The Corner

Rand Paul and Plan B, Again

Senator Rand Paul’s office has doubled down on his suggestion that Plan B does not cause embryos to die. His top aide Doug Stafford says that pro-lifers who say otherwise are spreading “misinformation” and using “outdated science,” and the senator, “as a medical doctor,” won’t put up with it.

The press is largely and thoughtlessly on Paul’s side on this question*: See here and here, for example, to read Olivia Nuzzi of the Daily Beast attitudinize on the subject. Thinking that Plan B can cause embryos to die is, supposedly, like believing in “witchcraft” (which is an awfully bold assertion from someone who describes implantation as “plantation”).

I can well understand Senator Paul’s instincts here, but I think he is making a scientific mistake (and a political one, but I’ll pass over that in this post). On NRO today, Dr. Donna Harrison reviews the evidence that suggests that Plan B does sometimes cause embryos to die. That doesn’t meant that taking Plan B is the moral equivalent of procuring an abortion, or that allowing its sale is the moral equivalent of allowing abortion: Taking it does not require willing the death of an unborn human being, and allowing it does not require willing that those beings be excluded from protection from the deliberate taking of their lives. But the evidence Harrison presents, if credible, should keep us from confidently making the assertions that Senator Paul and his staff are making.

Is it credible? It certainly seems so to this layman: I have not seen anything in the popular press with as detailed a counter-argument. Dr. Harrison is not a knee-jerker on this issue, having changed her mind on a related question (whether “the Pill” causes embryonic death) as evidence came in.

Getting the answer right is important for reasons beyond politics and public policy, important as those are. There are many millions of Americans who believe that human embryos, even early in their development, have moral worth, but do not object to contraception as such. (People, that is, like Senator Paul.) They deserve to know the truth, as best as we can ascertain it, so that they may choose how to act in light of it.

* The conventional wisdom in the press switches, though, when the topic is personhood amendments. Then it is assumed that laws recognizing embryonic personhood would outlaw Plan B and many other forms of contraception.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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