The facts attesting to the abortifacient aspect of certain contraceptives are often concealed or downplayed in medical literature. This has never been more apparent than it is now with the reports and sales propaganda surrounding the pills known as Preven. Campaigns with slogans such as “You didn't plan for last night, but we did,” created by Planned Parenthood, steer the public into thinking they are being offered a contraceptive. These promotions hide the fact that conception may have already taken place by the time Preven goes to work.

Preven, commonly referred to as a “morning-after pill,” is promoted as a contraceptive that will prevent conception when taken within 72 hours after intercourse. An article in one New York paper suggested that prolifers and abortion supporters are united in their acceptance over post-coital contraceptives.

Where did they get this impression? Although the Catholic Church condemns the use of contraceptives, the pro-life movement as a whole takes no such stand. The pro-life movement, however, does take a definite stand against any procedure or product that causes an already conceived individual to die — in other words, an abortion. All pro-lifers need to know is that Preven is such a product.

Preven prevents not pregnancy, but implantation of a newly conceived life. Medical information sources, even those that are meant primarily for doctors and health professionals, bury this fact. On Preven's Web site, one finds the admission that Preven “alters endometrium, thereby inhibiting implantation.” This disclosure is overshadowed by the more prominent claim that “Preven has not been shown to interrupt an established pregnancy.” The key word here is established. Gynetics Inc., which manufactures Preven, has chosen to redefine pregnancy as not truly occurring until the fertilized eggs have successfully implanted in the uterine wall. By this definition, since an embryo implants seven to 10 days after conception, the first week of life does not “count.”

Pharmacists for Life International ( documents the truth about the dark side of this “medical breakthrough.” The pharmacists explain how the high doses of oral contraceptives found in Preven have been shown to act as abortifacients, abortion-inducing drugs. They note a clinical embryology text, The Developing Human: Clinically Oriented Embryology (Moore and Persaud, 1998), which concluded: “These hormones prevent implantation, not conception. Consequently, they should not be called contraceptive pills. … It would be more appropriate to call them ‘contra-implantation pills.’”

Dr. John Wilke, president of Life Institutes Inc., illustrates why Preven cannot act as a contraceptive when taken after sex. In the October 1998 issue of the organization's newsletter Life Issues Connector, he explains that the passage of sperm through the uterus, tubes and into the ovary takes as little as 30 minutes. “If an egg awaits there, fertilization (conception) occurs immediately. … If fertilization has occurred, and if the woman takes the ‘morning-after’ pill within a few hours or days after the event, the hormones in the pill harden the lining of the womb. When this tiny human embryo reaches the womb, he or she cannot plant and dies. … The effect is a very early abortion.”

A Pregnancy by Any Other Name …

In previous decades, there was disagreement as to whether or not a human being exists at conception. In more recent years, however, science has proved that the microscopic cells hold all the genetic makeup of a human being, and can properly be termed human, albeit developing. Yet much of the medical community has clung to its own definition of a pregnancy as being a fertilized egg that has implanted in the mother's uterine wall. This equivocation suits the makers of Preven, allowing Gynetics Inc. to say that the pills do not cause an abortion, but rather prevent pregnancy.

In the Preven kit, Gynetics instructs Preven users that they must perform the included pregnancy test to ensure that they are not already pregnant from an earlier act of intercourse. Their Web site states: “[T]he test will not confirm pregnancy from sex which took place within the previous 72 hours.” Here is another example of duplicitous equivocation in the use of the term pregnancy. They slip by saying it will not confirm pregnancy from sex which took place within 72 hours, yet they supposedly don't believe that a woman can be “pregnant” before the embryo has implanted.

Once fertilization has occurred, Pharmacists for Life points out that “The high dose of steroids in Preven has been shown to be at least 75.4% effective in killing post-conception children” (Pharmacists for Life's Beginnings, December 1998). Despite the hype, then, Preven must be labeled an abortifacient. It is irrelevant whether the morning-after pill can act as a contraceptive because it also acts as an abortifacient. Furthermore, no one can say for sure when Preven will act as either.

One should not confuse morning-after pills with the drug known as RU-486. The Food and Drug Administration is on the verge of approving RU-486 for use in the United States. This drug was developed in the 1980s by a French company, Roussel UCLAF, for the express purpose of aborting a child. RU-486 is a two-part drug process where the first drug mifepristone (RU-486) kills the child, and the second drug, misoprostol (prostaglandin), expels the pre-born corpse.

Whereas morning-after pills are made up of high doses of contraceptives, RU-486 is actually a complex chemical molecule which affects multiple systems of the woman's body. RU-486 is extremely dangerous for the woman using it. Studies have shown complications such as pain, bleeding, nausea, fever and a significant percentage (8%) of incomplete abortions (Source: National Right to Life Committee).

How Morning-After Pills Work

Understanding the physics of a woman's 28-day menstrual cycle will help to clarify just how morning-after pills really work. In the average model of a menstrual cycle, the woman ovulates on or near the 14th day of the cycle, with day one being the first day of her period. Just before ovulation, the pituitary gland emits a large amount of a hormone known as the lutenizing hormone, or LH. Although the gland produces LH throughout her cycle, there is a surge that is seen just before ovulation.

If you picture a graph showing a straight line that shoots up and then down, forming an upside down V, that would accurately represent the surge. The surge begins about two days prior to her body releasing an egg, reaching its peak at the actual release of the ovum. The purpose of LH is to signal the ovary to release an ovum. LH also stimulates the ovary to begin producing the second female hormone, progesterone.

The idea behind morning-after pills is that the hormones in the pills will send a different message to the pituitary gland, telling it that the woman is already pregnant or has already ovulated. Normally, the level of progesterone begins to rise right after ovulation. It also increases during pregnancy.

The body will not release eggs when progesterone is up, so that they are not wasted. Monthly contraceptive pills work along the same lines. Oral contraceptives normally contain progesterone, or progesterone in combination with other estrogens. By maintaining a slightly elevated level of progesterone, the body sends signals from the brain to the ovaries to initiate the ovarian cycle that lead to ovulation are repressed. Essentially, the body is fooled into thinking it has already released an egg.

The secondary effects of morning-after pills are important, too. The hormones that regulate the release of eggs also regulate things like mucous consistency, which aids sperm and fertilized ovum in their travels. It regulates the texture of the endometrium lining, making it a welcoming environment for the essential latching or implantation of a new life.

The hormones in Preven-type pills disrupt the mucous consistency and cause the lining of the uterus to harden. It is primarily this last action that makes the pills abortifacient.

For a morning-after pill to be effective as a contraceptive only, the pills would have to be taken three to four days prior to ovulation, since sperm only live three days and the ovum only 24 hours. It is quite probable that the pills are much less effective when taken closer to ovulation. In other words, during the three to four days prior to ovulation, when it would have to prevent egg-release to prevent conception, the pills are less likely to work.

Morning-after pills then, for use as contraceptives, are highly questionable. Of course, the main problem is again that there is little evidence that the hormones can prevent ovulation at the time when ovulation would actually pose a chance of egg and sperm uniting following intercourse.

There is clearly a great deal of confusion and ignorance about how the pills known as Preven actually work. Being aware of the threat to life that morning-after pills pose is crucial in the effort to respect all human life from conception until natural death.

Carla Coon is editor of LifeNews, a publication of the New York State Right to Life Committee.

In the conclusion of this report, Carla Coon will examine how misunderstandings about Preven may impact on Catholic hospitals’ protocols for treating rape victims.