FDA: New "morning-after pill" is safe

Despite evidence that ellaOne is effective, it faces major challenges before being stocked in pharmacies

Published June 15, 2010 6:01PM (EDT)

Last week we reported on a new, more effective emergency birth control option making its way toward U.S. pharmacies. This morning, the Food and Drug Administration took another step forward when they released a set of documents showing that the morning-after pill ulipristal acetate—which moonlights under the name “ellaOne” in Europe—consistently prevents pregnancy without unexpected side effects.

That’s good news, since this latest iteration of the popular emergency contraception pill works longer—up to five days after unprotected sex—and, according to a study done by the British medical journal Lancet, may be twice as effective as Plan B at heading off unwanted pregnancies.

Seems pretty great, right? That’s probably why the drug is already approved for use in 44 countries. But in the notoriously thorny territory of the American birth control debate, critics are crying foul on the new pill, which they argue isn’t birth control at all—it’s abortion. These activists, led by the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, draw a direct link between ulipristal acetate, which works by preventing the ovulation of an egg, and RU-486, the so-called “abortion pill.”

"This is a thinly-veiled attempt to get an abortion drug over-the-counter," Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the AAPLOG, told ABC News earlier this year.

The problem with that argument? RU-486 terminates an in-process pregnancy— ulipristal acetate prevents it from happening in the first place. You know, that thing that birth control normally does. In fact, no patient who suspected they were pregnant already would ever be prescribed an emergency contraceptive, so using the drug that way would be totally illegal.

As we know though, that won’t stop the antiabortionists from railing against the new pill. But hopefully the FDA will put a lid on it soon enough—a panel of experts will convene Thursday to review the findings on ulipristal acetate and decide whether to approve the drug for U.S. markets.


By Ryan Brown

Ryan Brown is a writer living in Boston.

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