Controversy Over The New Emergency Contraceptive Approved By The FDA

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I recently wrote a post about the controversial proposal of making birth control pills available over-the-counter, and in even more controversial news, on Friday the FDA approved a new (prescription only) emergency contraceptive. This new emergency contraception is not the morning after pill, but it's not an abortion pill either.

From The New York Times:

Federal drug regulators on Friday approved a new form of emergency contraceptive pill that prevents pregnancies if taken as many as five days after unprotected intercourse.
. . .
Women who have unprotected intercourse have about 1 chance in 20 of becoming pregnant. Those who take Plan B within three days cut that risk to about 1 in 40, while those who take ella would cut that risk to about 1 in 50, regulators say.

The controversy surrounding emergency contraceptives comes mainly from the pro-life (or anti-abortion) community, which is confusing to me because there are hopes that these medications could someday reduce the need for clinical abortions. The main sticking point seems to be that this group of people believe that life begins the moment of conception (or fertilization), and that these emergency contraception medications "abort" a fertilized egg.

From the Catholic News Agency - Pro-life groups denounce new drug:

After the Federal Drug Administration recently approved the new drug ella, which is being marketed as emergency contraception, numerous pro-life groups reacted strongly to the move, claiming that the pill acts as an abortifacient.

However, not only are emergency contraceptives NOT abortion pills, but it's a misnomer that fertilization will have always taken place before the woman uses the medication.  Fertility experts are the best at explaining how this is possible, here is an excerpt from FertilityFriend that might help you understand when fertilization takes place.

Your fertile window is made up of the days in your menstrual cycle when pregnancy is possible. The length of this fertile phase is determined by the maximum life span of your partner's sperm and your egg. Sperm can survive a maximum of five days in fertile cervical fluid and your ovum can survive for up to one day. Your theoretical fertile window is thus six days long, comprised of the five days before ovulation and the day of ovulation. You only have a chance to conceive when you have intercourse on these days. This means that pregnancy is technically possible from intercourse on any of these six days.

Basically, a woman can become pregnant even if she doesn't ovulate until five days after intercourse.  Therefore, these emergency contraceptives are blocking the sperm from fertilizing the egg in the first place, just like other methods of birth control -- and NOTHING like an abortion.  Here is a quick video that talks about how this new contraceptive works...

In addition, even when women are trying to become pregnant, it is believed that up to 50% of fertilized eggs never make it to the implantation stage, and of the ones that do, about 30% will still be lost. Most of the time the woman does not even know she had been pregnant. So when it comes to emergency contraceptives, most of the time there isn't even a pregnancy to prevent -- it's just used as a precaution -- and of all the possible pregnancies that it does prevent, more than 50% would have ended even without the use of emergency contraceptives.

My personal opinion...Since you can't force a woman to want a pregnancy that she doesn't want, it seems the option of preventing one would be better than having to end one.

What do you think?  I would love to hear your thoughts in comments.

On a side note, if birth control pills become available over-the-counter, they can also be used as emergency contraception. This is from a post by Deborah Mitchell -- 5-Day Emergency Contraceptive Named Ella:

Birth control pills also can be used as emergency contraception when they are used as directed by a physician, as each type requires a different dose to be effective. These pills contain two hormones, progestin and estrogen. When started within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse, birth control pills reduce the risk of pregnancy by 75 percent.

Also See:  From Planned Parenthood - FAQ on Emergency Contraception

Contributing Editor Catherine Morgan
Also at Catherine-Morgan.com

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