B?

    If the answer is “nothing”, then I am one with Greenthing on this topic.

  14. #14 PZ Myers
    April 6, 2006

    It’s OK if you don’t know, Andy — you’re an ear man, anyway. Human ovum viability starts to drop off rapidly between 12 and 24 hours after ovulation; sperm viability is in precipitous decline by 72 hours, and everything in the female reproductive tract is conspiring to kill the little wigglers, so even that is fairly optimistic.

  15. #15 Leon
    April 6, 2006

    Some of them probably would outlaw vasectomies if they could. It’s not just women they’re after, though women are the primary targets.

  16. #16 Jonathan Badger
    April 6, 2006

    The ugly intent of the right wing fundies is unmasked right here, with no phony piety to hide their goals. They want the power to regulate a woman’s physiology against her will.

    The key problem I have with this conspiracy theory is that a large number (and probably the majority) of religious people are women — any church I’ve been forced to attend was predominately attended by women — although many, certainly, post reproductive age. A far more likely explanation for the religious disapproval is simply ignorance of the mechanism — taking a drug after intercourse sounds like an abortion to them whether it really is one or not.

  17. #17 kathryn from Sunnyvale
    April 6, 2006

    Ah, the heaven and hell of the internet:

    I was about to search the nets for a short sweet summary of ovulation for an email I’m writing, and, lo- here it is. Thanks.

    On the hell side, I wish I hadn’t seen this link http://alternet.org/blogs/peek/34576/
    to the author interview about the total abortion ban in El Salvador.

    They Can’t Even Stop Ectopic Pregnancies Before The Fallopian Tube Bursts.

    to channel the Rude Pundit for a moment:

    If every anti-choice organization that gets a copy of the April 9 NYTimes Magazine- and they should get copies, lots of copies, by email, fax, and letter- doesn’t immediately condemn El Salvador’s law as being a hideous perversion of every ‘pro life’ ideal they hold, then those organizations are actively ‘pro gutshot to the lower torso as a punishment for women having sex.’ Because gutshots and ectopic pregnancies are about equally survivable: without modern surgical methods they’re going to kill you. That is all.

  18. #18 Ray
    April 6, 2006

    Sad, but not altogether surprising I suppose, given the current whacky climate. After all, why should the “rapturous right” suddenly start being rational? The next thing you know there will be a bill to make both menstruation and male masturbation illegal – at least for those who aren’t already blind.

  19. #19 Leon
    April 6, 2006

    NOOOOO!! I’d go to prison for life plus six if they made that illegal!

  20. #20 J.D. Fisher
    April 6, 2006

    I’m certain you know that a lot of Christians today have an institutionally-prescribed disgust for condoms, and Plan B really isn’t any different.

    The general argument is that, in either case, you are actively preventing the formation of human life, which is funny, because, from a not-altogether-twisted perspective, abstinence is, also, actively preventing the formation of human life.

    But some Christians would argue that this is passive, not active–unless, get this, a man and a woman (in marriage) want to have a child, but abstain for whatever reason. THEN, although it may not be sinworthy, the behavior is looked at with scorn.

    And this gives Christians a pretty clear choice, which they ignore in droves–Richard Simmons or nymphomaniacs.

  21. #21 plucky punk
    April 6, 2006

    “Their primary agenda is not about saving unborn fetus babies. It is about controlling womens’ sexuality.”

    I gotta agree with this one. Maybe not just women’s sexuality, but unmarried people’s sexuality. There definitely seems to be the view that if there is no “punishment” for having sex (STDs, unwed pregnancy, etc.)then you shouldn’t be having sex at all.

  22. #22 patriotboy
    April 6, 2006

    This is absolutely the best explanation of how Plan B works that I’ve seen. Thanks.

  23. #23 Cole Mitchell
    April 6, 2006

    DrYak, others:

    Let me see if I understand. There’s this (speculative) effect of Plan B, where it might prevent a fertilized blastocyte from implanting in the uterus. But it’s a very common thing for fertilized blastocytes to fail to implant.

    Then the pro-lifer can simply say that it’s murder-level wrong to knowingly prevent (or introduce something that might well prevent) implantation from occurring. Yes, it happens all the time, but the fact that something happens all the time doesn’t mean it’s not murder-level wrong to knowingly make it happen.

    So maybe the following is the point to make?: When an implantation failure does happen, this is not like when a child dies, or like when a city burns down. Instead, it’s like when an eyelash falls off, or like when a flatworm dies. It’s a completely insignificant happening, with no moral importance at all. Pro-lifers can sort of pretend to disagree with this, and insist that implantation failures are terribly unfortunate, like when a child dies. But no one can really believe that. No ordinary human could mourn an implantation failure.

    If this is right, then the challenge arises: why is it murder-level wrong to induce an implantation failure, when it’s such an insignificant happening? How can you say both that X’s happening is of no importance, and that it’s murder-level wrong to make X happen?

    Is this what a pro-lifer is up against? Or am I missing the issues?

  24. #24 edgyspice
    April 6, 2006

    “The key problem I have with this conspiracy theory is that a large number (and probably the majority) of religious people are women — any church I’ve been forced to attend was predominately attended by women — although many, certainly, post reproductive age.”

    It ain’t all about sisterhood– some women are shockingly judgemental of others of their sex who choose to exercise their sexual and reproductive freedom. Just look at how many hardcore pro-life women there are out there– and I don’t mean women who would prefer not to have an abortion, I mean those who campaign to take away womens’ right to choose. I do agree with the second part of your statement, however, that many oppose the drug out of simple ignorance.

  25. #25 Bored Huge Krill
    April 6, 2006

    If this is right, then the challenge arises: why is it murder-level wrong to induce an implantation failure, when it’s such an insignificant happening? How can you say both that X’s happening is of no importance, and that it’s murder-level wrong to make X happen?

    More to the point, assuming the existence of a hypothesised $god (set $god according to preference) who “created” all of this stuff, then if:

    1. $god is omnipotent, and could have designed this stuff any way he/she/it wanted and
    2. $god decided anyway to design things so that implantation failures are extremely common (more common than successes? I’m sure several people can fill in the blank here)

    can we not conclude that $god doesn’t consider implantation failures to be a big deal?

  26. #26 DrYak
    April 6, 2006

    Cole:
    Don’t get me wrong – I am very, very much prochoice and deeply contemptuous of the prolife idea that “life begins at fertilisation”. Being a developmental biolgist, I have looked at a huge number of morulas and blastocysts and other embryo stages (admittedly not human) and am well aware of the large numbers of embryos that fail to implant or fail early in the gastrulation process. You certainly won’t get me arguing anything from an anti-abortion perspective. I don’t think that prevention of implantation is murder, neither do I think that the destruction or research on surplus IVF embryos is murder.

    However, I do think that when debating these wingnuts it is important to have all our ducks in a row. If you were to debate someone arguing against plan B using only the info here and they were able to show you several peer-reviewed papers regarding the changes in endrometrial lining after oocyte release caused by levonorgestrel (plan B) what would you say? I think that by taking this tack – i.e. ignoring the possibility that plan B could inhibit implantation we are playing into the hands of those who would argue that there is something special about the fertilised embryo. I agree with you on the moral significance of “implantation failure”.

  27. #27 Jason
    April 6, 2006

    William Saletan of Slate had an interesting and slightly different take on this a while back…

    He pointed out that fastest current tests can tell if a woman is pregnant is roughly 15 days after the egg has been fertilized. So, if you want to be picky, it’s not possible to know if the morning after pill harms a fertilized egg or not without opening up the woman, which plan B opponents would obviously object to. I’m all for plan B, but if Saletan is correct (is he?, I’m not an expert in this), wouldn’t it be more correct, scientifically, to say it’s impossible to know if plan B pills really harm a fertilized egg, even if the odds are low?

  28. #28 BrassyDel
    April 6, 2006

    Heh – I was actually somewhat disappointed that PZ had answered some of the questions already since I knew the answer! (I’m taking a course on mammalian fertility and sterility so, being a huge dork, I get excited when I’ve learned enough new stuff to answer a question.) I think he missed answering one though:
    NelC asked:
    If I can go off on a tangent for a moment, how on Earth does an ovary ripen only one egg at a time (usually)? Probably needs another blog entry to answer properly, but the question just struck me.

    From my understanding, and I’ll try to be very brief: primordial oocytes start to grow in their follicles “independently” (without a trigger) so at any point if you look in a woman’s ovary you see follicles at various stages of development. After about 100 days, the Follicular Phase starts and the cells of the follicle can now receive FSH if they’ve got the receptor (if not, those oocytes will wind up apoptosing).
    Now you get an upregulation of angiogenic factors from the somatic follicle cells, so you get vascularization. You have multiple developing follicles, but only one or two (normally) will become the dominant follicle (the one or two eggs that get ovulated). I don’t know why, and I think the prof said that he wasn’t sure *why* either, but good blood flow seems to equal good eggs (ex: less chromosomal abnormalities) and the dominant follicles have good vascularization. Now: why don’t all the follicles have good vascularization, and therefore have more dominant follicles? Maybe something with just normal availability? Someone else will have to answer, but I hope that helps! Should at least be a jumping off point.

    Also, please correct me if I’ve gotten anything wrong. I certainly am not deluded into thinking I’m any sort of expert on the subject.

  29. #29 John
    April 6, 2006

    Progesterone helps maintain the uterine lining, but also suppresses LH production by the pituitary. It’s a kind of timer.

    Be careful with that analogy or Kent Hovind will be comparing the female reproductive tract with his wristwatch.

    Thanks for this clear explanation about how Plan B works.

  30. #30 idlemind
    April 6, 2006

    Progesterone helps maintain the uterine lining, but also suppresses LH production by the pituitary. It’s a kind of timer.

    Note the part I put in bold. This is why women undergoing fertility treatment are sometimes given progesterone to help maintain the pregnancy.

  31. #31 JP
    April 6, 2006

    I seem to remember reading somewhere that in some Canadian university study they observed that is is possible for folicles to develop multiple times in a cycle. This makes it impossible to be completely sure about avoiding pregnancy using “rhythm” methods (aka NFP).
    This undercuts a big (usually Catholic) argument against contraceptives: that if you can have self control for a couple days a month, NFP will prevent pregnancy and only people without self control need contraceptives. (though, I also suspect the fact that NFP doesn’t work 100% is a feature for many of its proponents).
    Also, I was under the impression that there was no real science at all behind the claim that Plan-B prevent implantation.

  32. #32 Karl
    April 6, 2006

    I think that you have all failed to understand the Literalists’ position on this issue. To them it is not a question of controlling woman’s sexuality, it a question of being “Literal”. God designed sex for procreation -ONLY! ALL other sex is a sin. Therefore ANYTHING that interferes with the possibility of conception during intercourse is bad. That includes pre-intercourse preventives like condoms, IUDs, the pill(?); and post-intercourse methods like Plan B, RU486, and, of course, abortion. That’s why, for them, the only option is abstinence.
    I am not arguing in favor of this position, only trying to explain it I understand it.

  33. #33 Tree
    April 6, 2006

    For heaven’s sake. Didn’t anyone Google ‘fertilization effect’ before speculating that a dose of hormones would prevent a fertilized egg from implanting? Noooooo, I see not. Bunches of animal studies in 2004, monkeys, cows, rats, go forth and Google! There’s no fertilization effect. Contraception prevents ovulation only. Even with a major dose of hormones, the baby…I mean zygote…will still implant, if it’s viable in the first place, that is.

