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Internet furious at Black Mirror "dangerously conflating the abortion pill and emergency contraception"

4 January 2018


The mother in the show spikes her daughter's drink with "emergency contraception".

But they don't know how the drugs work either. 

The internet is reacting with fury to an episode of the dystopian Netflix series Black Mirror, which referred to "emergency contraception" terminating a character's pregnancy.

"'Science Fiction' Is Not an Excuse for Black Mirror Dangerously Conflating the Abortion Pill and Emergency Contraception," fumes The Mary Sue website, while The Daily Beast leads with "Somebody Please Explain the Morning-After Pill to Male TV Writers". 

However, while the show may not have been completely accurate, those condemning it don't seem to know how emergency contraception (generally known as the morning-after pill) works either.

So what happened?

The Mary Sue website summarises the episode, entitled Arkangel, thus: "Directed by Jodie Foster and written by Charlie Brooker, the episode centers around a mother and daughter named Marie and Sara played by Rosemarie DeWitt and Brenna Harding. Marie implants Sara with a chip called Arkangel that allows her to track and monitor her daughter. At a frightening turn of the episode, Marie sees her daughter having sex and learns that Sara is pregnant with the Arkangel technology. In response, she goes to the pharmacy, buys 'emergency contraception', and sneaks it into her daughter’s morning smoothie. After unknowingly taking EC, Sara pukes at school and the nurse tells her the emergency contraception she took to terminate her pregnancy made her sick."

Why are people angry?

Buzzfeed sums up the problem commentators have with the scenario: "However, there's a key fact worth noting: That's NOT how the EC pill works. They do not cause abortions." Others complained that the show was "spreading the misconception that emergency contraception 'ends a pregnancy' especially since there couldn't be a pregnancy to end after 48 hours!" It matters because, as another viewer tweeted, "one of the episodes of blackmirror conflates emergency contraception and the abortion pill, which is INFURIATING because emergency contraception can't terminate a pregnancy & conservatives use this falsehood against it all the time."

What's really going on?

Dr Anthony McCarthy explains: "It's certainly true that the morning-after pill and the abortion pill are different drugs which work by different mechanisms (the MAP consists in Levonorgestrel or ulipristal acetate, and, in the latter case, is claimed to be effective up to five days after intercourse, while the abortion pill involves Mifepristone to end the baby's life followed by misoprostol to expel it. It's also true that it can take up to five days after intercourse for fertilisation to occur whereupon it takes six to twelve days for the embryo to implant in the mother's womb."

A matter of definitions

"However," he continues, "abortion promoters, and indeed the Government (as illustrated in this parliamentary answer) take the view that 'pregnancy' does not begin until implantation. On this common though misleading definition, no pregnancy would be ended so soon after conception. However, if we take pregnancy as beginning at fertilisation as does even the pregnancy guide by the strongly pro-abortion head of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Professor Lesley Regan, (who says "your pregnancy has begun!" after describing fertilisation, before documenting the journey of "this tiny cluster of new life" to the uterus) then a pregnancy could indeed have begun by the time suggested in the programme.

More true than they know

"So then we are left with the question of whether emergency contraception can end an early pregnancy. Even the Metro, while insisting that the MAP is purely contraceptive, says 'if the egg has already been fertilised it may also stop it implanting into the womb.' It is recognised in medical literature that this is a possible mechanism of EC (note too that the so-called 'fertilized egg' is in fact an new human embryo, not an egg of any kind). "It's important to remember that a just conceived zygote is still a human life, and any mechanism that kills that developing new life by stopping it implanting in the womb indeed causes an abortion. So perhaps the script is closer to the truth than its critics who eagerly defend our own real-life and anti-life dystopia."

Read about abortifacients here.

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