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A Pill That Kills; A Minister Who Lies

The effort to shove the Morning After Pill down girls’ throats continues, but pro-lifers in many countries around the world are resisting. The battle is raging with particular ferocity in Peru, reports the director of PRI’s Latin American office, Carlos Polo.

On August 15th, 6,000 people marched on the Ministry of justice in downtown Lima, Peru. They took to the streets to protest the recent decision of the Minister of Health, Pilar Mazzetti, to include so-called “Emergency Contraception” in publicly funded family planning programs. The marchers urged President Alejandro Toledo, who is said to be pro-life, not only to overrule Mazzetti’s decision but to send her packing on the grounds that she lied when she denied the pills’ abortifacient effect.

A Joint Effort

All of Peru’s pro-life, pro-family groups joined together to make the event a success. Despite the Seriousness of the issue, the marchers demonstrated in an atmosphere of joy and happiness. The contrast with the defenders of the Morning After Pill (MAP) could not have been starker. Instead of dour radical feminists, here were smiling women with babies in their arms. Instead of homosexual and lesbian groups, here were intact families — fathers, mothers and children together. The pro-contraception lobby hasn’t stopped congratulating Mazzetti for a decision that will fatten many of their bank accounts. But on this day the ordinary people of Peru spoke, and their slogan was at deafening chant: “Life: Yes! The Pill: No!”

The pro-MAP organizations in Peru, as in other Latin American countries, have a well-known game plan to bypass local laws that protect unborn babies. Their first step is to redefine pregnancy, arguing that it begins not at conception but days later — with the implantation of an embryo in the uterus. An abortion interrupts a pregnancy, they say, quoting the World Health Organization, but MAP does not. When the 0.75 mg. of Levonorgestrel prevents implantation by altering the endometrium, or lining of the uterus — in effect killing the tiny, developing embryo — this is not an abortion. Or so they claim.

A Change in Strategy

In Peru things played out differently. In the early debates the radical feminist groups Manuela Ramos and Flora Tristán followed the original game plan, arguing that pregnancy did not begin at conception but at implantation. But Mazzetti staked out a different position in an interview with El Comercio, the most important newspaper in Peru. She conceded the obvious, that human life begins at conception. But then went on to claim that the Morning After Pill does not prevent implantation, and therefore is not abortifacient. MAP, she argued instead, acted exclusively before fertilization by inhibiting or delaying ovulation or thickening the cervical mucus to prevent the passage of sperm.1

The startled feminist and family planning organizations scrambled to keep up. They began parroting Mazzetti’s argument about MAP, that it worked by inhibiting or delaying ovulation and thickening the cervical mucus. They began denying the third effect — that MAP altered the endometrium — even though it is accepted in the world’s medical literature. Farmage, the pharmaceutical company which manufactures the Morning After Pill for Peru, not to be left behind, quickly changed its product information insert.

But Mazzetti had another problem that her feminist allies could not help her cover up. The previous Minister of Justice, Fausto Alvarado, has issued an opinion in December 2003 that MAP was not constitutional because it was abortifacient.

Scientific Evidence?

What was Mazzetti to do? To comply with legal procedures she ordered a “scientific report” on the action of the Morning After Pill from Dr. Luis Távara, a Peruvian gynecologist who happens to work for the UNFPA. So we have the local representative of the UN organization that supports forced abortion in China being asked to decide what is abortifacient and what is not for the people of Peru!

Dr Távara combed the medical literature for evidence — any evidence — to prove what Mazzetti had claimed, namely that MAP does not modify the endometrium. Out of dozens of studies, he found exactly four. One was on rats, another one was on monkeys, and two others were carried out on small numbers of women. Not one of these studies purports to prove that Levonorgestrol has no effect on implantation. But Mazzetti now had her “scientific report,” which she attempted to keep confidential.2

MAP Exposed

Everything was going fine from Mazzetti’s point of view until, during a TV interview, she quoted from one of the four studies summarized in Távara’s report. Unfortunately for her, the interviewer had been given a complete copy of the “confidential” report and was able to show that she was misrepresenting the study’s findings. Things went from bad to worse when the interviewer showed Mazzetti the U.S. Food and Drug Administration report of T May 2004, denying MAP over-the-counter status in the U.S., and confirming that it acted to prevent implantation.

Mazzetti has now gone underground, avoiding public debate altogether except to claim that “The MAP debate is over.” Hardly. Just last month, the Peruvian Catholic Episcopal Conference presented a 200-page report to the president with 33 of the most recent references in medical literature to the abortifacient effect of MAP. The people of Peru, who demonstrated in such numbers a few weeks ago, will not be silent.


1 El Comercio, 14 June 2004.

2 Our research team has been asking for a copy of Távara’s report for a month. The law in Peru states that any public document must be released within five days of a request for it.

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