    And! No one has ever read “cows, Pigs, Wars and Witches” and recalls the tendency of cultures to scapegoat groups when a society needs to release tension…Vestal Virgins (walled up when Rome lost battles), those Christians (set that fire, right?), those Jews (brought the Black Death, and that Big Lie thing, last century), etc. etc. etc. So it’s Those Sluts (who can get money of their own and don’t have to be our slaves anymore) now.

    To connect the rest of the dots and answer Why Now? I recommend “Terror in the Mind of God”. ‘Splains all about what happens when young men can’t earn a living and afford a concubine…I mean wife…of their own anymore. (Hint: Fundies happen. Hindu, Muslim, Christian, have you noticed?)

    Shoo. Go Google.

  34. #34 craig
    April 6, 2006

    The key problem I have with this conspiracy theory is that a large number (and probably the majority) of religious people are women

    Jonathan, back before a woman’s right to vote was acknowledged by law, some of the most vocal opponants of the suffrage movement were women. A result of brainwashing since infancy or of fear of independence, I dunno… but for whatever reason, there have always been a fair number of women complicit in their own subjugation.

  35. #35 Nickel
    April 6, 2006

    Hey JP —

    Rhythm methods are definitely outdated πŸ˜‰ NFP or FAM (Fertility awareness method) is definitely not without its risks. However, while is is possible to ovulate several times per cycle, your fertility pattern is based off of three readings: cervical fluid, cervical position, and temperature. I haven’t read the study you mentioned, but it is my understanding that if you were to have an extra ovulation, it would be in the window of ‘unsafe’ time and would be protected/abstaining. If you ovulated randomly during your cycle, it is likely the cervical fluid would not be very sperm-friendly.

  36. #36 mothworm
    April 6, 2006

    Some of them probably would outlaw vasectomies if they could

    It just so happens that I got one of those this morning. The doctor had to perform it in an unattached building becuase the hospital was Catholic, and they don’t allow vasectomies to be done on their property.

  37. #37 JP
    April 6, 2006

    Nickle,
    (I realize NFP is different than the old rhythm method, hence the quotes: “rhythm”.)
    The multiple ovulation observation comes from a 2003 paper: http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn3927
    and sounds like preliminary work. Not sure if there has been any follow up.

  38. #38 jeebus
    April 6, 2006

    …wouldn’t it be more correct, scientifically, to say it’s impossible to know if plan B pills really harm a fertilized egg, even if the odds are low?

    Absolutely not.

    Well, unless an egg happens to be fertilized while still in the ovary!

    In which case, that’s one impressive counterpart she had.

  39. #39 1Watt
    April 6, 2006

    & here I thought resistance to plan b was just big pharma protecting the pill sales.

  40. #40 Amelia
    April 6, 2006

    Rather off topic but . . . it took (it seems) like 30 years before it came to light that early versions of the Pill were correlated with higher rates of reproductive cancers, and more recently, that post-menopausal hormones had similar correlations. Do we have good information that if a woman say, took Plan B five times in five years, or say five times in one year, or five times in five months, that years from now it would not be discovered that there was a similar correlation with higher rates of reproductive cancers?

    I’m passionately pro-choice (and had several abortions myself (for which I was grateful and relieved), in my younger days, so this is not being anti- anything. Just asking.

  41. #41 Alexander
    April 6, 2006

    There’s this (speculative) effect of Plan B, where it might prevent a fertilized blastocyte from implanting in the uterus. But it’s a very common thing for fertilized blastocytes to fail to implant.

    Then the pro-lifer can simply say that it’s murder-level wrong to knowingly prevent (or introduce something that might well prevent) implantation from occurring. Yes, it happens all the time, but the fact that something happens all the time doesn’t mean it’s not murder-level wrong to knowingly make it happen.

    You can just as easily flip this on its head, though: since so many blastocysts fail to implant, anything that prevents their forming almost certainly prevents far more “embryo-deaths” than it causes.

  42. #42 ema
    April 6, 2006

    DrYak,

    If you were to debate someone arguing against plan B using only the info here and they were able to show you several peer-reviewed papers regarding the changes in endrometrial lining after oocyte release caused by levonorgestrel (plan B) what would you say?

    Before bringing up the fact that, even when observed, there’s no evidence that those minor endometrial changes are sufficient to inhibit implantation, I’d go with this:

    Intervention within 72 hours after intercourse cannot possibly amount to abortion, because implantation is not achieved until at least seven days after ovulation and the egg is capable of being fertilized for only about 24 hours.

  43. #43 Bored Huge Krill
    April 7, 2006

    by the way, I just have to bring this up in light of an earlier post regarding Sunday’s episode of “The Sopranos”.

    Quite apart from the clip showing a discussion about dinosaurs, the first scene in which the fundamentalists appear is quite relevant…

    Fundamentalist #1 appears at Tony’s bedside, wearing a “Terri Schaivo Vigil” T-shirt and holding a placard declaring “WOMB IS GOD’S”, just before introducing “our prayer leader” who appears in the later scene.

    He explains that they are there to “protest the firing of a pharmacist who refused to dispense birth control pills; we’re here to try to get him his job back”.

    Tony replies “so that’s what all the yelling and singing is about?”

    Apparently script writers don’t miss much…

  44. #44 Cole Mitchell
    April 7, 2006

    ema,
    If I understand you correctly, your point only works against pro-lifers who think that implantation is when killing the thing becomes wrong. But there are apparently plenty of pro-lifers who think that fertilization is when killing the thing becomes wrong. (I didn’t make this up: http://www.physiciansforlife.org/content/view/184/36/) And I guess preventing it from implanting in the uterine wall amounts to killing it. Of course, if the drug doesn’t even have these effects, then this is all completely irrelevant. (And for what it’s worth, this is all academic for me; I am extremely pro-choice.)

    DrYak,
    I never thought you were pro-life. I just wanted to make sure I had the situation roughly understood. Also, I should apologize for my use of “blastocyte” instead of “blastocyst”. Apparently, this is a pet peeve among those who know anything about developmental biology, though I certainly don’t know the difference.

    One more question. Are there are any other morally and legally innocuous things we do that tend to prevent implantation? One guy I found on Google claims that breastfeeding has this tendency. If there are lots of things like this, then it seems impossible to justify prohibiting Plan B contraception on the grounds that it tends to prevent implantation (assuming that it does in the first place).

  45. #45 impatientpatient
    April 7, 2006

    Ummmm…. about evangelicvals and IUD’s- not so much love for the IUD in that camp I am afraid. Long story short I was told I was a bad person because I had an IUD and that I was a babykiller- BY AN OBSTETRICIAN…. Yeah- the same one that asked me if I was into witchcraft when i told him that someone had forecast my kid was a girl(not). He was not a very nice man and I wish I had had the guts to tell him to do the anatomically impossible at the time.

  46. #46 Loren Petrich
    April 7, 2006

    I’m reminded of those theologians who opposed lightning rods on the ground that they enable people to avoid getting punished for their sins.

  47. #47 Blake Stacey
    April 7, 2006

    Loren Petrich:

    I’m reminded of those theologians who opposed lightning rods on the ground that they enable people to avoid getting punished for their sins.

    And the Russian Orthodox priests who got ticked off when Ehrlich introduced Salvarsan, the first viable anti-syphilis drug. Spare people the wages of sin? Never!

    Still, lightning rods went up on the churches, eventually. . . .

  48. #48 Mark
    April 7, 2006

    Your science stuff is shaking my world view!!! Stop it!!!

  49. #49 Lya Kahlo
    April 7, 2006

    “The key problem I have with this conspiracy theory is that a large number (and probably the majority) of religious people are women — ”

    This illustrate the remarkable power of indoctrination. “What’s a Matter With Kansas?” points out that people are fairly easily convinced to vote against their better interests. This is no different.

    You take a female child and indoctrinate her from birth to be a baby machine, she will get in the way (euphemistically speaking)of other women who aren’t part of the cult.

  50. #50 Caledonian
    April 7, 2006

    It’s not a matter of controlling female sexuality, it’s about controlling all sexuality. Religions work best when they can co-opt the frustration of unfulfilled desires. Christianity in particular is optimized to spread among the downtrodden and suffering, and many of the historical policies of its sects reinforce those states.

    Don’t throw off the yoke of your tyrants, it’s God’s will that they rule over you. Oh, and here’s a church for you to vent your pain and rage.

    Don’t freely express your sexual nature. Learn to repress it, fear it, and deny it. Turn those unfulfilled desires into religious fervor — and married couples, keep churning out more converts to the faith.

    The crazier people are, the more vulnerable they are to religion — so the first goal of religion is to drive people crazy.

  51. #51 Em
    April 7, 2006

    Got here from Pandagon. Couple of questions, if you don’t mind.

    I’ve seen the digram you post in numerous variations but what I’m interested in is never shown. How do women’s testosterone levels vary through their cycles? I’ve a number of reasons to want to know this, but I’ll stick with the easy and vague, “Questions raised by pondering personal experience.”

    How does regular hormonal birth control change the hormone levels shown on the diagram? Is the common drop in libido experienced by women on the pill due to those hormone levels being altered, or is it b/c testosterone levels are suppressed? The recent study out about how long term pill use is linked to permanent testosterone deficiency seems like cause for concern.

  52. #52 baldywilson
    April 7, 2006

    Blake Stacey “Still, lightning rods went up on the churches, eventually. . . .”

    Probably got scared that their churches kept getting hit – the parishioners started wondering what their priests were getting up to behind closed door πŸ˜‰

  53. #53 Paul W.
    April 7, 2006

    Playing devil’s advocate here for a moment…

    It seems to (not very knowledgeable) me that Plan B would function like RU-486 some significant fraction of the time. If it’s taken after sex, which may be after ovulation, an egg may already be present and fertilized. And it sounds like the most likely time for fertilization is within 24 hours of sex, so taking it the next day would often make it ineffective unless it interfered with fertilization or implantation, or both. If it’s very effective, I’d think it must be doing something beyond inhibiting ovulation.

    Is that correct?

    In that case, I don’t think this is going to be very convincing to the people who think that zygotes are “human beings,” and may even sound like a lie. The usual mode of Plan B may not be abortion, but it’s going to seem like an abortion pill to fundies if the frequency of fertilization-but-not-implantation is not extremely low.

    (I’m not one of those people. I have no problem with aborting fetuses, much less zygotes. I’m all for over-the-counter abortions if they’re safe and effective. Hmmm… unfortunate image there, sorry.)

    It also seems like somewhat unfair rhetoric—which will not persuade many of the people we’re arguing against, and will make them think we’re stupid or dishonest—if we say that it’s all about controlling sexuality or regulating a woman’s physiology against her will.

    To anybody who thinks that a zygote is a person, or is anything much like a person, it’s not mostly about that, although disapproval of sex does matter a lot in a more subtle way. There is a conflict of interest situation, and the issue often comes down to justifiable risk—is the person taking a risk with somebody else’s life justified in doing so?

    For example, suppose that many people shot guns fairly indiscriminately fairly often, such that 1 in 200 of us would eventually get killed, pretty much at random.

    If all this shooting was necessary—e.g., because people were hunting for needed food, repelling invaders, and killing vermin that would eat our food or spread disease—many of this would accept this as a tolerable level of “collateral damage.” People gotta eat, etc.

