Panel recommends FDA approval of 5-day emergency contraception

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A U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advisory group recommended that the federal agency approve a new form of emergency contraception that would work up to 5 days after intercourse, the New York Times reports. Plan B, the “morning after” pill that is currently available over the counter to women ages 18 and older, can only be taken up to three days after sex and becomes less effective the longer a woman waits to take it.

Yet just how the new drug, ulipristal acetate — which would be sold under the trade name ella — prevents pregnancy has stirred controversy among anti-abortion organizations. The manufacturer, small European pharmaceutical company HRA Pharma says that the pill works by halting ovulation, but critics say that if a woman has already ovulated and that egg has been fertilized, it could potentially destroy the resulting embryo or prevent it from implanting in the uterus.

As the Times reports, Scott Emerson, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington and a member of the federal advisory committee, indicated that any medication that can stop a pregnancy a full five days after intercourse is likely doing more than just preventing ovulation. Yet speaking with NPR last week, Paul Fine, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, said that drug trials — in which a few women taking ella did become pregnant — indicate that the medication would not cause an abortion.

Despite the controversy — and a day of pitched debate Thursday — the advisory committee ultimately voted unanimously in favor of approving the drug. The FDA most often heeds the advice of advisory panels, but has departed from recommendations in the past.

Read the full Times story here.