Breastfeeding kills

Apparently the Bush administration’s Department of Health and Human Services is drafting a regulation that would allow its employees to refuse to provide birth control based on a really broad definition of abortion.  Slate’s Will Saletan crafts a great tongue in cheek letter in response.  First, the actual details,

the language of the draft, which would define abortion as “any of the various procedures including the prescription, dispensing and administration of any drug or the performance of any procedure or any other action that results in the termination of the life of a human being in utero between conception and natural birth, whether before or after implantation.” This definition protects the right of employees to withhold oral contraception, which could prevent implantation of an already-conceived embryo.

And the biting satire:

My concern, Mr. Secretary, is that the proposal does not go far enough.

As you know, the risk that oral contraception will prevent implantation of an embryo is purely theoretical. There is no documented case of such a tragedy, since we have no way to verify conception inside a woman’s body, prior to implantation, without causing the embryo’s death. Even theoretically, the risk is vanishingly small, since the primary effect of oral contraception is to prevent ovulation, and the secondary effect is to prevent fertilization. To classify oral contraception as abortifacient, one would have to posit a scenario in which the drug fails to block ovulation, then fails to block implantation, and yet somehow, having proved impotent at every other task, manages to prevent implantation.

It is a tribute to the president’s courage that despite this profound implausibility and total absence of documentation, he is protecting the right of employees to refuse to facilitate any such risk, no matter how small.

The kicker, is that, according to this new definition, breast feeding is an abortifacient:

Thousands of people working at hospitals, lactation centers, maternity-product retailers, drug stores, and supermarkets are presently required by their employers to participate in breastfeeding, either by teaching it or by providing products that facilitate it. Those who refuse can be terminated at will. They endure this discrimination despite clear scientific evidence that breastfeeding poses the same abortifacient risk as oral contraception.

Breastfeeding, like oral contraception, alters a woman’s hormonal balance, thereby suppressing ovulation, fertilization, and, theoretically, implantation. These results were documented in a 1992 research paper,
“Relative Contributions of Anovulation and Luteal Phase Defect to the Reduced Pregnancy Rate of Breastfeeding Women.” The authors concluded: “The abnormal endocrine profile of the first luteal phase offers effective protection to women who ovulate during lactational amenorrhea within the first 6 months after delivery.” In other words, breastfeeding prevents pregnancy despite ovulation.

Gotta love this White House.  Science be damned, even if it means deeming breastfeeding an abortifacient.  Serious details of the absurd policy here.

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