    But if this indiscriminate shooting was just for fun, because people liked indiscriminately shooting guns, I think most of us liberals would have a problem with it. Thousands of people dying every year would seem like too high a price to pay for people who enjoyed carelessly shooting firearms. We’d think shooting guns at random was just not enough fun to justify killing so many people—or that if it is that much fun, something is wrong; you have an unhealthy fixation on dangerous uses of dangerous toys, which should not be encouraged.

    That’s how we hard-line pro-choicers seem to many people, on an unconscious or semi-conscious level, whether they think a zygote is actually fully a person or not. Whether they can articulate it or not, they think that a zygote has some value, and there should be some limit to the right to create and kill these “beings”—you have to have a pretty good reason.

    To many of these people, “casual” sex is very bad—but to many more it’s just kinda bad, or often ill-advised. They think it’s often unhealthy and shouldn’t be terribly important to you—you either shouldn’t be having that sex anyway, or shouldn’t want it that much, such that you’re blind to the cost to others.

    It’s pretty much the way most of us feel about the weirdest, hardest-line gun nuts, who would defend gun rights even if 1 in 200 of us got randomly shot to death by people who simply enjoyed random gunfire—we don’t think shooting guns is really that much fun, or if it is for some people, that’s probably not healthy. (That is not intended to be at all representative of most actual gun-rights advocates, who aren’t nearly that weird.) People enjoying dangerous uses of dangerous toys would not justify so much collateral damage. We’d think those people ought to learn some self-control or find other ways to amuse themselves.

    In that situation, it would be unfair for pro-gun people to characterize anti-gun people as “just wanting to take away their guns” and simply being anti-gun. It isn’t directly about that—it’s about the degree of harm, the risk of incurring that harm, and whether that outweighs the benefit of taking that risk.

    Naturally, in assessing what’s an acceptable risk to others, you have to take into account how big the benefit is to the person taking the risk. People who don’t think gunfire is very fun are naturally going to be less sympathetic to accepting much collateral damage due to gunfire. Likewise, people who think that casual sex usually isn’t terribly good for you are going to be less sympathetic to accepting a bunch of abortions for it, if they think that the abortee is anything like a person with rights or even interests.

    (Most people have some more-or-less utilitarian calculus like that underlying their ideas of what should be rights, even if they consciously think in terms of absolute rights—and in my opinion, they should.)

    That’s why “abortion on demand” is such a compelling phrase to many people—it emphasizes just how little such a “human life” counts if abortion rights are absolute, i.e., not at all. To someone who thinks a zygote is anything like a person, that just sounds wacky and utterly lacking in perspective; people can have ill-advised or predictably not-very-good sex at any time, for any reason or no reason at all, and take any risk with “someone else’s life”, and evade the consequences at the expense of that “someone else.”

    If I thought a zygote was much like a person, or much like a person, I’d have to agree, as I would agree that careless gunfire is just not valuable enough to justify killing innocent bystanders.

  54. #54 ThePolynomial
    April 7, 2006

    Does anyone know what the other effects of giving someone a large dose of progesterone are? I’ve heard of people taking EC and getting pretty sick (not dangerously so, just generally miserable) afterwards. Are there side-effects?

  55. #55 James Hrynyshyn
    April 7, 2006

    This post and discussion is the best example I have ever come across of what every blog aspires to be. Anyone with a free half-hour who is even remotely intrigued by reprodutive biology or bloggin in general, should be encouraged to read it.

    First, the explanation of the science behind pregnancy and contraception is succinct and easy to understand for anyone with no more than high-school biology. Second, the comments that follow address the issues PZ chose not to. The questions asked and the answers supplied paint a most complimentary picture of the intellectual depth of Pharyngula’s readership. There’s discussion of research, religion, politics, feminism — you name it — almost all of it delivered in calm, reasoned tones.

    Kudos.

  56. #56 Praedor Atrebates
    April 7, 2006

    If someday we were able to develop a magic pill that was 100% effective against not only pregnancy but also against all STDs, the religious conservatives among us would still be against it.

    You don’t need to wait for such a day. It is here already and expressed in the religious wackoright being opposed to a vaccine against HPV. They don’t want kids getting vaccinated against HPV because “it will lead to sex”. I suppose they must also be opposed to treatment of syphilis, gonorrhea, any chance of a vaccine against HSV(s), HIV, etc. ANY such vaccine or cure can only lead to sex.

    Case closed. It is abundantly clear that they just want to control the sex lives of everyone else. It isn’t a surprise, given their nature.

  57. #57 idahogie
    April 7, 2006

    Cole:

    No ordinary human could mourn an implantation failure.

    I hate to nitpick an otherwise valid and rational post, but there is a group of humans who (rationally) mourn an implantation failure. For infertile couples who go through in vitro fertilization, the implantation is the most difficult moment. It’s the least controllable, and most mysterious part of the process. The female goes through difficult phases of hormonal injections, the egg extraction procedure, and then the implantation process, and then waits for implantation to happen. The day it didn’t happen for me and my wife was probably the worst of my life.

    Granted, I wasn’t mourning the loss of a particular human being, which I think was the intention behind your statement.

  58. #58 BruceH
    April 7, 2006

    The first thing to understand about fundies concerning reproductive health is that they want people to produce as many babies as possible. They think there is some upcoming war between the forces of good (themselves, obviously) and the (largely undefined) forces of evil. It’s all about creating more “soldiers for the army of God.” Anything that gets in the way of that is, on its face, an abomination.

    That means no contraception, no abortion, and no gay sex. Sex before marriage is still to be condemned, but any babies created from such union must be brought to full term regardless of the mother’s ability to care for the child. Even the mother’s health is secondary to this goal. God needs more souls dammit, and the woman’s life is secondary to that of the fetus. It must be born under any circumstances.

    So, everybody should get married as soon as legally possible and churn out babies like puppies in a third rate puppy mill. Everybody. Women and men, regardless of their sexual orientation, health, or personal ambition.

    In the fundie mind, there is no concern for overpopulation, or for the environment, because God will provide until Armageddon comes; after which such things will cease to matter. There is no concern for civil rights because all humans are abjectly subservient to God and His word, as interpreted by them.

    Dangerous morons all, and to the last.

  59. #59 Jim
    April 7, 2006

    Thanks for the great information. I remember decades ago in High School biology charting the eustrus cycle of mice. Once we had done that (over the course of several weeks, I don’t remember the cycle time, this was almost 30 years ago.) we injected the mouse with FSH. Some time later we injected our mouse with LH. After that we sacrafised the mouse (broke its neck, ether would have damaged the eggs) and extracted the eggs. We tried to induce parthagenesis in them and incubate them. None of use were sucessful in the last part but it was fasinating.

    We had a pretty interesting biology teacher. One day she came in with the latest issue of Time magazine. One the cover was a Nobel prize winner. She had trained him how to inject mice many years before. She was kind of choked up about it. She had good reason to be proud. I didn’t end up going into biology, but I stll remember a lot from her class.

  60. #60 mothworm
    April 7, 2006

    It also seems like somewhat unfair rhetoric—which will not persuade many of the people we’re arguing against, and will make them think we’re stupid or dishonest—if we say that it’s all about controlling sexuality or regulating a woman’s physiology against her will.

    But that’s what it is. I doubt we’re ever going to change the minds of the hard-core christian right. We’re fighting for the people in the middle who may not know what their vote for a republican really stands for. It’slike those little “Hetero Rights Watch” blurbs Dan Savage occcasionally includes in his column. The religious are all up in arms about “teh gays” right now, but the push to ban abortion leads right in to the push to ban plan b, which leads to the push to ban birth control of any kind.

    That’s why “abortion on demand” is such a compelling phrase to many people—it emphasizes just how little such a “human life” counts if abortion rights are absolute, i.e., not at all. To someone who thinks a zygote is anything like a person, that just sounds wacky and utterly lacking in perspective; people can have ill-advised or predictably not-very-good sex at any time, for any reason or no reason at all, and take any risk with “someone else’s life”, and evade the consequences at the expense of that “someone else.”

    These are people simply insane, and I see no reason to coddle them. If they honestly beelieve that a microscopic clump of cells is worthy of more rights than a fully grown, autonomous woman, then they have absolutely no concept of what “human life” entails. There is no “someone else”. There is only the woman.

  61. #61 Paul W.
    April 7, 2006
    It also seems like somewhat unfair rhetoric—which will not persuade many of the people we’re arguing against, and will make them think we’re stupid or dishonest—if we say that it’s all about controlling sexuality or regulating a woman’s physiology against her will.

    But that’s what it is.

    At the bottom line, yes. But if we don’t seem to understand why they think that’s justified, we look stupid or dishonest. To use the guns analogy, if we were accused of simply “not liking guns,” and wanting to take away gun-shooters’ rights, it wouldn’t be fair—it overlooks the fact it’s not just an arbitrary aesthetic preference about guns, and is based on a risk/benefits analysis. (Again, I’m not talking about the actual gun-rights controversy—I’m talking about the hypothetical case above.)

    I doubt we’re ever going to change the minds of the hard-core christian right. We’re fighting for the people in the middle who may not know what their vote for a republican really stands for.

    I mostly agree that we’re not going to win over most of the far-gone Christian Righters, at least in the short term.

    However, a lot of people are somewhere in the middle, and many of them have a problem with “abortion on demand” because they reason the same basic way. They may not think a fetus is “a human being,” but it’s something sorta like one, enough that it shold have some moral weight. And they may not think that premarital or extramarital sex is a horrible unforgivable sin, but they think it’s largely a bad idea.

    So they’ll unconsciously “do the math” and think that (1) abortion is bad, even if it’s not as bad as most fundies think, (2) “casual” sex is bad, on average, even if it’s not as bad as the fundies think, and therefore (3) abortion rights should be limited.

    Many people who are pro-choice are only weakly pro-choice, because they believe in souls and/or have a poor understanding of biology, and/or because they have messed-up views about sex, marriage, etc.

    These people in the middle are terribly important; because of them, we will likely see more and more restrictions on abortion.

    Support for abortion rights is somewhat thin because we usually don’t address these concerns. We do not usually explain why sex outside of marriage is a good thing or why aborting a zygote is no worse than letting the sperm and egg die without fertilization.

    Typical pro-choice rhetoric bugs me, because I don’t think it’s all about a woman’s right to control her own body. A person does not obviously have the right to have sex whenever and however they want, for whatever reason or no reason at all, if in that process they’re creating a person with rights.

    That’s why many moderate people are against abortion in general but favor exceptions for rape—they think abortion is “bad” but are less inclined to penalize the woman if it wasn’t a risk she chose to take. For somebody as pro-choice as me, those people are a big problem, and typical pro-choice rhetoric does not address their concerns. They are not convinced that a woman has an absolute right to create “a baby” by intentionally taking risks, and also the right to evade the consequences at the expense of the “baby.”

    I think there are many millions of people with issues around that. They mostly don’t speak up, because they don’t want to admit—perhaps even to themselves—that they think killing a zygote (or a fetus) is wrong but isn’t murder. (Partly because they don’t want to be badgered with slippery-slope arguments by either side, and partly because they’re hopelessly confused about how they really should think of a zygote or a fetus.)

