On Friday, the FDA approved “ella,” a controversial new form of emergency contraception that can prevent pregnancy as late as five days after unprotected sex. The drug will provide an important new option for women who are concerned about unplanned pregnancy, although opponents have already begun protesting, claiming that it causes abortion. Ella protects against pregnancy for significantly longer than the alternative, Plan B, which loses some of its effectiveness immediately and becomes ineffective after 72 hours. Ella, by contrast, reduces the chances of pregnancy after unprotected sex by about two-thirds for at least 120 hours – that’s five days as opposed to three. Big difference, right?
Although Plan B is available over the counter to women over the age of 18 (an absurd age limit insisted upon by anti-choice advocates who claimed that the pill could cause abortion), ella will be accessible only by prescription. They can, however, keep a supply at home. My question is how much the drug will cost – Plan B, at $40, is quite expensive. Combined with the need for a prescription, this may make the drug much more inaccessible.
However, the most obvious controversy has nothing to do with the price or accessibility – in fact, opponents don’t want the drug to be available at all, saying that because it is chemically similar to RU-486, the pill used to end an early pregnancy. It’s impossible to know if ella works this way, though, because it has never been tested to see if it causes abortion.
As the Washington Post points out, this controversy is likely to extend over a long period of time, and raise more questions about “whether doctors have an obligation to write prescriptions for medication they oppose on moral grounds and whether pharmacists have and obligation to fill them.” The drug is scheduled to go on sale at the end of the year.
If it’s affordable (and even, to a certain extent, if it’s not), ella will provide a crucial alternative to Plan B. More kinds of contraception are always good, especially since this one seems to be significantly more effective than the alternative.
Photo from Flickr.