This just in: mifepristone, formerly known as RU-486, is a drug that induces abortion if administered early in a pregnancy. Emergency contraception, such as Plan B or just high doses of regular birth control pills, prevents ovulation and fertilization, or sometimes implantation of a fertilized egg ( 1 ) if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex (in the best of all possible worlds, when a condom breaks). They are not the same thing, but the phrase "morning after pill" keeps getting used to describe both, and it makes me grumpy. First of all I hate it when writers don't bother to get their facts right, and second of all, even if abortion and contraception weren't hugely controversial issues, confusing the two is still dangerous, if only from a public health perspective. Right now, the FDA is stalling on a decision whether to make emergency contraception available over the counter (by which I hope they mean "over the counter if you ask a pharmacist who double-checks to make sure you know what you're taking and what it does", if only because that's useful in my experience). They are not trying to make the abortion pill available over the counter, and rightly so. But already we've got pharmacists who refuse to dispense EC for ethical reasons, and hospitals who won't offer it to rape victims, and a public that's rampantly confused about these issues, judging by the frequency with which I hear people call mifepristone the "morning after pill", when it isn't! (For one thing, it's effective for the first 63 days of pregnancy, which is much longer than just the 72 hours after unprotected sex that might conceivably be called "the morning after", and it really does induce an abortion no matter how you slice it. Grumblegrump.)
I suspect that writers on both sides of the issue fuck this up because "morning after pill" is less harsh-sounding than "abortion pill" to the pro-choice side, and on the anti-abortion side the distinction is less important because emergency contraception can arguably be said to induce an abortion. I don't care. I just want people to get their damn facts right.
Oh, and here's a link to the article that got me ranting first thing this morning. I can't finish reading it, let alone trust what I've read in it, because of this stupid factual error. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a letter to the editor to compose.