  62. #62 MJ Memphis
    April 7, 2006

    “The first thing to understand about fundies concerning reproductive health is that they want people to produce as many babies as possible. They think there is some upcoming war between the forces of good (themselves, obviously) and the (largely undefined) forces of evil. It’s all about creating more “soldiers for the army of God.” Anything that gets in the way of that is, on its face, an abomination. ”

    You’d think, then, that they would be a little more strategic in their goals. After all, those of us on the dark side would presumably be churning out soldiers for the Forces of Eeeeeeeeevul.

  63. #63 Paul W.
    April 7, 2006

    I dunno whether BruceH is just venting hyperbolically or what, but…

    Fundies don’t all think entirely alike. Many fundies and many more sorta-fundies don’t believe that Jesus is coming back any time soon. They’re not averse to environmentalism or family planning on any deep principle. (Many practice family planning and think it’s a good idea—but many of those are phobic of anything that smacks of endorsing or subsidizing premarital or extramarital sex.)

    A lot of the more-or-less Religious Right people are effectively anti-environmental just because they’re suckers for right-wing propaganda, which makes environmentalism out to be a silly left-wing Chicken Little anti-capitalist propaganda conspiracy—not because they think Jesus will save us any time now. They really think the growth/sustainability problem is a myth, because they listen to too many right-wingers—some who do think it’s moot because the second coming is imminent, and others who are basically just corporate apologists.

    (Heck, I know atheists like that—conservatives who buy most of the Republican package except the explicitly religious bits. Sigh.)

    A lot of the opposition to abortion, or to “abortion on demand” comes from similarly ignorant, confused people who could change their minds, if they knew some biology, some decent philosophy—and how silent the Bible is on the subject, and why.

    (For example, the idea that “life” begins at conception has not been dominant for most of the last 2000 years, and isn’t Biblical either. In recent centuries, up until recent decades, a fetus wasn’t generally considered really “alive” until “quickening”—i.e., when it started to shift around and kick.)

    Fundamentalists are not monolithic, just highly correlated—and the semi-fundamentalist middle of the electorate is substantially less so. (The right-wing propaganda machine, on the other hand, does a pretty good job of maintaining the correlations between things that don’t necessarily go together.)

  64. #64 Cole Mitchell
    April 7, 2006

    Just a pet peeve: Despite what they say, I doubt many people care about when life begins or whether the fetus is alive. They care about its moral standing, whether it deserves legal protection, whether it has the right not to be killed. After all, we kill all sorts of living things all the time, and it’s no big deal, because they have little to no moral standing; hence finding out whether a thing is alive tells you almost nothing about its moral standing.

  65. #65 Tree
    April 7, 2006

    Experimental evidence to disprove the belief that emergency contraception with levonorgestrel (LNG) prevents pregnancy by interfering with post-fertilization events is lacking. Here we determined the effect of post-coital and pre-ovulatory administration of LNG on fertility and ovulation, respectively, in the Cebus monkey. METHODS: To determine the effect on fertility, LNG 0.75 mg or vehicle were administered orally or s.c. once or twice within the first 24 h after mating occurring very close to the time of ovulation. Females that became pregnant were aborted with mifepristone and re-entered the study after a resting cycle until each of 12 females had contributed, in a randomized order, two LNG and two vehicle-treated cycles. To determine the effect on ovulation, LNG 0.75 mg or vehicle were injected twice coinciding with follicles smaller or larger than 5 mm in diameter. Six females contributed five treated cycles each. RESULTS: The pregnancy rate was identical in vehicle- and LNG-treated cycles. LNG inhibited or delayed ovulation only when treatment coincided with a follicle <5 mm diameter. CONCLUSION: In Cebus monkeys, LNG can inhibit or delay ovulation but, once fertilization has taken place, it cannot prevent the establishment of pregnancy. These findings do not support the hypothesis that emergency contraception with LNG prevents pregnancy by interfering with post-fertilization events.
    http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/19/6/1352
    Levonorgestrel (LNG), a progestin widely used for regular hormonal contraception, is also used for emergency contraception (EC) to prevent pregnancy after unprotected intercourse. However, its mode of action in EC is only partially understood. One unresolved question is whether or not EC prevents pregnancy by interfering with postfertilization events. Here, we report the effects of acute treatment with LNG upon ovulation, fertilization and implantation in the rat. LNG inhibited ovulation totally or partially, depending on the timing of treatment and/or total dose administered, whereas it had no effect on fertilization or implantation when it was administered shortly before or after mating, or before implantation. It is concluded that acute postcoital administration of LNG at doses several-fold higher than those used for EC in women, which are able to inhibit Ovulation, had no postfertilization effect that impairs fertility in the rat.
    A.L. MΓΌller, C.M. Llados, H.B. Croxatto, Postcoital treatment with levonorgestrel does not disrupt postfertilization events in the rat, Contraception 67 (2003) 415-419

  66. #66 Paul W.
    April 7, 2006

    Just a pet peeve: Despite what they say, I doubt many people care about when life begins or whether the fetus is alive. They care about its moral standing, whether it deserves legal protection, whether it has the right not to be killed.

    In case it’s not apparent from my somewhat inconsistent scare quotes around many terms, I entirely agree. The issue is moral and legal personhood, or moral standing something like personhood, not life per se. It’s also not about “human life”.

    The issue isn’t whether something is human and alive—e.g., an epithelial tissue sample swabbed from the inside of my left cheek is human and alive, but it has no moral standing.

    And when mothworm says…

    If they honestly beelieve that a microscopic clump of cells is worthy of more rights than a fully grown, autonomous woman, then they have absolutely no concept of what “human life” entails. There is no “someone else”. There is only the woman.

    …I mostly agree with that, too. The problem is that the majority of people are at least somewhat confused about exactly that, not just far-right fundies, and they vote.

    I disagree with some of the assumptions there, though. Most of the people who are against abortion in general, or in some cases, do not think that the clump of cells should have more rights than the woman. That is not their position.

    They think the woman—in most cases—took a risk with the clump of cells’ rights, and she should not be able to get off lightly at the clump of cells’ great expense, because the clump of cells is a person with equal rights or a somewhat-person-like thing with very roughly comparable rights or at least interests.

    They are against abortion because they think

    (1) the clump of cells’ interest in the matter outweighs the woman’s, in most cases, i.e., except in cases of grave danger to the woman’s health, and

    (2) the clump is an innocent bystander, where the woman is somebody who knowingly took a risk with its interests, in most cases, i.e., except in cases of rape.

    I agree that the clump is not remotely like a person with moral standing, but if I didn’t, I’d think they had a good point. Their position is not entirely nonsense. It hinges on confusion about personhood, interests, and moral standing, but the rest makes sense.

    Even if a zygote/fetus is not as important as a woman, but is still important, then its whole life is more important than a woman’s right to have sex “irresponsibly” and evade the consequences of her risk-taking.

    If I thought a zygote or fetus was even one tenth as valuable as a woman, I’d be much more worried about abortion than I actually am.

    My disagreement with their position is twofold.

    The first part is that the zygote or fetus is not yet a person. I think it’s okay to avoid conceiving a zygote, or gestating a fetus, e.g., by abstinence—and that it’s no worse to conceive and perhaps gestate one, only to abort it, if the experience is no worse, i.e. not unpleasant overall. For a zygote, that’s trivial—it experiences nothing, and loses nothing by being conceived and aborted, relative to never being conceived at all, and having the sperm and egg die without fertilization. No harm, no foul. For a fetus, it’s no worse if the experience of existence is no worse including the abortion than not existing at all.

    My second disagreement with their position is deeper and weirder. For normal cases of “human beings,” we have a convenient moral and legal fiction that all lives are comparably valuable. This is not actually true, but it’s useful to avoid making distinctions about which lives are worth living, because nobody wants to live in a world where other people make judgements about whether our lives are worth living—whether it’s better or worse that we exist, and potentially killing us if we fail the test.

    For possible people we can’t afford that convenient moral and political fiction. There is a vast number of possible people, and only a tiny fraction of them can become actual people.

    We have to do some “social engineering” in deciding which clumps of cells, or at least how many are allowed to develop into persons.

    We can’t evade this. If we allow all fertilized embryos to develop into people with rights, that’s social engineering too—and bad social engineering, to boot. We will increase the number of people to the extent that the quality of life for existing people is degraded too far.

    So we have to have an “admission control” policy where one way or another we limit the number of people. We can do that by abstinence, such that we avoid conceiving too many people, or we can do it by aborting zygotes or fetuses before they’re really people.

    I don’t think it matters, to the non-people in question, which we do. If offered the choice of never being conceived, vs. being aborted as a zygote, vs. aborted as a fetus, I just don’t care which you do, so long as it’s not unpleasant for me. And if it’s pleasant to be a fetus gestated for a while, but not carried to term, I have a mild preference for that. (I have no idea what it’s like to be a fetus, so I have no opinion on that.)

  67. #67 Matt McIrvin
    April 7, 2006

    I like a variant of the argument that Amanda Marcotte gave a while back:

    1. If a zygote is a human being from the moment of fertilization, then failure to implant in the uterus is the leading natural cause of death in humans, by a huge margin. More than 50 percent of all the “people” who ever lived died this way, by failing to implant when they were just fertilized eggs. Combine that with spontaneous abortion after implantation and it comes to maybe 80 percent. This then becomes a completely natural massacre far exceeding every disaster or plague that ever happened.

    2. Suppose, just for the sake of argument, that Plan B *did* prevent a fertilized zygote from implanting some small fraction of the time (there is apparently no actual evidence of this, but suppose it did).

    3. It nevertheless *lowers* the total rate of zygote death, by preventing zygotes from coming about in the first place and therefore preventing 50-80 percent of those from either failing to implant or spontaneously aborting. This number of prevented implantation failures and spontaneous abortions is going to be many, many times larger than the number of induced implantation failures.

    4. Therefore, Plan B is a net death-preventer even (in fact, especially!) by the most extreme anti-abortion advocate’s definitions.

    5. Now, you could take this to the next level and say either that the natural implantation failures and abortions are somehow the will of God whereas the human-caused ones aren’t, or that there’s a moral distinction between passive and active causes of death that applies here.

    6. But doctors do already prevent natural deaths by treating diseases even when the treatment has some much smaller risk of killing the patient. There is a weighing of relative risks. Why is this kind of calculus not permissible in the case where one prevents the death by preventing the human life (even by the most extreme anti-abortion definition) from starting in the first place? It seems to me that the distinction only applies if you think there’s something wrong with doing that.

    This probably won’t prevent the most extreme opponents of Plan B from soldiering on, but it does point out that even the most sympathetic case reduces to an anti-contraception argument.

  68. #68 Mee
    April 7, 2006

    The Question is , Is it safe for the woman ???

  69. #69 Paul W.
    April 8, 2006

    That’s a sweet argument. Plan B prevents more abortions than it causes, even if it causes some. Cool.

    Thanks, Matt—and Amanda.

  70. #70 Cole Mitchell
    April 8, 2006

    But hardly any pro-lifers will go in for this sort of “utilitarianism of rights” (Nozick’s phrase, which has caught on). It’s not like the thing to do is to lower the total number of fetus-killings, even if it means killing some fetuses. The thing to do is to refrain from killing any fetuses, even if it means that more fetus-killings end up occurring. (If it helps, try it out with rape; even if you could somehow lower the total number of rapes by raping some people, you still shouldn’t rape them.)

