As contentious as the issue of abortion rights is at the moment, it would be easy to assume there’s no overlap between those who believe women have a right to biological self-determination and those who believe that terminating a pregnancy at any stage is murder — an argument that some lawmakers in red-state America are already attempting to press into law.

But there’s actually one area where the two sides of this fraught debate should be able to agree: The ideal solution to the abortion conundrum is fewer unwanted pregnancies to begin with. If abortion-rights activists are serious about helping the women who are most vulnerable in this debate, and if anti-abortion activists are serious about reducing the number of abortions taking place, both should work together — maybe just this once — to make oral contraceptives available over the counter.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Family Physicians have said for years that standard birth control pills could be safely sold over the counter without prescriptions. Daily birth control pills work with hormones to prevent fertilization from occurring. The pills also can thin the walls of the uterus to make it less likely a fertilized egg will attach. No embryo, no pregnancy.

Some anti-choice activists argue that preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb is a form of abortion. That’s a medically specious argument that, if anything, confirms that pregnancy is a complex process that doesn’t fit neatly into black-and-white moral structures. Using that logic, leaving a fertilized egg in a test tube also would be a form of abortion.

Two birth control manufacturers, HRA Pharma and Cadence Health, have been working toward Food and Drug Administration approval of over-the-counter birth control for several years now, but the apparent approaching overturn of Roe v. Wade gives the issue new urgency.

There have been hints from the anti-abortion side, however, of potential resistance — including opposition to intrauterine devices and so-called “morning after pills.” Those are distinct from the debate over abortion medication, which actually ends pregnancies that are already in progress. It is perfectly legitimate to defend the right to abortion pills, as this newspaper does, while recognizing it is a fundamentally different process in need of different arguments than birth control.

The argument regarding birth control is fairly simple. While abortion should remain an option for women, prevention is a preferable approach to unwanted pregnancies — and should be an uncontroversial one. If anti-choice voices now expand their argument to limiting contraceptive access, it will only confirm what in truth has long been obvious: The movement that claims to be based on protecting life is more accurately described as one dedicated to diminishing women’s control over their own bodies.

Editorial by St. Louis Post-Dispatch
©2022 Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.