Category Archives: EC

“Do it ourselves” Abortion Reduction Policy

Atul Gawande had a very clear, concise, mostly very smart and only partially problematic op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times about how to reduce the number of abortions in the US (TimesSelect registration required). He started out by dispelling some of the myths we have about who has abortions and why. For example, on the upsetting side, roughly half of pregnancies are unintended, and four in 10 unintended pregnancies end in abortion. On the optimistic side, teens are getting the message about contraception:

“Pregnancies at age 15 to 17 are down 35 percent since 1995, according to federal data; one-fourth of the drop is from delaying sex, and three-fourths is from increased use of contraceptives. Today, just 7 percent of abortions occur in minors.”


“Forty-five percent of abortions occur in adults ages 18 to 24; 48 percent occur after age 25. Most are in women who have already had a child. The kids are all right. We are the issue.”

Consistent and correct use of contraception appears to be the biggest problem:

“92 percent of abortions occur in women who said they used birth control. Six in 10 used contraception the month they got pregnant. The others reported that they had used birth control previously but, for one reason or another, not that month. (Many, for example, say they didn’t expect to have sex.)

Gawande then asserts that the “trouble appears to be blindness to how easy it is to get pregnant and what it takes to make birth control really work.” I would disagree: the trouble is not blindness to how easy it is to get pregnant. It is wishful thinking of the “it won’t happen to me” variety, and a difficulty accepting one’s own likelihood of having sex. It is also fear of the stigma attached to being willing to have sex without a committed relationship. Another problem is the difficulty women have with requiring their male partners to use condoms, and the difficulty some men have using them. Then there is the forgetting of the many ways to have sex that can’t result in pregnancy in the first place! Lets get more creative with our hands and our mouths and the rest of our bodies! Lets buy sex toys. (Wow, did I actually just recommend a consumer-based solution to a problem? Yikes!)

Gawande is right, though, that the number of unwanted pregnancies in the United States — and thus the number of abortions — could be dramatically reduced if we were a more sexually honest and open society. If we — men and women — were honest with ourselves and with each other about the situations in which we are willing to have sex, and about the degree to which we do not want to be responsible for a child, I think we would have an easier time consistently and correctly using contraception. Imagine….

…if we were more honest with ourselves about how the contraception we do use makes us feel, and more willing to talk to each other about our contraceptive methods, we would be better able to find the methods that would work best for us.

…if we were more willing to admit that we simply won’t stop having sex just because we aren’t ready, able or interested in raising children.

…if we could acknowledge sexual pleasure as a basic human right and not a privilege for the middle and upper classes.

Then perhaps we would — as a society — realize our moral imperative to improve access to contraception and safer sex education and supplies for those who need them.

Gawande believes that politics precludes government from helping to create that society and that ultimately we need a “do it yourself” approach. I’m not willing to let government or the politicians who control it off the hook quite so quickly, but I agree that there is much we can change about this society if we “do it ourselves.” And among the things we can change through grassroots community-based activism is, in fact, the government.

Among the things the government could do better, or do at all:

  • Offer incentives for research and development of long-lasting contraceptives that have fewer risks and side effects.
  • Provide contraceptives free, and without any burdensome monitoring, to women and men who want them.
  • Require that sex education programs offer clear, accurate information about the effectiveness of contraceptives and about their correct use.
  • Support programs that help parents learn how to talk to their kids about sex.

But Gawande is right that, absent some sea change in what we as individuals and communities demand of our government, these things are not going to happen quickly. We need to take up the lead of organizations like Planned Parenthood which already offer workshops on how to talk about sex, and start branching out in our communities and among our friends to “do it ourselves.” Imagine if we each had at least one conversation a week with someone about the right to sexual pleasure, or he right to sex without fear of pregnancy or disease.

Try it out. Start with yourself and make a list that honestly accounts for the ways you like to have sex, the people you like to have it with, and your own risks of pregnancy. (Yes, this applies to men too. Women don’t get pregnant on their own!) Any unpleasant surprises on your list? If so, acknowledge them and make a plan to reduce your risks. Then, be courageous: share your list with someone. And share this post. Next week try a conversation with someone else. Ask someone how they feel about the right to have sex because it feels good. Discuss whether we should take a punitive attitude toward sex for pleasure.

And stay tuned here. This blog has been part of my attempt to create more open space for reasonable and productive conversations about sex. But you’ve inspired me to do more, and I’ve decided to expand the public square:

Coming soon to a computer near you:!

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Filed under abortion, activism, culture, EC, emergency contraception, Family, feminism, Health, inequality, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, sex and health, sexuality

Time Corrects Medically Inaccurate Statement!

Online activism works, and works quickly!

I’ll join the women of Feministing in congratulating all who wrote to Time to ask them to correct the medically inaccurate description of emergency contraception (EC) as “abortion-inducing.” Two days ago I excerpted the problematic section of the Time article, and below I reproduce the corrected version. Note that the adjective preceding “contraceptive pills” is now “emergency” and not “abortion-inducing.”