  71. #71 Matt McIrvin
    April 8, 2006

    Yeah, that’s the objection I was trying to address in step 5. It’s a legitimate thing to consider, but on the other hand, there are situations in which we do already apply this kind of “utilitarianism of rights”, for instance, when deciding whether to apply safety measures that occasionally kill in unusual accidents (like car airbags) or to give people invasive medical treatments.

    For that matter, the anti-abortion people are already thinking this way when they talk about balancing threats to the life of the fetus and the mother: even choosing C-section over abortion has some small chance of killing an otherwise healthy woman.

    It’s not an airtight argument, but it does drive the anti-Plan B argument further into the realm of absurdity. (And there’s always the emerging fact that the number of abortions Plan B induces is probably actually zero.)

  72. #72 Tree
    April 8, 2006

    Dear Paul (and whoever else is not getting this, I’ve lost track):
    Plan B can’t cause abortions. It only blocks ovulation. It has no effect on fertilization or implantation. It’s the same hormone that a woman naturally produces during pregnancy to =maintain= a pregnancy. Sad, how the sex most obssessed with sex understands the plumbing so poorly. And PZ put up such tasty pics, too.

  73. #73 Paul W.
    April 8, 2006

    Sad, how the sex most obsessed with sex understands the plumbing so poorly.

    Sad, how you resort to sexist rhetoric like that. πŸ™‚

    While I freely admit I’m somewhat out of my depth on this subject, I’m not entirely clueless—no more than averagely clueless for either sex, I’d guess.

    I recognize a very good but possibly somewhat simplistic explanation when I see one. E.g., a hormone that acts to maintain a condition might not if you have too much of it, or if introducing it artificially triggers a an overcompensating response from a feedback mechanism. I’m familiar with a number of “paradoxical” effects of drugs, which can give exactly the opposite of the “obvious” expected results, either immediately or in the longer term. (I’ve personally experienced a couple myself.)

    That said, I agree that it appears that Plan B does not inhibit implantation.

    http://www.popcouncil.org/publications/popbriefs/pb11(2)_3.html

    Interestingly, the speculation that it would may be based on unsubstantiated marketing claims for conventional birth control pills, which likely don’t, either.

    From the “issues for” section of the wikipedia article on “Emergency Contraception”:

    In addition, manufacturers of oral contraceptives have long claimed that the Pill provides three lines of defense against pregnancy: it prevents ovulation (most of the time), blocks sperm by thickening cervical mucus, and, should all else fail, theoretically reduces the chances that a fertilized egg will implant in the uterus by hormonally altering the uterine lining.

    However, it is not known if this post-fertilization effect actually happens. “There is no evidence that the Pill’s effect on the uterine lining interferes with implantation or has a post-fertilization effect,” says contraception expert Felicia Stewart, MD, codirector of the Center for Reproductive Health Research and Policy in San Francisco. “Documenting it would be a very difficult research task.”

    David Grimes, MD, a clinical professor in obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, says the Pill and other hormonal contraceptives work primarily by preventing ovulation.

    Consensus comes from a surprising source. “The post-fertilization effect was purely a speculation that became truth by repetition,” says Joe DeCook, MD, a retired OB/GYN and vice president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. “In our group the feelings are split. We say it should be each doctor’s own decision, because there is no proof.”

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emergency_contraception#Controversy_in_relation_to_abortion

  74. #74 Steviepinhead
    April 8, 2006

    Paul W:

    I have no idea what it’s like to be a fetus, so I have no opinion on that.

    I’m just curious. How is it, exactly, that you think you got here?

  75. #75 ema
    April 8, 2006

    Paul W,

    If all this shooting was necessary—e.g., because people were hunting for needed food, repelling invaders, and killing vermin that would eat our food or spread disease—many of this would accept this as a tolerable level of “collateral damage.” People gotta eat, etc.

    But if this indiscriminate shooting was just for fun, because people liked indiscriminately shooting guns, I think most of us liberals would have a problem with it.

    Heh, I don’t think you want to go with this analogy because the only logical conclusion is that a woman should never ever carry a pregnancy to term. [Risk of death/yr from continuing pregnancy 1:10,000 vs. 1:263,000 for 1st trim abortion.] In other words, people gotta eat, and women gotta, you know, not die.

    Support for abortion rights is somewhat thin because we usually don’t address these concerns. We do not usually explain why sex outside of marriage is a good thing or why aborting a zygote is no worse than letting the sperm and egg die without fertilization.

    Please explain how a marriage certificate protects against either a nonviable, or an unintended pregnancy. Also, you abort a pregnancy. There’s no pregnancy before implantation. Re preventing implantation (of a zygote), failure of implantation is the natural way (or the way one’s deity of choice intended it). What’s wrong with emulating nature (or deity of choice)?

    They mostly don’t speak up, because they don’t want to admit—perhaps even to themselves—that they think killing a zygote (or a fetus) is wrong but isn’t murder.

    An abortion doesn’t “kill” a fetus, it terminates a pregnancy. [To refresh your memory, there’s no free floating fetus in utero; the fetus does not and cannot breath, circulate, exchange waste, etc.]

  76. #76 Steviepinhead
    April 8, 2006

    Uh, looking back at what was partly a humorous remark and partly a sincere question, I see that in the context of this thread, my question to Paul could be taken to be motivated by an anti-abortion agenda.

    Wasn’t. I’m just half-seriously trying to tease out the “no idea” part of the statement, given that we’ve all BEEN fetuses, have had some adquaintance with women in various stages of pregnancy, have some basic understanding of the conditions in the womb, and have all known new-born infants…

  77. #77 Paul W.
    April 8, 2006
    I have no idea what it’s like to be a fetus, so I have no opinion on that.

    I’m just curious. How is it, exactly, that you think you got here?

    My memory of the night in question is pretty hazy.

    (Maybe I should go in for regression therapy.)

  78. #78 Paul W.
    April 9, 2006
    But if this indiscriminate shooting was just for fun, because people liked indiscriminately shooting guns, I think most of us liberals would have a problem with it.

    Heh, I don’t think you want to go with this analogy because the only logical conclusion is that a woman should never ever carry a pregnancy to term. [Risk of death/yr from continuing pregnancy 1:10,000 vs. 1:263,000 for 1st trim abortion.] In other words, people gotta eat, and women gotta, you know, not die.

    I don’t think that “the only logical conclusion” of an argument based on a risk/benefit analysis is to minimize risk. It can be to maximize expected net benefit, factoring in the chances of an undesirable outcomes and how bad they are.

    That’s what we usually do, and I think that on some level, most people are usually rightly okay with it. Many things entail small risks, like driving to restaurant for dinner. You could get in an accident and die going out or coming home.

    We also accept that many things people do impose small risks to the well-being or life of others.

    For example, we allow people to drive cars despite the fact that fallible drivers will occasionally run over pedestrians and bicyclists. Transportation is so important to so many people that its value outweighs the small risk of injury or death to others. (While I have other problems with our automobile-centric transport policies, I don’t have a problem with that basic rationale.)

    We don’t ban cars to protect the lives of pedestrians and bicyclists. That’s not being anti-pedestrian or anti-bicyclist, in itself, even though it does unfairly put those people at risk.

    Likewise, being anti-abortion is not necessarily anti-woman. And I think that for most anti-abortion and weakly pro-choice people, it’s mostly not. If you call them misogynistic, and attribute their position to “wanting to control women,” etc., they’ll rightly think you’re being unfair to them and ignoring their sincere concerns for the welfare of the “child” (or sorta-child-like-thing), which they think deserves rights (or at least has morally significant interests).

    I do think they get the relative value of women’s rights vs. zygotes/fetuses very wrong, but that’s not mostly because they underestimate the value of women’s interests—-it’s because they grossly overestimate the moral value of zygotes and fetuses.

  79. #79 RavenT
    April 9, 2006

    I do think they get the relative value of women’s rights vs. zygotes/fetuses very wrong, but that’s not mostly because they underestimate the value of women’s interests—-it’s because they grossly overestimate the moral value of zygotes and fetuses.

    The net effect is the same; I don’t see how that distinction makes any real difference.

  80. #80 bakho
    April 9, 2006

    Many high school kids will tell you that prenancy can be avoided by taking multiple birth control pills the day after having unprotected sex. How much unprescribed / unsupervised use of “Plan B” is already going on? Oh, I lost my purse with my birth control pills, can you give me a replacement.

    I am convinced that outlawing abortion would open a whole new market in illegal contraception pills and abortion pills. This would make make abortion easier to obtain, much less expensive (no doctor involved) would do away with ANY parental notification and LESS SAFE. Meaning that there would be more medical problems and society would end up paying the bill. The naive believe that outlawing abortion will eliminate abortion. WRONG! (Prohibition, illegal drugs, yada yada….)

  81. #81 mr.ed
    April 9, 2006

    Some of my wife’s siblings’ heads will explode from this. They are out of town, one extraplanetary, so I can’t sell tickets.

  82. #82 Paul W.
    April 9, 2006
    that’s not mostly because they underestimate the value of women’s interests—-it’s because they grossly overestimate the moral value of zygotes and fetuses.

    The net effect is the same; I don’t see how that distinction makes any real difference.

    The difference is that we sound like we’re stupid or dishonest, and maybe just evil, to many people who know we’re misrepresenting the opposition’s reasons for their position. It sounds like we simply ignore the obvious issue of a baby’s seemingly overwhelming interest, in order to preserve the absolute right to consequence-free sex just for fun.

    This is one of the reasons a lot of people loathe liberals. They think we can’t see the obvious moral issues, or just don’t care. They don’t understand the really good and moral reasons for being pro-abortion, because we don’t tell them the real reasons.

  83. #83 dr. luba
    April 9, 2006

    I’ve lost track of the original posts, and am too lazy to go back and look for them;

    Re: effectiveness of the Plan B if the woman has already ovulated. In those cases, it may not work. I don’t think anyone has quoted the drug as being 100% effective. And keep in mind, too, that only a small percentage of women conceive in any given cycle, even if they have intercourse about the time of ovulation.

    (Note: In medicine, a couple is not considered to be “infertile” until they’ve been having regular intercourse and trying to conceive for two years.)

    Re: side effects of progesterones. High doses of progesterones can cause nausea and screw up one’s menstrual cycles. It’s not something you would want to take on a regular basis……

    Re: cancer risk with hormones. The OCPs prescribed in the 1960s were VERY HIGH DOSE compared to modern pills. It is thought that the associated increase in cancer risk was due to the estrogens, not the progesterone component.

    Modern pills have minimized this risk, and OCPs are actually protective against ovarian cancer.

    Plan B is progesterone only, so should not have any significant cancer risk associated with it.

  84. #84 Matt McIrvin
    April 9, 2006

    I do think they get the relative value of women’s rights vs. zygotes/fetuses very wrong, but that’s not mostly because they underestimate the value of women’s interests—-it’s because they grossly overestimate the moral value of zygotes and fetuses.

    I’m not sure that’s right, and I’m not sure it’s even limited to the anti-abortion hardliners.

    I think that even pro-choice moderates (like, say, William Saletan) often use rhetoric that implies that they’re forgetting how difficult and dangerous pregnancy and childbirth really are for the mother. They’ll talk about determining the point on the calendar at which a fetus becomes a human being with rights, as if that were the whole issue under discussion, and then act as if essentially all pregnancies are healthy, normal pregnancies and situations in which the mother’s health is negatively affected are rare exceptions. But abnormal pregnancies are really pretty common, they probably predominate in cases of late abortion, and the mother’s health is negatively affected even in normal pregnancies essentially all the time! There’s this complete disconnect from reality in too much of the rhetoric.

