Emergency contraception — up to 5 days later?

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Later this week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is scheduled to convene an advisory committee on reproductive health drugs to determine whether a new emergency contraception pill — that can work up to 5 days after intercourse — should be approved for the U.S. market. Yet the new drug, ulipristal acetate, which is manufactured by European pharmaceutical company HRA Pharma and sold under the name EllaOne, is already generating some controversy among anti-abortion groups, who argue that the pill functions too much like RU486, or the abortion pill.

Unlike “the morning after pill,” Plan B, which is supposed to be taken within 2 to 3 days and becomes less effective the longer women delay taking it, ulipristal is effective up to 4 or 5 days after intercourse. Yet, as NPR reports, anti-abortion groups argue that this new pill doesn’t just prevent ovulation, but that if, by the time a woman takes the pill a fertilized egg has already implanted, it would actually destroy the embryo — effectively causing an abortion, not preventing a pregnancy.

Yet Paul Fine, medical director of Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas, told NPR that there is no evidence to suggest that the pill induces abortion. In fact, he explains, in clinical trials some users did become pregnant because they had already ovulated by the time they took the pill, which indicates that the drug does not induce abortion.

Fine says that too often, out of denial or possibly ignorance, young women wait too long to take action. He says that’s why a pill that extends the window for women to prevent an unwanted pregnancy would be a welcome addition for reproductive health organizations such as Planned Parenthood. Fine explained to NPR:

“Women sometimes say, ‘Oh, I couldn’t become pregnant from that.’ … They deny the possibility and don’t really accept the reality of it. And it’s not rare there’s a delay of a day or two before it really sinks in [that] ‘Hey, I better do something.’ And with Plan B it may be too late.”