Underground abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in Chile. Although Chile has one of South America’s strictest anti-abortion codes, it’s estimated to have twice as many abortions each year (200,000) as Canada — a country with twice Chile’s population. (Abortion is legal in Canada.) As a result, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a socialist, late last year sanctioned the free distribution of emergency “morning-after” contraception pills at government-run hospitals. (Emphasis mine.)

In explaining the correction, this statement now follows the article on their web site:

The original version of this story inaccurately described morning-after pills being distributed free by Chilean President Michelle Bachelet as “abortion-inducing.” Though pro-life advocates claim the pills effect a kind of abortion by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus in the first 72 hours after unprotected sex, the pills are more accurately considered an emergency contraception by the medical community since they technically prevent a pregnancy from occurring in the first place.

I’d encourage you to write again to Time and thank them for correcting their error. Medically accurate information is incredibly important. In addition, as the anti-choice folks will tell you, the way an issue is framed makes an enormous difference in how people think about it. It is important that Time was willing to step in and clarify the difference between the anti-choice position on EC and the medically accurate description of how it works.

So, a big Thank You to Time Magazine for doing the right thing.

And THANK YOU to all of you who wrote!

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Filed under abortion, activism, EC, Education, emergency contraception, feminism, Health, News and politics, pro-choice, public discourse, sex, sex and health, sex and the law, sexuality

Time Magazine inaccurately claims Emergency Contraception induces abortion

Please email them and request that they issue a correction ASAP


In this Time Magazine article about the pro-choice movement in Mexico, and about anti-abortion politics in Latin America more generally, the author describes Emergency Contraception as “abortion inducing.”

Underground abortions are one of the leading causes of maternal mortality in Chile. Although Chile has one of South America’s strictest anti-abortion codes, it’s estimated to have twice as many abortions each year (200,000) as Canada — a country with twice Chile’s population. (Abortion is legal in Canada.) As a result, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, a socialist, late last year sanctioned the free distribution of abortion-inducing “morning-after” contraception pills at government-run hospitals. (Emphasis mine.)

This is a major problem. Not only is it inaccurate, but to describe emergency contraception as an abortion-inducing pill is to greatly reduce its chances of acceptance by people who oppose abortion, and increase the stigma attached to its use.


Click here and then on the author’s name (small print, left side, just below the title) to send an email to the editor! Ask them to issue a correction ASAP

Thanks to Feministing for the alert!)

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Filed under abortion, activism, EC, emergency contraception, feminism, Health, News and politics, public discourse, sex and health, sex and the law, sexuality

March 20 is “Back Up Your Birth Control” Day!

“Back Up your Birth Control with EC” is a campaign that aims to get Emergency Contraception (EC) into the hands of women before they need it. EC more effective if taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex or birth control failure, so it’s important to have some on hand before a crisis happens. This is especially true given the difficulties women in some parts of the country have had in getting it. It’s also true for women under 18 who can’t buy it over the counter in most places.

Here are two important web sites with info about EC:

This oneis especially for teens.

This one is for the rest of us.

(Both sites have a listing for the 24-hour emergency hotline – 1-888-NOT-2-Late, and both link to the EC “Not-2-Late Web Site for those who cannot buy EC over the counter in their communities. You can also buy EC online at

There are a couple of very important things to know about EC (often referred to by one of its brand names, Plan B). First, is not the same as the abortion pill RU486. It is important to know that because EC works before pregnancy occurs. It is essentially a very high dose of regular birth control pills, it needs to be taken within a few days of unprotected sex if it is going to be effective at all, and is most effective if taken right away.

Second, it is not as effective as condoms or birth control pills so of course you want to be using those regularly and correctly. EC is for emergencies.

I blogged about my own experience buying EC over the counter back in November and I will repeat part of that message here: If you are a sexually active woman and you do not want to be pregnant, you definitely want to have some EC on hand in case you need it. You do not want to be in the midst of an crisis and then discover that it is hard to get hold of the pill that you need. You want it now, before you need it.

You could find yourself in need EC for any number of reasons, none of which you’re likely to have intended. So, since today is “Back up your birth control day,” add an item to your to-do list: buy yourself a dose of EC.

In fact, if you have enough money to do so, buy a couple of extra doses. You might be able to help a sister in need some day.

And here’s another important thing you can do: Tell a friend or two about EC. It might surprise you how many people don’t know that it exists, or don’t know how to get it. Considering how important it is to maintaining our sexual and reproductive freedom, we need to make sure everyone knows about it and knows how to get it!

Lastly, I’d love to know your stories: Did you try to buy some? Did you have any trouble? Was it easy to get? How did you feel when you bought it? Did you have a conversation about EC with a friend? What was it like? Leave any stories you’d like to share in the comments section of this post.

(If you’ve commented before your comments will be posted immediately. If you have not commented on this blog before, your comments will be held for moderation. Because of a family crisis I will be out of town again and may not be able to moderate comments quickly. Don’t interpret this as lack of interest or approval on my part!)

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Filed under activism, EC, Education, emergency contraception, feminism, pro-choice, public discourse, reproductive freedom, sex, sex and health, sexuality