Is Plan B an Abortion Pill?


blease_questionPlan B is now available over-the-counter to all women ages fifteen and older.  So how does this drug work, and is it an abortion pill?

Plan B often works by preventing implantation of a human embryo in the uterus, thereby causing death of the new life.  It can also act by preventing or delaying ovulation.  The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) has defined pregnancy as implantation of a fertilized egg into the uterus, not conception.  So, technically speaking, using ACOG’s definition of pregnancy, Plan B does not cause an abortion.  For this reason a lot of media outlets are saying that “Plan B is not an abortion pill,” or “Plan B does not cause an abortion.”

The mechanism of action (MOA) of Plan B is becoming an increasingly important issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics policy statement on emergency contraception also states that physicians should counsel patients on the mechanism of action of emergency contraception.  Yet many physicians are not discussing the full mechanism of action of Plan B.

Most medical professionals and ethicists have come to believe that Plan B given in the fertile window works by primarily by preventing or blocking ovulation. This is not true.  Plan B’s own website states that Plan B One-Step works primarily by, ‘Altering the endometrium, which may inhibit implantation’ – the implantation of a human embryo.

Research shows that ~80% of women who take Plan B in the fertile window still ovulate, yet the drug is still very effective in preventing pregnancy.  There is a great article that explains this science in detail, “The State of The Science, Why Catholic Hospitals Should Not Dispense Plan B.”  I’ve republished it with permission of the authors here:

There is evidence that oral contraceptives (birth control pills) can work through a similar mechanism, also preventing implantation of an embryo.

Many health care professionals promote contraceptives and emergency contraceptives such as Plan B as a good way to reduce or prevent abortions.  In reality, though, we are just killing life at an earlier stage.  It’s forcing us, as Catholics and Christians, to really ponder the miracle of life.

Many, if not most, of my colleagues think I am rather crazy for even caring about this issue.  How can we continue to promote a culture of life in this atmosphere?

Copyright 2013 Kathleen Berchelmann, MD


About Author

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, M.D., is a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine. Kathleen is the co-founder and director of ChildrensMD, a blog written by five dynamic mom-pediatricians who share their true confessions of trying to apply science and medicine to motherhood. Kathleen and her husband are raising five children. Connect with her at Dr. Berchelmann is a frequent contributor to health and parenting TV news segments including Fox New’s “Happening Now,” with Jenna Lee and Jon Scott, and St. Louis stations KTVI (Fox) and KSDK (NBC). On the radio, Kathleen has a weekly segment on EWTN’s Son Rise Morning Show with Brian Patrick. Her written work has been featured in print and online publications including the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Chicago Tribune, and TIME magazine. Prior to medical school, Dr. Berchelmann attended divinity school at Weston Jesuit School of Theology. Together with her husband Greg, she created, which features a searchable directory of Catholic pediatricians. She is also a regular contributor to Aleteia as well as Follow Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann on Facebook: ChildrensMomDocs, Twitter: @MomDocKathleen and connect with her on Google+ and LinkedIn.

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