  85. #85 Paul W.
    April 9, 2006

    Re: effectiveness of the Plan B if the woman has already ovulated. In those cases, it may not work. I don’t think anyone has quoted the drug as being 100% effective.

    The estimates I’ve seen show it failing an eighth to a quarter of the time.

    One of the empirical arguments that it doesn’t inhibit implantation is that the failure rate is about what you’d expect if it only inhibits ovulation—if it inhibited implantation, it would be more effective.

    http://www.popcouncil.org/publications/popbriefs/pb11(2)_3.html

    (One of the papers discussed in that article is about actual tests of Plan B’s effectiveness for inhibiting ovulation in humans—not just rats or monkeys—and how well that correlates with overall effectiveness at preventing pregnancy. Cool.)

    Of course, that’s a bummer if you prefer a pill that would prevent implantation, if it failed to prevent ovulation, as I would.

  86. #86 Steviepinhead
    April 10, 2006

    Paul W, point taken, heh heh. You WERE really talking about fairly early fetal-hood, and I was obviously talking a little later in the process–and, no, I don’t remember being a late-stage fetus (or even being Raka Warrior God from the 40th century BC) either–but I do think that we can reasonably speculate that being a healthy fetus for a while isn’t terribly unpleasant, although the last few days and hours would obviously be kind of a tight squeeze.

    Odd, how the pro-“life” concentrate totally on the end of being a fetus, instead of the bonus of getting to enjoy a little life at all. Whereas, in the case of Schiavo, they concentrate totally on whatever highly-debatable “life” she has left to the exlusion of all else.

    Well, we couldn’t check with Schiavo directly and we haven’t yet figured out how to quiz the fetuses regarding their quality of life. But we do have access to kids who are dealing with shortened or speeded-up, etc., lifespans, painful operations and therapies, etc. They typically seem to be pretty brave about it, and pretty determined to enjoy whatever time they have.

    I’m not sure this cuts either way in the larger debate, except maybe to make the point tht perhaps being a little clump of cells, and then a small free-floating fetus for HOWEVER LONG IT LASTS is maybe not the worst thing in the world. If ever there is a zen-like, no-expectations existence, that has to come pretty close.

  87. #87 Monado
    April 10, 2006

    There are two reasons that people object to Plan B, no three:
    1) they mistake it for RU-486 and they oppose abortifacients for whatever reason, even if the “baby” is a fertilized egg.
    2) they believe that contraception itself is sinful.
    3) and probably most powerful, they want to punish women for having sex. That has to be the only reason that “Christian” groups in the U.S. want to block a vaccine that prevents cervical cancer–because women might have sex if they knew it wouldn’t cause cancer.

    Don’t they remember being 16? Much higher rates of cancer down the road don’t stop teens from smoking. More-or-less immediate infections and STDs and pregnancy don’t stop them. In fact, the teenage brain hasn’t formed all the connections between action and consequences. But that’s OK. I’m sure they think that dying horribly of cancer is a suitable punishment for having sex without permission of the establishment.

  88. #88 amorphous
    April 10, 2006

    I do think they get the relative value of women’s rights vs. zygotes/fetuses very wrong, but that’s not mostly because they underestimate the value of women’s interests—-it’s because they grossly overestimate the moral value of zygotes and fetuses.

    They don’t think they get it wrong because they don’t care about relative values. They feel sex outside of marriage is immoral, period, and they argue from that conclusion. Don’t believe me? Ask them about condoms, vasectomies and tubal ligations, where conception isn’t an issue. Ask them about sex outside marriage; if they say it is never right, you have your answer.

  89. #89 Karey
    April 10, 2006

    Kooks are definately out to get my birth control. I have an IUD and those have suffered from the worst case of politically-motivated misinformation I think of all birth control methods. Its no wonder, because they are both the safest and most effective contraceptive method, empowering women like crazy. They’re more effective than tubal ligations, making them totally unfit because they make sex so consequence-free. With IUDs its kind of a combined case of wanting to keep sex full of dire consequences, but also the set-and-forget nature of them don’t generate much profit for pharmaceutical companies. Hence market forces have generated a lot of garbage in the public opinion about them.

  90. I won’t surprise if they start telling me when to go pee.
    Speaking about contraception it’s a real problem for farm companies those set and forget things. And as you see they try to fight them.

  91. #91 Anthony Kennerson
    May 4, 2006

    This is one of the most refreshing blog entries I’ve ever encountered, for no other reason than the fact that it is a much needed retort to the War Against Sex/Women/Contraception/Reproductive Freedom/All of the Above. Not only is the controversy explained with such detail but with such technical simplicity that even lay people such as myself could clearly understand what is at stake; but it is absolutely refreshing to see science actually serve genuine progressive and humanitarian and egalitarian interests, rather than just another right-wing corporate or social reactionary agenda.

    Kudos, indeed. May I have permission to link to this at my blog??

    Anthony Kennerson
    Lafayette, LA, USA

  92. #92 Maezeppa
    May 5, 2006

    In re “any church I’ve been forced to attend was predominately attended by women — although many, certainly, post reproductive age.”

    Fertile women are the worst-represented voter demographic. You’re correct that some of the opposition is ignorance but the “conspiracy” to use Plan B as a wedge to keep a right wing voter bloc energized was hatched (ha ha) in a conservative think tank that has a history of cynically using the religious arguments for political gain. One look at the board members of Discover Institute reveals much.

  93. #93 Abie
    May 7, 2006

    Wait a minute…

    I remember decades ago in High School biology charting the eustrus cycle of mice. […] After that we sacrafised the mouse (broke its neck, ether would have damaged the eggs) and extracted the eggs. We tried to induce parthagenesis in them and incubate them.

    Parthenogenesis? Egg incubation?
    Holy cow!
    Can I go back in time and manage to go to this High School? Pleeeeeaaase….

  94. #94 -suz
    May 8, 2006

    Okay – at first it sounds good, and it would certainly fix the problem on an emergency basis. To tamper with the release of eggs however does have risks and I don’t know of any long term studies that definitively identify the extent of those risks. I personally don’t prefer to to modify hormone related functioning if at all possible. Only have sex with men who have had a vasectomy you’ve paid for yourself.

  95. #95 beep
    May 8, 2006

    PZ, congratulations on making Daily Kos!

    I knew ya when πŸ˜‰

    Thanks for the clear explanation of the biology of Plan B.

    What has been frustrating me lately are the number of people I know who rely on birth control for themselves but who vote for the wingnuts!

    –Pam aka beep

  96. #96 patch615
    May 10, 2006

    This is a bit of an aside, but since we’re on the whole “pro-choice, pro-life” debate thing. Is anyone else bothered by the use of the terms pro-life, and pro-choice because of their deceptive rhetorical qualites?
    though I’ve not thought of any aleternative terms which don’t over simplify the respective stances (though we may have to resort to over simplification anyways) I thought maybe some of you use alternative terms or have some idea for a less deceptive lable.

  97. #97 miller_schloss
    May 12, 2006

    Paul W – you have exactly described the pro-life/anti-abortion viewpoint. I am pro-life, and you’ve done a better job explaining my position than I probably could have done! πŸ™‚ I am not pro-life because I am anti-woman. I do not want to control my fellow females’ bodies. I don’t want to “force” pregnancy on anyone. I am pro-life because I think the unborn baby has a life value that needs to be taken into consideration.

    I’ll be the first to admit that most pro-lifers have done a terrible job caring about the mothers. We need to do much better at offering solutions to women; not just saying, “Abortion is a bad option,” but giving them BETTER options (such as providing free prenatal care and making adoption an easier solution).

    Paul, I would like to understand the pro-choice/pro-abortion position as well as you understand the pro-life position. Because you have clearly taken the time to consider how someone in my shoes views the issue, I want to take the same time and consideration to put myself in your shoes. Because you have not just dismissed me as a wingnut, but have considered that I have what seem (to me) rational reasons for my choices, I’m willing to listen to you and learn from you.

    Would you be interested in talking to me? I have some honest questions about the pro-choice camp that I truly would like answers to. There’s an email me link on my blog. Please let me know.

  98. #98 Paul W.
    May 12, 2006

    miller_schloss writes:

    Paul, I would like to understand the pro-choice/pro-abortion position as well as you understand the pro-life position. Because you have clearly taken the time to consider how someone in my shoes views the issue, I want to take the same time and consideration to put myself in your shoes.

    You might want to have a look at the comments thread on the more recent Pharyngula article Peter Singer in Salon:

    http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2006/05/peter_singer_in_salon.php

    You can skip over most of the commments, which are about animal rights and vegetarianism and veganism. I just posted a long (too long?) comment there (May 12 at 10:16 AM).

    Disclaimer: not everybody who is pro-choice is pro-choice for the same reasons, or as radically pro-choice as Peter Singer or me. Many people think my arguments are mostly irrelevant, because it’s an issue of women’s inalienable rights to control their own body. Many others think some of each—it’s mainly a matter of rights, but the non-personhood of a fetus is what makes the mother’s interests or rights trump the fetus’s. (And people disagree about how personish a fetus is at which stages of development.) Many pro-choice people would find Singer’s position on infanticide reprehensible, as almost all anti-abortion people would—they don’t think the arguments carry that much weight that far, for one reason or another.

  99. #99 Paul W.
    May 15, 2006

    miller_schloss wrote:

    Would you be interested in talking to me? I have some honest questions about the pro-choice camp that I truly would like answers to. There’s an email me link on my blog. Please let me know.

    Becky, I don’t think I’ll be corresponding with you privately.

    I checked out your blog and was apalled by your deceptive post about Plan B, especially knowing that you’d seen the information in this thread. Naturally, I felt obligated to post something correcting the misconceptions that you and your readers were spreading.

    Of course, you silently deleted my comment.

    And you talk about the “lies” people are spreading about Plan B.

    Becky, you’re a lying scumbag.

  100. #100 Deb
    May 18, 2006

    Paul W., thanks for the great posts. I am disappointed that the last poster turned out to be such a fraud. I appreciate the fact that you called her on her hypocrisy of not updating her Plan B misinformation (a.k.a. lies) on her blog, and for deleting your comment.

  101. #101 miller_schloss
    May 18, 2006

    Hi, Paul – I hadn’t heard from you by email so I just checked back, and I was horrified to see the mistake I had made.

    I assure you, the reason I deleted your comment was a case of mistaken identity. I thought that you were someone else. I thought I remembered having a negative experience with a “drcrash” in the blogosphere before, so I deleted the comment based on the name.

    If you had signed it Paul W I absolutely would have left the comment because I truly want to talk with you. Please, please forgive my mistake. I would have been terribly offended if I had been in your shoes, and I don’t blame you for calling me a scumbag – that’s truly what I appeared to be.

    Please also know that I wrote my post before I read this thread about Plan B, so I was not aware at the time of some of the information that came up in the P. thread. I would be happy to repost about the subject to give room for discussion.

    Again, my sincere appologies for appearing like I asked for discussion then silenced it – that wasn’t my intention. I hope you’ll forgive me.

    I’m on my way over to that other thread you mentioned now.

