FDA Panel Backs New Emergency Contraceptive Pill, Pro-Lifers Freak Out

A panel of experts voted yesterday to endorse a new type of morning-after pill that can protect against pregnancy for up to five days after sex. But anti-choice detractors say it is too close to the abortion pill.

The panel met on Thursday to vote on the safety and effectiveness of the pill, which is sold in Europe under the name ellaOne. Studies by the drug's manufacturer have showed ellaOne prevents pregnancy for longer than Plan B (Plan B is only effective for three days after sex; ellaOne buys the customer two more days of coverage) and more consistently effective at preventing pregnancy. One study of 1,700 women who received emergency contraception found that while women on Plan B have a very low chance of becoming pregnant (2.6%), women taking ellaOne are even less likely to get knocked up (1.8%).

The only real criticism of ellaOne is coming from - where else? - the pro-life corner. Some are claiming that the chemical composition of ellaOne is too similar to the abortion drug Mifeprex, which can be taken 50 days into pregnancy. "This is a thinly veiled attempt to get an abortion drug over-the-counter," said Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Harrison argues that, because the pill can stop pregnancies days after the fertilization of an egg, it is not so much an emergency contraceptive device as it is an abortion tool.

Lauren Streicher from the Northwestern Medical School, says Harrison has got it all wrong. She tells ABC News: "There are many people who are reluctant to take emergency contraception because they think it's abortive, but it's apples and oranges. With emergency contraception, it's really to stop a pregnancy of occurring." Since it takes five to seven days for the fertilized egg to implant itself in the uterus and begin to grow, any actions taken before that time are preventing pregnancy. Unlike Harrison, who believes that the moment the egg is fertilized, pregnancy has begun, Streicher argues that pregnancy is not simply the meeting of sperm and egg, but the meeting of sperm, egg, and uterus.

Fortunately, though abortion drugs like Mifeprex can include bleeding and increase the risk of severe infection, ellaOne has no major medical side effects. Though the two drugs may be chemically similar, they are different enough for the panel of experts. The panel also looked into possible side effects from ellaOne. They concluded that it is safe, and has few negative side effects. Based on their findings, they recommended that the FDA approve ellaOne for sale in the U.S. The FDA usually follows these recommendations, though they do not have to.

FDA Panel Endorses ellaOne Morning-After Contraceptive Pill
[Washington Post]
FDA Panel Backs New Emergency Contraceptive [AP]
FDA Panel to Decide On U.S. Distribution Of Controversial Contraceptive Pill, EllaOne [ABC News]