By Norma Nyhoff, Field Intern
On Aug. 13, the Food and Drug Administration approved ella, an emergency contraceptive pill effective up to five days after unprotected intercourse, for the U.S. market. Predictably, the usual suspects — the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Family Research Council, Concerned Women for America and other anti-abortion rights groups — are outraged.
These groups claim that ella could terminate an existing pregnancy due to its chemical similarity to RU-486, the early-abortion option that also comes in pill form. Catholic Online calls ella “murder at the micro-level” while the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists prefers the term “embryocidal drug.” Of course, these folks made similar complaints about Plan B (the “morning-after pill”) when it came on the market. But if you care about science, the truth is that both ella and Plan B work by preventing pregnancies, not ending them.
Opponents of abortion rights are seizing news of ella’s approval as yet another excuse to limit women’s reproductive rights while disingenuously claiming to be concerned about women’s health. Concerned Women for America warns that men will slip this drug to women without their knowledge. Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) even called on President Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting federal funds from paying for the drug (in federally-subsidized health care plans that cover contraception, for instance).
Let’s look past the predictable objections to recognize ella for what it is: a step toward greater reproductive control for women. Its period of effectiveness is two days longer than that of Plan B, allowing women a larger window in which unwanted pregnancies can be prevented after unprotected sex. Although it is available by prescription only, its introduction likely will lead to a decrease in the number of unwanted pregnancies and abortions in the U.S. This has the potential to improve the lives of women and their families. But it’s unlikely anti-abortion radicals will see the good in that.