Yesterday, the FDA approved Ella, an emergency contraceptive that is about effective up to 120 hours after unprotected sex and that is currently available in 22 countries. According to the NYT:
Women who have unprotected intercourse have about 1 chance in 20 of becoming pregnant. Those who take Plan B within three days cut that risk to about 1 in 40, while those who take ella would cut that risk to about 1 in 50, regulators say.
Plan b, the current form of emergency contraception, which is available over-the-counter for people 17 and older, claims to be effective for 72 hours after unprotected sex.
Less than two months ago, a federal advisory committee voted unanimously to recommend approval of Ella. Unlike the long, drawn-out FDA decision to make Plan B available without a prescription, the last FDA discussion about emergency contraception, this approval process has been quick and efficient, which many women’s health advocates celebrate as a step away from what they see as FDA’s previous political agenda. However, women will need a prescription to get Ella.
The debate over Ella that has ensued is because of comparisons to RU-486, what many people call the abortion pill. Ella’s main ingredient is ulipristal acetate, which works as a contraceptive by blocking progesterone, thereby delaying the ovaries’ egg production. However, because RU-486 prevents a fertilized egg from implanting and dislodges growing embryos by blocking progesterone, as progesterone is needed to prepare the womb to accept a fertilized egg and to nurture a developing embryo, some people say that Ella will do the same and that it is another “abortion pill.” Studies on animals have shown that ella has little effect on established pregnancies, suggesting that it will not induce abortions like RU-486; however, it has not been tested as an abortion pill for humans, so there is no conclusive evidence as to whether or not it could serve as one. Even without evidence, antiabortion groups such as Concerned Women for America have made statements declaring it an “abortion drug.”
In the article linked to above, and in this article in the Washington Post, it says that one of the fears that critics of the pill have is that men will slip the pill to unsuspecting women. Now, the fact that both the NYT and the Washington Post felt the need to mention this fact means that people are actually worried about this, which I find very surprising, and kind of funny—if men are going to slip women Ella, then wouldn’t they slip them Plan B (which they wouldn’t need a prescription for), or birth control every night? What kind of regulatory concern is it that men would secretly slip women pills: yes, it could happen, but it could also happen with myriad other pills, too.
Either way, I think that it’s important that the FDA approved Ella for women in the US. It’s another option for women to prevent unwanted pregnancies, at a time when about one half of all pregnancies are unwanted. And most people, both pro-choice and anti-abortion, agree that unwanted pregnancy is an issue that must be dealt with, both to reduce the number of abortions that occur and because children born from an unwanted pregnancy are more likely to have developmental and childhood issues. While calling Ella an abortion pill is only speculation, it is fact that Ella can prevent unwanted pregnancies and help prevent unwanted pregnancies and their repercussions.