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US Women May Have Another Choice in Emergency Contraception

US Women May Have Another Choice in Emergency Contraception

American women could soon have another form of emergency contraception available to them as federal regulators are set to explore whether or not to endorse the French pill dubbed “ella”.  The pill, already available in Europe, has the ability to prevent pregnancy for up to five days after unprotected sex.  But because the drug is similar in its chemical makeup to RU-486, the anti-choice community has already come out strongly opposed to offering women the option.

Ella works as a contraceptive by blocking the activity of progesterone, which delays the ovaries from producing an egg.  RU-486 also blocks the progesterone activity, and progesterone is necessary to prepare the womb to accept a fertilized egg and create the right environment for that egg to turn into an embryo.  Those opposing ella believe that the drug, if taken in elevated doses, can “kill embryos” by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting or dislodging a growing embryo.

Of course, these concerns not only misstate the facts of the proposed launch of ella, they also completely ignore the specific need women have for the drug.  Since RU-486 was approved 10 years ago its popularity has soared.  The testing done so far on ella shows the drug to be about twice as effective as RU-486 in preventing pregnancy, and its effectiveness remains constant for at least 120 hours.  RU-486 begins to lose its effectiveness almost immediately and becomes ineffective after 72 hours.  Those studies, involving more than 4,500 women in the United States and Europe also show that ella produces only minor side effects including headaches, nausea and fatigue.

The drug’s manufacturer has gone on the record that it has no plans to test ella as an “abortion drug” and view the drug specifically as a contraceptive.  But that doesn’t matter to ella’s critics who not only oppose abortion but oppose contraception and are using the potential approval of the medication as yet another means of confusing the two issues.

If ella ultimately wins approval it will likely reignite the debate about whether or not doctors can opt out of writing prescriptions for the drug based on moral or religious objections and whether or not pharmacists have an obligation to fill them.  This also represents the first real test of the FDA under the Obama administration.  The agency had been routinely criticized under Bush as an agency that put politics before science, and once elected, President Obama pledged to keep ideology out of scientific decisions.  Given the objections to the drug are based purely on moral, rather than scientific grounds, this should be an easy call for the FDA. 

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photo courtesy of Florian via Flickr

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82 comments

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6:23AM PDT on Aug 19, 2010

In my job i have witnessed what a woman goes through when she is a victim of a sexual assault and as horrifying as it is, imagine if against her will she becomes pregnant from this assault. It was NEVER consensual and she should be able to choose to take emergency contraceptives or not and know they will better prevent a birth she never consented to in the first place. Emergency rooms in my state offer Plan B to ALL victims of sexual assaults. If they find a more effective one and offer more choices for women in this situation, then I am all for it.

7:03PM PDT on Jun 21, 2010

pam w. wrote:
Sex is many things....including healing, fun, forgiving, inspiring and bonding. The idea of it being something to be ashamed of if it's not for procreation is about three hundred years out of date.

Amen pam.............Amen!!

Plant & protect trees for life.................

6:51PM PDT on Jun 21, 2010

You're either joking or you're a product of the Catholic church if you're suggesting sex is ONLY "procreational." Why should my "conscience" be involved?

Sex is many things....including healing, fun, forgiving, inspiring and bonding. The idea of it being something to be ashamed of if it's not for procreation is about three hundred years out of date.

9:58PM PDT on Jun 20, 2010

Tom Y. says
Jun 20, 2010 9:12 PM
The real problem is trying to prentend your conscience doesn't matter, when it suggests that sex is something more than just recreational. The real solution is behavioral, not Big Pharma.

Amen Tom.......Amen!!

Plant & protect trees for life..............

9:12PM PDT on Jun 20, 2010

The real problem is trying to prentend your conscience doesn't matter, when it suggests that sex is something more than just recreational. The real solution is behavioral, not Big Pharma.

1:31AM PDT on Jun 19, 2010

I hope it passes.

11:44AM PDT on Jun 18, 2010

You're completely right....alas, many here believe that a fertilized zygote has "rights" which override that of an adult woman.

10:58PM PDT on Jun 17, 2010

I hope that Ella will soon be available on the US market. I don't see how stopping the implantation of a fertilized, 5 day old zygote could be equated to an abortion. (having said that, I am in favour of medical abortion being legal too)

I have known couples who have had to use the "morning after" pill, when their condom broke or an attack of gastro made their contraceptive pill less effective. I don't believe that anyone would use Ella as their routine choice of contraceptive, and if it is found to be safe, I see no reason for it not to be widely available.

5:54PM PDT on Jun 16, 2010

Um...Jessica, I'm pretty sure you meant "Plan B" most of the times you wrote "RU-486".

"RU-486 begins to lose its effectiveness almost immediately and becomes ineffective after 72 hours." You definitely meant Plan B there.

3:26PM PDT on Jun 16, 2010

Marilyn L - tell me how taking a pill that prevents someone from having a welcome womb for a zygote to implant in constitutes not taking responsibility for one's body? If a woman is raped or a victim of incest or even if they are just having too many problems at the moment to care for a baby & they have unprotected sex (let's say the condom breaks) - so they take Plan B or this new pill. If they are already pregnant, it will NOT abort the baby. If they aren't it will prevent them from becoming so. To me, that is the ultimate responsibility and shows a willingness to take care of a situation. Take a pill, not worry about pregnancy OR not take a pill, just assume that everything will turn out ok, miss a period, stress out, panic, worry --- then you have a much bigger situation where you have to choose to abort a life that HAS been implanted in your womb.
Choose to take Plan B or this new drug or later choose an abortion or adoption or keeping "it" - even tho you are not ready to be a parent or know how to treat a baby. Abuse???
It is not called responsibility if you become pregnant and keep a child or not....it is responsibility when you use birth control, make sure he uses a condom, or if unprotected sex happens & you don't want a child - to take Plan B or this new drug to prevent becoming pregnant in the first place.

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Colleen H. Colleen H. is an Online Campaigner with Care2 and a recent transplant to San Francisco from the East... more
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