This week, without any public testimony, Republicans on the Ohio House Health and Aging Committee voted along party lines to prohibit Ohio physician assistants from fitting, inserting or removing a device “designed in such a manner that it functions either solely or in combination with other functions by preventing or hindering an embryo from implanting within the uterus or from growing if implantation occurs.” According to Chairman Lynn Wachtmann, fertilization is the point at which life begins, and preventing pregnancy through the use of an IUD is, effectively, terminating a life.
Buckle up kids, Ohio is clearly on the front lines of the emerging war on women. Unfortunately, this move from abortion restrictions to birth control restrictions is being pushed on the basis of on a number of misguided beliefs about biology and medicine. One is at the very heart of the abortion debate.
Many in the pro-life community, including Wachtmann, believe life begins at conception, the moment when sperm reaches an egg and the two haploid cells, each with a single set of genetic material, combine. Most medical practitioners, on the other hand, focus on events occurring several days later, defining the start of a pregnancy at the time the fertilized egg implants itself into the uterine lining, after first having undergone several rounds of cell division and a migration down the fallopian tube.
Wachtmann is also mistakenly or intentionally misrepresenting how an intrauterine device, or IUD, works. An IUD is a small T-shaped device, containing copper or hormones, inserted by a medical practitioner into the uterus. Its mode of action is to kill or immobilize sperm such that fertilization does not occur. Wachtmann, however, is among a camp of pro-lifers who believe, contrary to the current view of medical scientists, that IUDs act to prevent implantation. While it is true that IUDs can cause the thinning of the uterine wall, because of their effectiveness in preventing fertilization, there is typically no fertilized egg present whose implantation could be stopped.
Despite their incredible effectiveness, only 2 percent of women use IUDs as birth control. Further, the bill, if it becomes law, only affects the actions of physician assistants, not doctors or nurse practitioners, narrowing its impact. But the beliefs underlying this move are important to identify because they could be used to justify a much greater encroachment into reproductive freedom in Ohio.
First, if we start to view life as beginning at the point of fertilization, that’s going to come as big news to infertile couples who have undergone unsuccessful rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) – a process that injects fertilized eggs into a woman’s uterus. Only between 25% and 50% of IVF procedures result in an actual pregnancy. If, according to Wachtmann, allowing a fertilized egg to die rather than implant in a woman’s uterus is an act equivalent to abortion, is the next step to outlaw IVF procedures in Ohio?
And second, pro-lifers opposed to IUDs are targeting them because of their secondary effect of thinning the uterine wall, preventing implantation in the rare event that its primary action of preventing fertilization has failed. But the much more commonly-used birth control pill itself has a multitude of effects: stopping fertilization is one, but it can also cause a thinning of the uterine wall. Will Wachtmann stop at limits to only “devices” that can prevent implantation? What’s to stop him from targeting hormonal birth control too, if he learns it has a side effect of preventing implantation in the rare instances when its primary function of preventing ovulation fails?
It’s a slippery slope, kids, especially when the people writing our laws do not trouble themselves with keeping up on current medical science, so let’s do our part and not let them slide. Birth control gives families economic stability by allowing them to decide when to have children and how many. Call your state representative, speak with their staffer (most likely a female), ask how their boss intends to vote on the IUD amendment if HB 284 comes to the floor, and let them know you will remember at the polls next November.