EC=BC: Emergency Contraception Is Birth Control, Not Abortion

Our guest blogger is Lindsay Rosenthal, special assistant for domestic policy at the Center for American Progress.

Wednesday was “Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action!,” a day started by the National Institute for Reproductive Health’s Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign to dispel misinformation about emergency contraception (EC), also known as the “morning after pill.” The campaign is encouraging people to post pictures with the theme EC=BC, or “emergency contraception equals birth control,” on the campaign’s tumblr page, as well as distributing fact sheets about EC and coupons for a 5 dollar discount on emergency contraceptives

The need for an educational campaign on EC stems in part from the confusion created by the anti-choice movement’s strategy of intentionally mischaracterizing EC, and increasingly all forms of hormonal birth control, as abortion. The morning after pill is often mistaken for the actual “abortion pill,” also known as RU486, which does terminate a pregnancy within the first trimester by inducing a biological process similar to a natural miscarriage.

To set the record straight: EC works just like any other form of hormonal pregnancy prevention — by stopping a woman from becoming pregnant before fertilization. New evidence shows that not only does EC not interrupt an established pregnancy, it also does not prevent implantation. This is an important distinction because while the medical community defines pregnancy as beginning with the implantation of a fertilized egg, many religious opponents of reproductive rights have tried to redefine pregnancy as beginning with the fertilization of an egg. Thus, according to their definition, any drug or device that interferes with the implantation of a fertilized egg would constitute an abortifacient. However, because EC does not prevent implantation, it does not cause abortion, even by their own definition.


Just this week, we have again seen the anti-choice movement try to conflate contraception and abortion. Throughout the Supreme Court hearings on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), anti-choice activists have been standing on the steps of the courthouse with the word “Life” taped across their mouth, presumably to protest the fact that the ACA guarantees women no-cost coverage of all FDA-approved methods of contraception, reflecting their belief — however un-scientific — that EC and even contraception more generally count as abortion.

Until the ACA is fully implemented, the cost of birth control will remain a significant barrier to women who need access to contraception. As a result of the high price of birth control, most young women report using their method inconsistently because they can’t afford to use their contraceptive method on a regular basis. EC is a crucial fallback method for these women, in addition to those who experience a method failure, who are victims of sexual assault, or who have had unprotected sex for some other reason. But because of all the misinformation about EC, it is likely that many women do not know that it provides them with another option for preventing pregnancy and eliminating the need for abortion.

The Back Up Your Birth Control Campaign is giving women accurate information about their contraceptive options. It is helping to get the crucial message out to the American public that EC is a pregnancy prevention, not abortion, and that it’s an essential part of women’s medical care.