The purpose of this paper is to examine the role media has played in shaping public perception of emergency contraception. Some of the major issues found in the key findings of empirical studies and current cognition, and the relevance for everyday life will all be discussed. Media such as news and internet represent the most easily remediable influence on people and their views even down to their sexual attitudes and behaviors. “In 1922, Lippmann argued that mass communication could become the basis for people’s views of the world” (Perse, 2001).
After much empirical research, ninety years later there is no disbelief that the media can be very influential on many issues. The media has influenced popular opinion in many controversial matters and one of the most controversial is emergency contraception. What has been the role of the media in shaping public perception of emergency contraception? That very question is what this paper will address. Before examining the role media has played on the public’s perception it is important that a general understanding about what emergency contraception is be established.
Emergency contraception (EC) or the morning after pill is a contraception that prevents pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse due to contraception failure, non-use or rape. EC may work in two ways: 1) by inhibiting ovulation or 2) by preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus; however, it cannot work if you’re already pregnant. EC is not an abortion pill. Furthermore, use of EC can reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy by up to 75%-89% if taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse or ontraception failure. According to the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals (ARHP) “unintended pregnancy continues to be a major public health issue in the United States. ” Out of the 6-million pregnancies in the United States each year about one-half are unintended. (See Figure 1) Figure [ 1 ] Annual Pattern of Pregnancies in the United States: Intended versus unintended (6. 3million pregnancies totals). Data Source: Association of Reproductive Health Professionals October 16, 2012.
After several years of petitioning by various officialdoms the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finally approved EC for over the counter (OTC) sale to women 17 years of age and older in 2009. However, recent research has shown that EC seems to be underused. Whereas access to EC has been improved “its success is linked to the dissemination of accurate information about EC via trusted informational sources, such as family, friends, healthcare providers, and the media” (Vahratian, Patel, Wolff, & Xiao, 2008).
Today information is gained from many different sources types, news stories which are ranked second according to how reliable they are generally perceived to be, the Internet and television; but not all sources convey accurate information. In 2010 the World Health Organization (WHO) put out an official report discussing the effects of media’s coverage on emergency contraception. According to the authors muck raking news analysis was most likely connected to why use of EC pills were still low and pregnancy rates still high.
The WHO listed BBC as one of the news organizations inaccurately reporting on EC. Reports that “regular usage of emergency contraception may cause infertility and in some instances increase the risk of cancer” (Westley & Glasier 2010) had only alarmed women and may have kept some from using the method when they needed it most. Sometimes these stories are picked up by Internet bloggers, reporters etc. and circulated like an illness. Today, the echo chamber that is the Internet can quickly spread and amplify media stories, particularly if they are sensational. An e-mail circulating for several years describes a “true story” of a woman who died of a stroke while on hormonal birth control; recently, this story morphed and now states “the cause of death – continuously taking the morning-after pill” (Westley et al. , 2010). Stories such as that are then picked up by the populist and the disease of misinformation continues. Stretching half-truths to the point where people believe them.
Education on EC continues to be very important aspect on perception and use. However, even in places where knowledge of EC is higher like in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, use stayed low. A big reason for this is that education on fertility, contraception and pregnancy risk is poor. Further compounded by factually incorrect media coverage, which Westley et al. considered to be motivated by concerns over sexual irresponsibility, and was hidden behind false scientific validation.
Given that EC is now accessible OTC in the US to women who meet the age limit, proper public health messages should be established to increase women’s awareness of, dismiss myths about, and encourage correct use of emergency contraception as an instrument to help avoid unintended pregnancy and birth. “Accurate media coverage has played an important role in spreading the news about health risks, healthy behaviors and new products; sensationalist and frightening coverage can have the opposite effect”( Westley & Glasier 2010), hence the significance of factual information.
Subsequently media coverage that paints a negative light with inaccurate information has given sensationalists with an agenda fuel against EC use. This is often seen from politicians, religious groups and other activist. Essentially the right for a woman to choose has been tossed in the political ring. Thus the media jumps all over it playing it up. Some of these individuals believe that because EC pills may work by stopping the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, that this is abortion. “The moral equivalent of homicide,” as Dr.
