Emergency Contraception is Not an Abortion


The FDA recently approved (found via washingtonpost.com) a new Emergency Contraception called “Ella” and for some reason its prescription-only availability is being labeled as “controversial.” The only controversy I see are special interest parties using scare-tactics and misleading statements to compare this drug to RU-486 (mifepristone), an abortificant.

Let’s be clear: “Ella” is an emergency contraceptive. Its role is to prevent ovulation that can lead to egg fertilization as well as potentially prevent a fertilized egg from implanting on the uterine wall.

“Ella” (ulipristal acetate) is like Plan B (levonorgestrel) in that it uses chemicals that mimic progesterone to prevent ovulation and implantation, though it can be used 5 days after unprotected intercourse versus Plan B’s 3 days after. Where people start to make misleading statements is by noting the similarity between ulipristal acetate and mifepristone. True, ulipristal acetate is toxic to embryos in animal studies but the effect on humans isn’t clear.

Furthermore, it takes 600 mg of mifepristone to induce an abortion. Guess how much ulipristal acetate is in “Ella”?

30 mg. A female would have to take 20 pills to reach the levels of a similar but different chemical found in RU-486. Twenty pills plus a dose of prostaglandin (the chemical combined with mifepristone to induce abortions) in order to chemically terminate a pregnancy. Someone would have to be very, very desperate to do that and even then the abortion is not guaranteed.

In my opinion, all this hand-wringing over possibly using “Ella” to induce an abortion is uninformed hogwash. But the silliness doesn’t stop there.

In the Washington Post blog post on “Ella”, Wendy Wright, a rep for Concerned Women of America states:

“This is a deliberate effort to deceive women who would not otherwise take a drug that could harm their baby. Providing the drug through a website means that anyone can buy it, any number of times. A predatory man who is sexually abusing a girl or wants force an abortion on a woman will be able to easily obtain this drug. This puts women at risk of men who can slip the drug into their food or drink. Without doctors’ oversight, girls won’t be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. When a woman experiences complications, the prescribing ‘doctor’ will be as anonymous as a drug dealer in a back alley.”

Wendy, first off, a woman taking this drug does not want to get pregnant. This isn’t being sold as a pre-natal supplement. Second, of all the drugs a sexual predator would slip into someone’s drink or food, I think this would be low on their list. (“Ha! Take that! Now you won’t ovulate for the next 72 hours because the thing I care about most is you don’t have to decide to have an abortion after I rape you!”)

Third, just because it is available through an online pharmacy does not mean every woman is going to chuck out their condoms, spit out oral contraceptives and pull out their IUDs to flock to an emergency contraceptive. According to Guttmacher stats on contraception use in the U.S. between 2006-08, only .4% of a 40,000 person sample cited “other”, a category which includes:

emergency contraception, female condom or vaginal pouch, foam, cervical cap, Today sponge, suppository or insert, jelly or cream (without diaphragm) and other methods.

That is how few people actually use emergency contraception. The number is so small it had to be lumped in with eight other methods to get to the .4% mark.

So to recap: emergency contraception is not an abortion. You are not terminating a pregnancy, just using a last ditch, emergency chemical effort to prevent fertilization from happening. If pro-life groups are really all for preventing and eliminating abortions, why are they against EC?

Seems like a case of rhetoric eclipsing logic.

2 thoughts on “Emergency Contraception is Not an Abortion”

  1. While I applaud your post in general, I have to point out that comparing amounts of chemicals by weight, even molecularly similar chemicals, is incorrect and can be dangerous. Very simple changes to the structure of a molecule can render it much more or less available for our bodies to use. Drugs should not be compared in this manner except for amounts of the *exact* same compound.

    1. Interesting and good to know. Do you have any info on the relative differences between mifepristone and ulipristal acetate as far as dosage? As far as I know the two have roughly equal potency, which is why I made a point about the large dosage differences.

      I’ll try pinging a chemistry PhD friend of mine as well to see if I can get a better answer on this.

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