Yes! There’s more than one morning after thanks to new drug.

by Lisa Kirchner

Thanks to a French (of course) drug company, there soon may be more than one option when it comes to morning after pills. Like, several mornings after. While Plan B works for three days after unprotected intercourse, the new drug–ella–is effective for five. Those two extra days can really count if you live in a rural area or face other obstacles to getting Plan B within that three-day window. Ella (also called ulipristal acetate), won unanimous backing from a FDA advisory panel on June 17, bringing it a step closer to U.S. availability, which could come as soon as the fall or winter of 2010. This represents an enormous shift since the morning after pill’s 3-year battle to market, though the way is far from clear.

“Under President Obama, the [FDA] has taken steps to bring its handling of emergency contraception in line with the science,” said Amy Allina, program director of the Washington-based National Women’s Health Network. “But there is still an age restriction on over-the-counter distribution of Plan B despite medical community consensus that this is inappropriate and serves only to block timely access for young women. With that mixed record, we think it’s an open question whether the agency will bring similar political concerns to its decision on this new emergency contraceptive.”

Already, the protesters are out, and in the midst of these heated arguments it’s important to know what they’re talking about.

“It kills embryos, just like the abortion pill,” said Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

This nutter is drawing a comparison between ella and RU-486. The abortion pill, or RU-486, contains the synthetic steroid mifepristone and interferes with the body’s production of progesterone, thus stopping a fertilized egg from attaching to the lining of the uterus. Ella is a different drug.

Like the over-the-counter Plan B pill, ulipristal acetate works as a contraceptive by blocking progesterone’s activity, which delays the ovaries from producing an egg. There is a very short (12- to 24-hour) window in which an egg can be fertilized. Planned Parenthood’s website stresses, “The morning after pill is not the abortion pill. Emergency contraception is birth control, not abortion.”

Critics argue that the lack of progesterone, which is also needed to prepare the womb to accept a fertilized egg and to nurture a developing embryo, may act like RU-486, causing women to unknowingly give themselves abortions.

“The difference between preventing life and destroying life is hugely significant to many women,” said Jeanne Monahan, director of the Family Research Council’s Center for Human Dignity. “Women deserve to know that difference.”

Agreed! But this statement is based on the idea of taking a large quantity of ella, an off-label use of the drug has not been tested, and is not how the pill is prescribed for use. Ella requires a prescription for all women who take it. Plan B runs around $50, ella will likely cost $100 to $150. It remains to be seen if pharmacies will protest to it as they have done with Plan B.


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