NPR: Conservatives vs 'Women's Health Groups' on Birth Control Mandate

On Tuesday's Morning Edition, NPR's Julie Rovner spun the debate over a proposed mandate for private insurance companies to cover birth control without a copay as being between "women's health groups," which were not given an ideological label, and organizations such as the Family Research Council, which she clearly identified as "conservative." A representative from her example of a "women's health group," Planned Parenthood, labeled "unintended" pregnancies an "epidemic."

Anchor Steve Inskeep began the report with an admission about ObamaCare: "President Obama's health care overhaul law touches almost every aspect of health care, including birth control." Rovner first highlighted a woman from Tucson, Arizona who, despite having a "full-time job with health insurance [and] a husband," along with two kids, apparently couldn't afford the $25 a month copay for her birth control prescription. This led to her having a third child, and the woman declared that "while we're happy that she's here, it was not planned, and had we had some better finances, we probably could have made some better decisions."

The NPR correspondent then used her "women's health groups" label as she noted that these typically left-leaning groups were "hoping that families...won't be faced with decisions like that in the future. If the Institute of Medicine agrees that contraception is a preventive service that's necessary for women's health and well-being, it's likely to be added to a list of benefits that all health insurers will be required to offer without deductibles or co-payments."

After spotlighting how "half of all pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unintended," Rovner played her first two sound bites from Dr. Deborah Nucatola of Planned Parenthood, who made her "epidemic" assessment concerning this figure:

DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: And if we could prevent an epidemic of this proportion, that should be justification enough that contraception is preventive care.

ROVNER: But at the same time, says Nucatola, who's also an OB/GYN, birth control is about more than just preventing pregnancy.

NUCATOLA: We can also use it as essential preventive medicine for the four million women who have babies every year in the United States, because more and more research shows that spacing your pregnancy- babies born at least 18 months apart are going to be healthier than those born closer together, and that closely timed births are risky for their mothers, too.

Later, the reporter grouped birth control with "cancer screenings or childhood immunizations," as she introduced her clips from Jeannie Monahan of the FRC, who stated that one of the reasons why her organization opposes the proposed mandate is because "seven to 10 days before a baby can implant, Plan B can prevent that implantation, and thereby, cause the demise of that baby. So, we'd be opposed to those drugs being included because they act as abortifacients."

Rovner then made a misleading statement about Plan B and other "emergency" contraceptives, followed by a third clip from Dr. Nucatola:

ROVNER: Plan B is one of two emergency contraceptives that have been approved by the FDA. They are different from the abortion pill mifepristone. Neither emergency contraceptive can disrupt a pregnancy that's already established. But Planned Parenthood's Deborah Nucatola says the whole argument about preventing implantation has been overblown by abortion opponents.

NUCATOLA: If people want to postulate on a possible theoretic risk of prevention of implantation, they're entitled to do that, but there is no scientific evidence that that is a mechanism of action.

Actually, one of the ways that Plan B works, as Planned Parenthood's own website discloses, is that it "thins the lining of the uterus. In theory, this could prevent pregnancy by keeping a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus." So, as life begins at conception, the drug acts to deny the new life from developing further, thereby acting as an abortifacient, just as Monahan stated. So Dr. Nucatola is contradicted by not only her own organization, but by the FDA as well on its website: "Plan B may prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb (implantation)."

Earlier in 2011, the NPR correspondent displayed a similar slant during an April 1 report when she lined up proponents of the federal government's Title X subsidy of contraceptives, and left only 30 seconds for a conservative opponent of the program.

The full transcript of Julie Rovner's report from Tuesday's Morning Edition:

STEVE INSKEEP: President Obama's health care overhaul law touches almost every aspect of health care, including birth control. An independent panel of experts is set to make a series of recommendations tomorrow about preventive health care services for women. The report from the Institute of Medicine will help determine if birth control will have to be covered by every private health insurance policy. NPR's Julie Rovner reports.

JULIE ROVNER: Andrea Leyva of Tucson, Arizona had a full-time job with health insurance, a husband, and two children a couple of years ago. But even so, the $25 a month copay for her birth control was hard for the family to afford.

ANDREA LEYVA: It began to fall into the category of a luxury. Both my husband and I work, but we already had children and a household to maintain.

ROVNER: And so, at age 36, Leyva got pregnant with what she calls her blessed surprise, daughter Alexandria.

LEYVA: So, while we're happy that she's here, it was not planned, and had we had some better finances, we probably could have made some better decisions.

ROVNER: Women's health groups are hoping that families like Leyva's won't be faced with decisions like that in the future. If the Institute of Medicine agrees that contraception is a preventive service that's necessary for women's health and well-being, it's likely to be added to a list of benefits that all health insurers will be required to offer without deductibles or co-payments.

Deborah Nucatola is senior director for medical services for Planned Parenthood. She says Leyva is hardly unique. Half of all pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unintended.


DR. DEBORAH NUCATOLA, PLANNED PARENTHOOD: And if we could prevent an epidemic of this proportion, that should be justification enough that contraception is preventive care.

ROVNER: But at the same time, says Nucatola, who's also an OB/GYN, birth control is about more than just preventing pregnancy.

NUCATOLA: We can also use it as essential preventive medicine for the four million women who have babies every year in the United States, because more and more research shows that spacing your pregnancy- babies born at least 18 months apart are going to be healthier than those born closer together, and that closely timed births are risky for their mothers, too.

ROVNER: But not everyone agrees that contraception should be available to the same extent as cancer screenings or childhood immunizations.

JEANNIE MONAHAN, FAMILY RESEARCH COUNCIL: There are two reasons that we oppose the inclusion of contraceptives as a preventive service.

ROVNER: Jeannie Monahan heads the Center for Human Dignity at the conservative Family Research Council. She says the first reason is that requiring contraceptive coverage violates the conscience rights of people, most notably Catholics, who don't believe in artificial methods of contraception.

MONAHAN: Say, for example, that I had a problem with it. I would be paying into a plan that would be covering them. So, it would be objectionable because I would be paying into that plan. In a way, I would be forced to pay for it myself.

ROVNER: The other problem, says Monahan, is the one that often crops up in discussions of birth control: abortion. Specifically, abortion opponents argue that some emergency contraceptives, so-called morning-after pills, can cause very early abortions by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg into a woman's uterus.

MONAHAN: Those seven to 10 days before a baby can implant, Plan B can prevent that implantation, and thereby, cause the demise of that baby. So, we'd be opposed to those drugs being included because they act as abortifacients.

ROVNER: Plan B is one of two emergency contraceptives that have been approved by the FDA. They are different from the abortion pill mifepristone. Neither emergency contraceptive can disrupt a pregnancy that's already established. But Planned Parenthood's Deborah Nucatola says the whole argument about preventing implantation has been overblown by abortion opponents.

NUCATOLA: If people want to postulate on a possible theoretic risk of prevention of implantation, they're entitled to do that, but there is no scientific evidence that that is a mechanism of action.

ROVNER: Still, it was the divisive politics of birth control that prompted the Department of Health and Human Services to punt the matter to the Institute of Medicine in the first place. Tomorrow, the IOM officially tosses the decision about whether insurers should cover contraception back into the government's lap. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan
Matthew Balan is a news analyst at Media Research Center