Donna Harrison, is quoted, the director of research for the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Republican Party Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum have also made similar statements recently calling EC “abortive pills. ” However, according to an article published recently in the New York Times theses qualms maybe unfounded. “It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion, a divisive issue in this election year, is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work” (Belluck, New York Times, 2012).
It maybe that package labeling is the root to the fertilized egg debate. Leading scientists are saying that studies have not proven that EC pills inhibit fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. Rather they postpone ovulation, release of eggs from ovaries that happens before eggs are fertilized, and others “thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming” (Belluck, New York Times, 2012). Obviously there is a need to re-educate policy makers (who hold women reproductive rights in their hands) on EC and advance their knowledge about EC.
In addition, it’s also been reported that EC has slashed abortion rates but James Trussell, a Princeton population researcher said “The impact is still too small, considering that each year million American women have unintended pregnancies more than a million of which end in abortions” (Health Study, 2002). There were 47,000 fewer abortions that can be explained by the growth in EC use from 1994 to 2000 a forty-three percent drop. Figure 2 shows nationwide, the number of abortions.
Similarly, the abortion rate declined 29 percent over the same period, from 27. 4 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 to 19. 4 per 1,000. Figure [ 2 ] Data Source: Ms. Magazine. com October 16, 2012 The chief concern in all of this and the relevance for everyday life is the health issues linked to unintended pregnancy. Now a common problem in the US approximately 1 in 20 women between the ages of 15 and 44 reported an unintended pregnancy in 2001. This epidemic of unintended pregnancy can have negative health repercussions for both the newborn and mother. Unintended pregnancy has been associated with delays in obtaining early prenatal care (sometimes connected with delays in pregnancy recognition) and delays in curtailing or ceasing tobacco and alcohol use, all of which can adversely affect fetal development. Women who have an unintended pregnancy are less likely to take vitamins and, consequently, have an increased risk of a neural tube defect in the fetus. Infants born to women who had not intended the pregnancy are more likely to be of low birth weight, premature and/or small for gestational age.
In addition, there is some evidence that unintended pregnancy is associated with child abuse and neglect suggesting that unintended pregnancy can have long-term adverse health implications for the infant” (Goldsmith, 2008). Conclusions There is hardly any question if media influences not only views but behaviors of people. However, sometimes those influences may be factor on half-truths and misconceptions. Success or failure depends on the information received.
Even though EC has been approved by the FDA research has still shown an under usage, and no expected impact on unintended pregnancy. According to WHO inaccurate muck raking reports are linked to why usage of EC is low. The Internet is also a place where misinformation is widely spread. Sensationalist, politicians and religious groups follow the misinformation as a platform to the agendas. This is hidden behind false scientific justification, and powered by the want to control a woman’s choice to reproductive health. While countering every health-related rumor on the Internet and inaccurate story in local newspapers and magazines is surely a fool’s errand, it is increasingly important to be ready with the facts when reporters, community members and patients voice concerns” (Westley et al. , 2010). It is important that accurate media coverage is conveyed not to ward off women if they are in need of EC. There are times and situations as rape or incest where access to EC can be better than the alternatives such as abortion.
In addition, the general public must be informed of the attributes, side effects, and availability of EC. Based upon my research I found that EC maybe an underutilized resource because the big impression media leaves on people and their views. Lack of knowledge about EC continues to be a barrier to its use. It is my personal opinion that use and access to EC is better than the alternative of unintended pregnancies. Many people have their opinion on this matter case in point one I don’t agree with that of Richard Mourdock.
Quote: “I’ve struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize that life is that gift from God. And even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen” he says that he struggled with this issue, but he really has not, and never will. Policy makers who have never struggled to keep a rapist from violating their body, nor will ever grapple with the decision to end a pregnancy should not be the one deciding what should happen as a next step.
Courtney from Study Moose
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