  102. #102 LJSomos
    June 2, 2006

    “probably would outlaw vasectomies if they could”
    -Leon

    http://www.lyricsdepot.com/monty-python/every-sperm-is-sacred.html
    “Every sperm is sacred.
    Every sperm is great.
    If a sperm is wasted,
    God gets quite irate.”

  103. #103 Peter
    August 14, 2006

    Damn you, LJSomos! It’s in my head now!!

    PS I love this song…

  104. #104 Joe Carter
    August 15, 2006

    It illustrates exactly how the Religious Right is trying to intrude on your private life, and in particular, how they want to control women.

    As usual, PZ doesn’t let the facts get in the way of his ranting. Does he even understand why the “Religious Right” has a problem with Plan B? Apparantly not. Because the primary issue is whether the drug should be dispensed without a prescription, not whether it is an abortifacient.

    The FDA is considering allowing Plan B to be used without a prescription or under a doctor’s supervision. Perhaps PZ can explain why normal birth control pills require a prescription and Plan B should not. Maybe then he would actual address the issue rather than knock down his usual strawmen.

  105. #105 GH
    August 15, 2006

    Joe puh-leez. That is the lamest, silliest argument I’ve ever read. Of course it’s about sex and abortion and not how to get a perscription.

    Usual stramen? Give a list. People like you who make use of strawman tactics daily don’t seem to be able to rebut what PZ says so you claim strawman where none exists.

    Your answer would seem simple, a person who needs this drug simply doesn’t have time to see a doctor in each case. It would be working against the concept unless of course people wish to keep a supply on hand. In which case I agree with you.

    But perhaps BC pills shouldn’t require a script either.

  106. #106 PZ Myers
    August 15, 2006

    Birth control is a process that requires long term administration of a hormone. It’s useless if you don’t plan ahead, and take it as a regular habit — I think it’s a good idea that people who plan on using it get all the ways it can fail explained to them.

    Emergency contraception is most effective the faster you get to it. If the condom breaks late Friday night, it would do you no good to wait until Monday to get a prescription from your doctor. It is also not intended for chronic use (it’s actually a relatively poor method of birth control, reducing the probability of a fertile woman becoming pregnant by about 80%, with a 2% failure rate overall).

    It’s easy to find people claiming Plan B is an abortifacient. US Conference of Catholic Bishops? David Hager? It’s a common theme on right wing blogs.

  107. #107 Kyle
    September 3, 2006

    I went looking for a good explaination of how Plan B works and found it here. Thanks for taking the time to put it all together.

    I will point out however, that your use of name-calling, (terms like scumbag) and your demonization of the religious right (something you don’t completely understand and seem to fear) makes you appear to be less intelligent.

    Don’t diminish your presentation by trying to “appear cool” to a younger audience. You are a professional, best to act like one at all times. Will give your arguements more credibility in the long run.

  108. #108 Maggie M
    September 17, 2006

    I don’t often get to talk to scientific left wing liberals, so this was interesting reading. I am a middle-aged virgin who made the choice during puberty to remain celibate because I didn’t want the problems of STDs, pregnancy, or rotten personal relationships. I am a Southern Baptist Christian who is also a pro-life, pro-choice believer in fetal rights. Hey, if you play, you pay, I always said. Women who have been raped should be able to make a choice about what happens to their body without facing the moral dilemma of wondering if they killed (or okay, prevented the creation of) someone who might have changed the world. My biggest lament was that scientists and doctors have always had more fun throwing names at each other instead of coming up with easy/financially appealing methods of protecting the vulnerable from their own stupidity and others’ lack of caring. How do you know whether an embryo can be considered a human being? How do you know whether Terri was a viable human being at the end? Yes, teenagers are stupid and happily risk their bodies and their futures. Do we come up with any methods of stopping that? Centuries ago, they prevented the problem by marrying the kids off as soon as they hit puberty. Today, we allow them to watch sex, listen to songs about sex, read about sex, and say, look, now that we’ve aroused your interest, here’s a pill that will solve your problems. It’s safe! Sure it is, it’s a naturally occurring hormone. That same naturally occurring hormone made my life a living hell for decades. Every pill any doctor prescribed made it worse. It took a full hysterectomy to solve my problems. Enough political rhetoric and name-calling; put all that brain-power to work coming up with a way to cure stupidity and rampant disregard of responsibility to ourselves and those our search for pleasure and profit are endangering. Stop assuming that because you can recite scientific terms and draw diagrams that you know whether God exists, when life begins, and when it is okay to evade responsibility. I don’t believe anyone can tell me what to do with my body. I also don’t believe that we should encourage sex outside marriage by offering easy outs for the consequences. Didn’t you ever stop to wonder WHY the Bible actively discourages sex outside marriage?

  109. #109 J.V
    September 21, 2006

    Regarding the hypothetical gun scenario, it isn’t an apt analogy for the following reasons: preventing someone from shooting off a gun does not in any way infringe on their bodily integrity. The fundamental question is not whether a zygote/embryo/fetus is human (although it is) or whether it is a person (which it isn’t for much of the time, and then things become questionable). The fundamental question is whether we should force any individual to use (and risk) their own body to support another body. The answer is no.

    All rights are centered on the body – we should not restrict anyone’s control over their own body. But in a pregnancy, a woman’s body is being used to provide life support to another entity. And unless the woman gives permission, that is wrong.

    Here is a page that explains what a woman is, or may be in for, during a pregnancy: http://www.thelizlibrary.org/liz/004.htm Forcing someone to go through that, even to sustain or save another’s life, is wrong.

  110. #110 M.H.
    November 3, 2006

    I’ve read all the posts (more or less)-and now that Plan B is going to be sold OTC, I cannot be happier-because I am a pharmacy tech who knows what it is for. One of my co-workers (male)will refuse to sell it to customers because he thinks it is wrong to do it-and my boss (the Pharmacist) chewed him out on the moral issues of what happens if a woman does not take any steps to prevent an unwanted pregnancy.
    Does any “wingnut” ever consider the consequences of that problem? Wanna guess none?
    It’s all about power over a woman’s body- nothing more and nothing less.
    I personally would give this away, if I could. I would give away any and all birth control that is necessary to empower a woman to make whatever life choices she wants. I would like to have RU 486 legally available, as well.
    There is more to life than just popping out babies every year.

  111. #111 James
    November 14, 2006

    Plan B works first of all, by preventing ovulation. When ovulation is prevented, Plan B can’t be called an abortifacient, as no fertilisation of an egg can take place without the egg. Secondly, it works by thickening the mucus of the mucus of the cervix to prevent sperm fertilising the egg: when sperm is blocked , Plan B can’t be called an abortifacient, as no fertilisation of an egg can take place without sperm. Only if the woman has already ovulated, and the egg is fertilised, does the third aspect of Plan B come into play: it sometimes (not reliably) prevents implantation of a fertilised egg. (We know it’s not reliable, since women have become pregnant even when they were on the pill: and we know that Plan B won’t affect an established pregnancy, when a fertilised egg has implanted.) Can this be called an abortion? Only if a heavy period (when a fertilised egg doesn’t implant quite naturally) is called a miscarriage.

  112. #112 Matthew
    November 17, 2006

    Exactly right. It is “potentially” life once that little sprem wiggles its way through the cell membrane of the ovum, though I could argue equally well that getting halfway through should be sufficient as well. Or a quarter of the way. Or maybe its when the nuclear membrane is breached. No matter where you mark the onset of life, one can always find a necessary preceding event without which it could not occur. Thanks for putting this so explicitly.

  113. #113 Greg D
    February 7, 2007

    Plan B gives women the ability to control, to a limited extent, when they will expel a gamete.

    How long does it delay release?

  114. #114 unclesmrgol
    February 9, 2007

    Leon,

    Actually, Plan B may act to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, and also might cause resorption of an implanted fertilized egg or embryo.

    Plan B’s active ingredient is levonorgestrel. Here’s what one site had to say:

    Depending upon both dose and timing, MAP can disrupt implantation or cause the loss of a newly implanted embryo. Post-coital studies in postovulatory mice have shown that levonorgestrel can cause resorption of already implanted embryos.[9]…

    [9] Shriley B, Bundren JC, McKinney S. Levonorgestrel as a postcoital contraceptive. Contraception 1995; 52(2):277-81

    Barr Pharmaceuticals is the manufacturer of Plan B. Here is what Barr has to say in its patient prescribing literature. Note the statements concerning the method of operation and the contraindications; Barr indicates independently in the patient literature that the Contraception article is correct by contraindicating use of Plan B in the event of pregnancy (yes, you read that right — the delicious irony of it all).

    So, while the diagram Myers puts up looks pretty, it only tells a portion of the story. In a nutshell, PZ Meyers is misinforming the class under the banner of “super science”.

  115. #115 Ichthyic
    February 9, 2007

    Barr indicates independently in the patient literature that the Contraception article is correct by contraindicating use of Plan B in the event of pregnancy (yes, you read that right — the delicious irony of it all).

    methinks you build irony where there is none.

    alcohol is contraindicated during pregnancy as well.

    does that make it ironic?

  116. #116 Greg D
    February 18, 2007

    Um, “Ichthyic”,

    Last I checked, alcohol isn’t sold as a contraceptive that prevents ovulation, but doesn’t affect anything once the ovum is released.

    The host of this blog, however, claims that Plan B does “prevent ovulation, but doesn’t affect anything once the ovum is released.”

    Something with those characteristics would not be “contraindicated during pregnancy .”

  117. #117 John Thacker
    February 27, 2007

    Interesting post. As a probabilist, though, I don’t understand the argument that was linked below:

    One of the empirical arguments that it doesn’t inhibit implantation is that the failure rate is about what you’d expect if it only inhibits ovulation—if it inhibited implantation, it would be more effective.

    http://www.popcouncil.org/publications/popbriefs/pb11(2)_3.html

    But they claim that:

    In 82 percent of Plan B-treated cycles, follicles failed to rupture within the five-day period following treatment (the maximum time span sperm would survive in the female reproductive tract), or there was some significant ovulatory dysfunction. These conditions occurred in only 41 percent of placebo cycles. The rate of ovulatory dysfunction observed with Plan B treatment is identical with the estimated efficacy rate of Plan B emergency contraception.

    Identical? That doesn’t mathematically make sense to me. The rate of preventing ovulation among women who have not yet ovulated needs to be higher than the rate of pregnancy prevention if it only works by preventing ovulation. After all, some women who take it will have already ovulated. Particularly if people take it the “morning after” or later, and not immediately.

    They also note that in 41% of placebo cycles ovulation was apparently prevented or disrupted. Wouldn’t that also mean that ovulation was being reduced at a relative rate from 60% of the time to 20% of the time; in other words, that it was two-thirds effective, not 80% effective? Since, as I’ve generally seen it, emergency contraception efficacy rates are quoted in terms of percentages of pregancies reduced compared to other methods (rather than in terms of absolute pregnancies per year when using the method, as with non-emergency contraception methods.)

    That empirical argument actually confuses me, and makes me more likely to think that it might prevent implantation. Or else, that the efficacy rates are generally overstated.

    On the other hand, the studies in rats seem quite convincing that it only affects ovulation. All of which leaves me confused.

  118. #118 Brian Croner
    June 14, 2007

    Republicans are incompetent in some way, and expect that when their hands are outstretched they should have somebody reflexively put something in them. They insist on not working, but in order not to work, they need to depend on other people that are less incompetent to be forced to unwillingly put things in their outstretched hands. Presently it is through the illegal American system that this can occur, but without women being forced to breed more captives of the American system, Republicans will have less young hostages growing up to put things into their own children’s hands. So they illegally make laws that force people to emigrate to other countries, which is what will happen.

