Drugs with abortion-inducing properties, such as "ella" and the emergency contraceptive Plan B, would be considered preventive services for women under last year's health-care reform law if the suggestion is accepted by Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Those drugs and all birth control methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would be included in a range of services offered to patients free of charge under guidelines from an Institute of Medicine committee.
Sebelius appeared to indicate her enthusiastic support for the panel's recommendations. According to The Washington Post, she called the report "historic," adding the recommendations are "based on science and existing literature."
Emergency contraception, also known as the "morning-after" pill, is basically a heavy dose of birth control pills. While the two-step process can restrict ovulation in a woman or prevent fertilization, it also can prevent implantation of the early embryo in the uterine wall. The latter effect would cause an abortion, pro-life advocates point out.
"Ella," though approved as emergency contraception by the FDA in 2010, is more closely related to the abortion drug RU 486, according to pro-life organizations. Like RU 486, it blocks production of the hormone progesterone, destroying the placenta that provides nutrition to the embryo and causing the tiny, unborn child's death, the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists says. "Ella' also can block implantation.
Pro-life advocates decried the recommendations.
"Yet another untruth about Obamacare has been uncovered," Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said, referring to the 2010 health-care law. "President Obama promised the new health-care program would not cover abortions. Now, we see that a panel solicited for input by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has recommended mandatory coverage for 'emergency contraception,' which is a euphemism for the morning-after pill, which often kills a newly conceived child by not allowing the embryo to implant on the wall of the mother's womb."
Jeanne Monahan, director of the Family Research Council's Center for Human Dignity, said in a written statement, "If HHS includes these mandates, the conscience rights of millions of Americans will be violated, including issuers of plans, providers who contract with such plans, and Americans who will pay for the costs of these services. HHS should focus on items and services that prevent actual diseases, and not include controversial services just to placate the abortion industry."
Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, a pro-life spokesman for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, pointed out in a written release the committee's report says it would have a basis for urging mandatory coverage of surgical abortions also if it would not violate the law.
"But most Americans surely see that abortion is not healthy or therapeutic for unborn children, and has physical and mental health risks for women which can be extremely serious," DiNardo said. "I can only conclude that there is an ideology at work in these recommendations that goes beyond any objective assessment of the health needs of women and children."
Two of the country's leading abortion rights organizations -- NARAL Pro-choice America and Planned Parenthood -- applauded the recommendations.
"As someone who has worked on women's rights for nearly 30 years, I can say that today's news marks one of the biggest advances for women's health in a generation," NARAL President Nancy Keenan said in a written statement. She said NARAL is confident the Obama administration "will adopt the IOM's science-based recommendation and make affordable contraception a reality for all women."
Land, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, took issue with an assertion by Adam Sonfield of the Guttmacher Institute that the "morning-after" pill does not prevent the implantation of an embryo and thereby cause an abortion. Sonfield said the medical field defines pregnancy as beginning with the implantation, not the fertilization, of an egg, The Post reported.
"The 'medical field' is attempting to define something far above its pay grade," Land said in a statement. "God has already made it clear in Holy Scripture that human life begins at conception, or fertilization, and all of the unique, biological characteristics of that particular child are determined at the moment of conception, not implantation (Jeremiah 1:5, Psalm 139:13-16, Psalm 51:5). The use of taxpayers' money to fund killing such babies is an abomination."
Under the regimen for morning-after pills, a woman takes a pill within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later. Another "morning-after" pill, Plan B One-step, can be taken in a single dose within 72 hours.
The Institute of Medicine committee also recommended health plans cover such services as counseling to prevent unintended pregnancies, testing for human papillomavirus for women over 30 years of age, screening for HIV and counseling on sexually transmitted infections.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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