On Monday, January 22, the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality (CSGS) at the University of Chicago announced that its facility is distributing Julie, a Plan B equivalent emergency contraceptive, to students via Emergency Contraception for UChicago, a student-run initiative. This marks a noteworthy shift by CSGS out of academia and into pharmaceutical services, a practice traditionally covered by Student Wellness.
The students have also displayed a poster with misleading medical information adjacent to the products. It states Julie “helps stop a pregnancy before it starts” and is “not the same as the abortion pill.”
According to Live Action, a non-profit pro-life organization, “emergency contraceptive drugs are designed with the purpose of preventing ovulation, or preventing sperm from reaching an egg if ovulation does occur. A third mode of action is possible when the first two fail: Plan B’s ‘plan C,’ so to speak, is to cause a woman’s body to expel the embryo that is formed when the first two modes of action have failed.”
‘Plan C,’ an abortion, is not uncommon when using Julie. A publication in the National Library of Medicine observed how levonorgestrel (the active medication in Julie and Plan B) works. It found that while “Many doctors and researchers claim that [levonorgestrel] has either no—or at most—an extremely small chance of working via abortion… the latest scientific and medical evidence now demonstrates that levonorgestrel emergency contraception theoretically works via abortion quite often.”
The continuous disputation about when pregnancy begins has not helped clarify discussions concerning the abortive effects of emergency contraceptives. According to the Protection of Conscience Project, “In 1965, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists redefined ‘conception’ to mean implantation of the early embryo in the lining of the uterus, and identified this as the beginning of pregnancy. Thus, while the ACOG [American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] continued to assert that ‘pregnancy begins at conception,’ its meaning is, in fact, that pregnancy begins at implantation.” Despite the ACOG’s redefinition, 96% of biologists maintain that life begins at fertilization.
By failing to mention that levonorgestrel prevents implantation of a zygote (the product of fertilization) and is frequently abortive in effect, the poster displayed at CSGS provides readers with inaccurate information about the outcomes of emergency contraception.
The initiative, which CSGS has authorized and promoted, begs several questions: Is the installation of emergency contraception an appropriate action for an academic center? Does this type of initiative conflict with the academic responsibilities of the Center? And, if the initiative is deemed appropriate, what oversight will UChicago implement to prevent the distribution of medical misinformation?
When asked for a response to these questions, the Assistant Director for Programming and Operations at the CSGS, Tate Brazas, stated, “CSGS leadership authorized this installation, but we do not fund or supply any of the products, nor do we provide any of the signage around it.”
Kenzi Bustamante is a third-year in the College studying Biology and Public Policy. Her Christian faith encourages her to balance truth and grace in everything she does. She grew up in rural Missouri and has enjoyed broadening her cultural knowledge through language and study-abroad programs at the University of Chicago.