WASHINGTON (BP)–The federal government has approved for sale another pill as an emergency contraceptive, but critics say it actually is an abortion drug.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced Aug. 13 the approval of “ella,” which it says prevents pregnancy when it is taken within five days after sexual intercourse. Ella, which requires a prescription, functions primarily to restrict or postpone ovulation in a woman, according to the FDA.
Pro-life organizations, however, charge ella can act to eliminate an embryo already implanted in the mother’s womb. The newly approved drug is more closely related to RU 486, the abortion drug already sold in the United States, than to currently marketed emergency contraceptives Plan B and Next Choice, pro-lifers say.
Ella is like RU 486, also known as mifepristone, in that it prevents production of the hormone progesterone, destroying the placenta that provides nutrition to the embryo and causing the tiny child’s death, according to the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG). Like the “morning-after” pills Plan B and Next Choice, ella also can block implantation of an embryo in the uterine wall, causing an abortion.
AAPLOG and other pro-life organizations expressed concern that women who already are pregnant could destroy early-stage babies in their wombs by taking ella. They also said some women are likely to ignore the product label and take ella more than five days after intercourse, threatening newly implanted embryos.
“It is clearly and unmistakably an abortifacient and is intended as such. The only supposed advantage is that the mother does not know for certain that she is killing her unborn baby because she does not know if she is pregnant,” said Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “This is one more tragic step away from the culture of life on which our nation was founded.”
A leading congressional pro-life advocate, Rep. Chris Smith, R.-N.J., said, “At a minimum [ella] should be classified as an abortion drug. Women deserve to know that these pills they believe prevent pregnancy could actually kill their unborn child by withholding vital nutrients and effectively starving the child to death.”
He also said the FDA’s classification of ella as an emergency contraceptive may permit federal funding of abortion through such programs as Medicaid and could require insurance coverage under the new health-care law. Smith urged President Obama to issue an executive order barring funds for ella or insurance coverage that includes ella.
Pro-lifers charged the clinical trials performed with ella were inadequate and voiced concerns about its effect on the health of women who take it and unborn children who survive its use.
The FDA said clinical trials in the United States and England showed the pill to be safe and effective. It said ella is not to be used routinely as a contraceptive.
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the country’s leading abortion provider, commended the FDA’s decision. “Ella will become an important option for women,” said Vanessa Cullins, the organization’s vice president for medical affairs.
Some pro-life leaders charged approval of ella was more about the political bent of the White House than public health.
“By approving this drug quietly on a Friday afternoon when most of Washington was on vacation, the Obama Administration and the FDA once again placed politics above science, women’s health and informed consent,” said Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council.
Pro-life organizations, Monahan said, would work to inform Americans of the dangers of ella.
An FDA Advisory Committee for Reproductive Health Drugs unanimously agreed in June the application for ella provided sufficient evidence for approval as an emergency contraceptive.
The same drug has been on sale in Europe under the name “ellaOne” for the last 15 months.
RU 486, which was approved by the FDA in 2000, is used as the first part of a process normally occurring in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. After RU 486 causes the death of the tiny child, a second drug, misoprostol, is taken two days later, causing the uterus to contract and to expel the baby.
The “morning-after” pills Plan B and Next Choice are basically heavier doses of birth control pills. Under the regimen, a woman takes a pill within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later. Another “morning-after” pill, Plan B One-step, can be taken in a single dose within 72 hours.
The “morning-after” pill supposedly works to restrict ovulation in a woman or prevent fertilization, but it also can prevent implantation.
The “morning-after” pill is available in the United States without a prescription to women 17 years of age and older. It also can be sold to men 17 and older. Girls 16 and younger must have a prescription to purchase the drug.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.