Bioethicist says mandate covers abortion drugs

By Michelle Bauman

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Credit: Flickr, brains the head.

An expert in bioethics refuted claims that the Obama administration’s health insurance mandate does not include coverage of drugs that induce early abortions.

Dr. Edward J. Furton, director of publications for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, said that a columnist for the National Catholic Reporter used a medically false premise in her attempt “to show that abortifacient drugs do not have abortifacient effects.”

In a Feb. 24 article, Furton responded to the claims of Jamie L. Manson in a Reporter column published four days prior.

The column commented on the ongoing controversy over a recent mandate issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The mandate will soon require employers to offer health insurance that includes coverage of contraception, sterilization and abortifacients, even if doing so violates their consciences.

Among the abortifacients included in the mandated coverage are the IUD, Plan B and Ella. However, according to Manson, none of these drugs actually cause abortions.

Manson asserted in her article that “just because an egg is fertilized doesn't necessarily mean that it will develop into an embryo.”

“For that to happen,” she argued, “the fertilized egg must be implanted into the endometrium that lines the uterus.”
But Furton refuted this claim, pointing to standard medical dictionaries, which state that fertilization creates a zygote, “which is the earliest stage of the human embryo.”

He further observed that even the National Institutes of Health – an agency that falls under the Department of Health and Human Services – disagrees with Manson.

The agency offers a definition of “embryo” on its website, stating, “Embryo: In humans, the developing organism from the time of fertilization until the end of the eighth week of gestation, when it is called a fetus.”

Furton also noted that fertilized eggs sometimes fail to implant in the uterus lining, implanting instead on the fallopian tube, creating what is known as “an ectopic pregnancy.”

“What are we to make of these?” he asked. “Are they human or just implanted balls of tissue?”

“Manson’s science cannot provide an answer,” he said, because it relies upon a “magical transformation” in which a human suddenly comes into existence once the fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterus wall.

Furton explained that the rest of Manson’s argument is based upon the faulty premise that an embryo does not exist until it has implanted successfully.

Because she changes the medical definition of embryo, she is able to make the claim in her piece that “so far, there is no scientific evidence that any FDA-approved contraception is capable of destroying an embryo.”

Manson also asserts that “overwhelming scientific evidence” indicates that drugs such as the IUD and Plan B “work only as contraceptives.”

However, Furton pointed out, the Department of Health and Human Services admits on one of its own webpages that if “fertilization does occur, the IUD keeps the fertilized egg from implanting in the lining of the uterus.”

In addition, both the external packet and the insert leaflet of Plan B explain that one of the ways in which the drug functions is to prevent the “attachment of a fertilized egg to the uterus.”

Furton questioned where Manson had found the “scientific evidence” that she used in her article, speculating that it may have come from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization with former ties to Planned Parenthood.

He suggested that her article was “not intended” to provide a “scientifically-based argument,” but rather to help the “current administration be successful” in its efforts to implement its controversial mandate.

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