    What’s illegal about it? America falsely advertises itself as a democracy. Just because they put the word “representative” before the word “democracy” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to be a democracy. The representatives are at fault, but the people pay the price, so United States Federal Law is illegal, and therefore not recognizable.

  119. #119 Joseph LeMaistre
    September 9, 2007

    On a related topic: I have a lot of trouble with the rushed State sponsorship of the anti-CPV vaccine. However, I believe a lot of the hostility to it on the Right is rooted in something I’ve heard a few times in listening to recordings of pro-abstinence lectures: CPV, along with chlamydia, seems to be one of their favourite diseases, and fear of it used as justification for what seems to me to be a religiously-based movement.

  120. #120 lightning
    September 9, 2007

    Maggie M @ 108: Didn’t you ever stop to wonder WHY the Bible actively discourages sex outside marriage?

    Only for women, remember.

    Because Hebrew society was very strictly patriarchal; women were essentially chattel property. If a woman has sex with any man except her husband, the paternity of any of her children was in doubt.

    Matrilineal societies (Hawaii, Celtic Ireland, etc) were considerably more laid back.

  121. #121 RP
    September 10, 2007

    To the folks who think contraceptives/Plan B promotes non-marital sex: I’m married and I don’t want to get pregnant. Is it ok for me to use hormonal birth control? Would it be ok for me to use Plan B if I weren’t on hormonal birth control and my husband’s condom broke?

    A marriage certificate is neither a magic contraceptive that allows you to have precisely 2.5 children nor does it make you want to have children out of the blue. It also doesn’t prevent pregnancy complications. Marital sex needs birth control just as much as non-marital sex does….unless you think that the only reason to get married is to be continuously pregnant. And they think *we* are anti-marriage?

  122. #122 nena b
    November 6, 2007

    murderers of human life all in one place…. how quaint

    say hi to Lucifer for me

  123. #123 cyber mommy
    December 20, 2007

    I don’t know much about science, but this explanation was simple enough for me to understand. So the first thing that popped into my head is that this could be a fantastic option for the overpopulated third world countries that don’t seem to have any way of controlling their unexpected pregnancies.

  124. #124 kelly
    December 30, 2007

    Having sex with multiple partners at a too-young age is not empowering for women. There is no benefit for a young woman to have multiple sex partners early in life. We need to teach our girls to value their sexuality and selves. This is not the backwards 60’s and 70’s mentality of doing what feels good. It is teaching our young people to respect themselves. The aftermath of a regretted abortion is devastating. What kind of mother haters are some of you to worry about ‘indoctrination’ and ‘babymaking machines’>>???? Crazy effing idiots with no basis in reality. Also, why don’t we give gardasil injections to our boys, the ones spreading the HPV?

  125. #125 Azkyroth
    December 30, 2007

    Having sex with multiple partners at a too-young age is not empowering for women.

    Having the ability to have sex with who she chooses, when she feels ready and is prepared to deal with the complications that may ensue, without being forced to risk medical problems that are easily preventable as a result, arguably is.

    By the way, what does this have to do with the HPV vaccine?

    There is no benefit for a young woman to have multiple sex partners early in life.

    There is no benefit for a young woman to be denied the right to make her own sexual decisions, and a lot of potential harm.

    By the way, what does this have to do with the HPV vaccine?

    We need to teach our girls to value their sexuality and selves.

    Well, at least you’re doing better than most wingnuts in acknowledging that a girl’s sexuality is not redundant with her “self.” Now if you’ll just accept that letting other people control her sexuality and self without her consent will not teach her to value it…

    By the way, what does this have to do with the HPV vaccine?

    This is not the backwards 60’s and 70’s mentality of doing what feels good. It is teaching our young people to respect themselves.

    Make up your mind. Are we supposed to be teaching young people to respect themselves, or are we supposed to be preventing them from doing things they enjoy?

    By the way, what does this have to do with the HPV vaccine?

    The aftermath of a regretted abortion is devastating.

    Evidence, plsthx?

    What kind of mother haters are some of you to worry about ‘indoctrination’ and ‘babymaking machines’>>????

    What kind of woman hater are you to feel that being brainwashed and confined into a housewife role with unlimited childbearing is acceptable? Weren’t you babbling a minute ago about teaching people to respect themselves?

    Crazy effing idiots with no basis in reality.

    Project much?

    Also, the work is “f-u-c-k-i-n-g.”

    Also, why don’t we give gardasil injections to our boys, the ones spreading the HPV?

    That’s the first halfway intelligent thing you’ve said so far.

  126. #126 thelonman
    March 26, 2008

    I am completely in awe of the “far left” view of the “far right”. I am a Christian. I am conservative. I have no desire to control a woman’s sexuality. None.
    As an educated individual I find it interesting that if I have any value for human life and want to take responsibility for my actions, I am a religious zealot who is hell bent on sterilizing sex down to the missionary position only when I plan on creating life.
    Did I miss something?
    When did it become “far right” to be responsible for one’s actions? If you don’t want children, there are numerous ways to prevent pregnancy. If you want to be a “wild child” and “sew your wild oats”, fine. You can still do that and prevent unwanted pregnancy. One can have surgery, take the pill, wear condoms, etc. The problem isn’t that I or anyone else wants to control women…The problem is that no one wants to take responsibility for anything today, including their sexual pleasures! Now, you can make yourself feel better if you wish, but it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out if you take one single sperm cell and combine it with a single egg cell, a magical thing happens, they multiply and become four cells, then eight and so on and so forth, exponentially increasing until they finally become a baby! Now picture two rocks lying next to each other, ten years later (if left alone)the rocks will not have increased in size or number, consume no energy and produce no waste. Now that fertilized egg…duh! Now how can you say that isn’t life? NASA is spending billions of dollars to find any signs of life. Are they looking for walking, talking aliens? NO, THEY ARE LOOKING FOR JUST A SINGLE LIVING CELL. L – I – F – E . An amoeba, bacteria, virus or any similar thing. Do you think the scientific community would not be shaken to the core if they were to find a fertilized egg on another planet? Think they might want to see what this might become? Double-duh People. If this earth last for a few hundred more years, I think people will be appalled at the murdering of unborn children just as we shudder at the annihalation of Jewish people by Adolf Hitler. Pat yourself on the back, tell yourself that everything you have said and done is justified, put me down for being an ethical and decent “right winger” and blame all your problems on someone else. Grow up people. If you don’t want children, do something really high-tech, you know, like wearing a condom or something extremely hard like that! And if you are too cheap to buy them, go to the Health Department.

  127. #127 Gesyckah
    May 10, 2008

    Hey Thelonman, did you read the original blog about how plan B works? If a woman is raped, a condom breaks, (insert a billion other situations here) immediate access to plan B is one of her best shots at being responsible and not bringing a child into this world that she can’t support. You seem to be opposing that while simultaneously advising that people grow up and take responsibility. Why is your idea of taking responsibility for your sexuality not using every possible option to prevent the birth of an un-loved, un-affordable, unplanned child?

  128. #128 Patches
    July 13, 2008

    While controlling women may play a part of this, control over people in general is probably one of the biggest drives of this sort of mindset.

    The goal of pretty much every religion is to convince people that they can only be happy by submitting themselves completely to that religion. Therefore, they drill that things like sex, music, dancing, parties and whatnot are all evil and you should be ashamed for enjoying them. Religion is the only enjoyable thing on earth. Convincing people of this is what brainwashes people into needing religion, to give themselves their happiness “fix” when all others have been lost to them.

    Unwanted pregnancies and STDs are one way religions “prove” that sex is evil. However, if people can start having consequence-free sex, suddenly it opens up this new source of enjoyment that has nothing to do with religion at all, and religions see that as a great danger. Thus the ubiquitous push to ban anything and everything that could possibly make sex safe and fun.

  129. #129 R.j.
    July 14, 2008

    Thanks for posting this! I teach comprehensive sex-ed at a (very, very, very) conservative university, and its nice to have the physiology info just in case people ask. I have to explain the “Plan B vs. RU-486” thing in EVERY lecture.

  130. #130 jb
    July 14, 2008

    I just wanted to say thank you for this, PZ. I’ve shared this with two friends, and both appreciated having a clear, comprhensible, and easily shared piece explaning how this medication works.

  131. #131 truth machine, OM
    July 14, 2008

    When did it become “far right” to be responsible for one’s actions?

    You’re right, it’s not far right to be responsible for one’s actions. Rather, it’s far right to be refuse responsibility for the consequences of your own actions but hypocritically blather about other people being responsible for their actions, to generally be an asshole about it, to be dishonest about your own motives, to be dishonest or blind about the motives of others on the far right, and to be extra triple dense about the difference between finding life and the beginning of a human life, and to talk about “murdering unborn children” and Hitler and the Jews, as if you actually gave a damn about either children or Jews, and had any concern about Hitler other than as a role model.

  132. #132 truth machine, OM
    July 14, 2008

    Hey Thelonman, did you read the original blog about how plan B works?

    Didn’t you read that he’s a Christian conservative? Comprehension is not part of their skill set.

  133. #133 Drew
    July 14, 2008

    Hey PZ I’d doubt you’re still reading the comments but just in case you are…Isn’t there also something that Plan B does that thickens the coat around already released egg cells thereby helping to prevent their fertilization? I seem to recall reading something akin to that somewhere. But I could have made that up in my mind or read some dubious materials.

    I know the whole abortion thing is garbage, I have a friend who called a place about getting plan B and the woman on the phone actually told her that if you take plan B it’s the same as having an abortion. I can’t recall the name of the place but I suspect that it was run by religious folks.

  134. #134 JoJo
    July 14, 2008

    thelonman #128

    When did it become “far right” to be responsible for one’s actions?

    It isn’t “far right” to be responsible for one’s actions. What is far right is the following:

    The problem is that no one wants to take responsibility for anything today, including their sexual pleasures!

    Many rightists keep saying that nobody accepts responsibility. What’s usually meant is that people are not being frightened or pressured into forgoing certain, usually sexual, pleasures. It’s a form of puritanism. H.L. Mencken described it well: Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.

  135. #135 MAJeff, OM
    July 14, 2008

    .The problem is that no one wants to take responsibility for anything today, including their sexual pleasures!

    Plan B is taking responsibility. Abortion is taking responsibility.

  136. #136 amanda
    July 16, 2008

    Since many people are probably rereading these old entries, wanted to put here that FTR, NFP is 98-99.5% effective as a form of birth control (depending on the method you use), as shown in several peer reviewed studies. It works by observing physical signs of the hormones listed in Dr. Myers chart up there. Many women have many medical conditions that make things like the pill very dangerous to take–or just plain unpleasant, and barrier methods, even when used every time and correctly, are less effective than that. It is good for them to have this alternative.

  137. #137 niuzai033
    December 23, 2009

    Lrg prdcts whlsl sl, prvds cstmrs dmnd

  138. #138 dendad
    February 19, 2010

    What if a egg is in the tube before the drug has been taken or the drug has not had a chance to take effect. Please reply . Thank you

  139. #139 digital thermometer
    July 30, 2010
  140. #140 digital thermometer
    July 30, 2010

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