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F.D.A. Approves a More Potent Emergency Contraceptive

Last Friday, the F.D.A. approved ella, an emergency contraception pill that helps prevent pregnancy for up to five days after sex.  The drug will be available by prescription only.

It’s more effective than the over-the-counter Plan B (taking the chance of pregnancy from 1 in 40 with Plan B, to 1 in 50).  And instead of needing to take the pill immediately to have the desired effect, ella will work as well on day five as it does directly after unprotected sex, according to F.D.A. scientists.

Part of the reason this pill has gotten a little more pushback from anti-abortion critics is that it has chemical properties similar to mifepristone, or RU-486, the drug that terminates an existing pregnancy until around the seventh week after conception.  But scientists say it does not work in the same way at all.Ella is ulipristal acetate, a synthetic hormone that delays ovulation by interfering with progesterone. According to the F.D.A., it has no effect on an established pregnancy. There is some evidence that it could make the uterus less hospitable to a fertilized egg (disrupting implantation), but just like Plan B, the main way it works is by preventing ovulation or fertilization.

It’s a welcome development, because it seems like science is the guiding force here, not politics. The drug was approved in many other countries last year. But in a New York Times article on Friday, a representative of the group Conservative Women for America said she worried men might “slip” ella to an unsuspecting woman.

Sounds like a scare tactic, plain and simple. It’s an unreasonable and far-fetched scenario, and hardly one that should impact whether a thoroughly-researched drug that gives women an important choice is made available.  It’s also prescription only (probably one pill at a time), so how would that work, exactly?

Ella is expected to be available by the end of this year.

Image: Flickr/Farm_Studio_Field

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