Misleading ‘Black Mirror’ Episode Confuses Emergency Contraception With Medical Abortion

I was a latecomer to the phenomena known as “Black Mirror,” a former BBC television show turned Netflix hit. While my husband has watched the series from its beginning, it took a week-long vacation and a frozen Arctic blast†trapping us Minnesotans indoors for me to check out the latest season.

After the first episode, I was hooked. I whipped through the entire season in a matter of days — and that includes the break we had to take when I could not stop screaming at the television.

The source of my anger? The series inexcusably confuses emergency contraception with†medical abortion.

The “Arkangel” episode took on the dubious moral issues of expanding technology in a story†about†a mother who implants her daughter with a chip†to monitor her health stats, location and other information.†Due to this†technology, the mother knows when her teen daughter becomes pregnant, and she purchases “emergency contraception” at a drug store to put in her daughter’s breakfast. The medication, according to the girl’s school nurse, causes the girl to miscarry.

Anyone who follows the news can likely see the massive plot error†here.

Emergency contraception — otherwise known as the morning after pill –†provides a high dose of hormones meant to stop a person from ovulating if they have had unprotected sex. Early FDA reports claim that it could potentially stop a fertilized egg from implanting, but that has now been dismissed by most doctors as unlikely — especially given the number of people who still get pregnant after taking the medication. People of higher weights, for instance, may not receive an effective dose.

Even if that were in fact true, however, it would still be†acting as†pregnancy†prevention since pregnancy doesn’t begin until a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. At that point, HCG begins†to be released, and tests can then diagnose that the person is pregnant.

But that’s not how†the†emergency contraception in the episode worked. Instead, this medication was purchased after the girl already had a diagnosed pregnancy. The pills were treated as if they†induced a miscarriage — far more like a medication abortion, which ends a pregnancy.

Is this a big deal? Maybe not. After all, a vast majority of people†don’t want†Roe v. Wade overturned. Ending a pregnancy in the early weeks isn’t considered nearly as controversial as later abortions are, and — with the exception of certain subsets of the GOP — contraception is completely noncontroversial as well.

But conflating or confusing emergency contraception and medication abortion — and claiming that emergency contraception terminates a pregnancy and causes a miscarriage — is disturbingly common. It’s a mistake that the right continues to use to their advantage in order to pass legislation allowing them to refuse to offer emergency contraception to sexual assault victims or to†prevent health insurance plans from covering†birth control.

And, unsurprisingly, the anti-abortion movement is using the mistake to promote their own views of contraception.

“Netflix and ‘Black Mirror’ got this right,” claims Holly Scheer at The Federalist. “The FDA and doctors agree that emergency contraception can block the implantation of a fertilized egg. For people who acknowledge the scientific reality that a new life is created at conception, thatís an abortion. Itís no longer raw genetic material, but a unique life, rapidly moving through the complex process of pregnancy that Twitter warriors should have learned in middle school science. At least they can still learn about it now, as adults. The same canít be said for the tiny lives the morning-after pill starves to death.”

Scheer ironically adds:

We donít need to media to spread more misinformation about contraception. Itís important to be clear when using things like emergency contraception as a plot point, because too many people donít understand how their bodies and pregnancy work,” completely missing the point that there is literally no way a pregnancy can be diagnosed before implantation occurs

“Arkangel” is the first episode to be directed by a woman — Jodie Foster — making this controversy especially frustrating. Sure, as a futuristic show, the producers could come up with an alternative universe answer — maybe the health monitor is so technologically advanced it can identify a fertilized egg the moment sperm enters it. And maybe†emergency contraception has been tweaked to a point where it can always stop implantation, making the story writers technically correct. But if so, that backstory†should’ve†been explained, mentioned or even acknowledged — either in the episode or now, as controversy is brewing.

Without that explanation, this is just another example of Hollywood making mistakes that could easily have been avoided if they’d only just asked women.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

86 comments

Marie W
Marie W5 months ago

thanks for sharing

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