WASHINGTON -- A new federally approved emergency contraceptive described by pro-life advocates as an abortion drug is now for sale.
New Jersey-based Watson Pharmaceuticals announced Dec. 1 that "ella" is available by prescription at most pharmacies and clinics in the United States, as well as through an online pharmacy.
Ella, which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in August, has been shown to prevent pregnancy when taken within five days after sexual intercourse, according to Watson and the government agency. The drug functions primarily to restrict or postpone ovulation in a woman, the FDA reported.
Pro-life organizations, however, charge ella can act to eliminate an embryo already implanted in the mother's womb. The pill is more closely related to RU 486, the abortion drug already sold in the United States, than to the currently marketed emergency contraceptives Plan B and Next Choice, pro-lifers say.
Ella is like RU 486, also known as mifepristone, in that it prevents production of the hormone progesterone, destroying the placenta, which provides nutrition to the embryo, and causing the tiny child's death, according to the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists (AAPLOG). Like the "morning-after" pills Plan B and Next Choice, ella also can block implantation of an embryo in the uterine wall, causing an abortion.
After Watson's announcement, Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, warned about the potential effects of ella on women and babies they may be carrying in the early stages of pregnancy. She also targeted its availability on the Internet.
"Providing the drug through a website means that anyone can buy it any number of times," Wright said. "Watson Pharmaceuticals has made it easy for girls of all ages, or a predatory man who is sexually abusing a girl or who wants to force an abortion on an unwilling woman, to obtain this drug."
AAPLOG and other pro-life organizations have expressed concern that women who already are pregnant could destroy early-stage babies in their wombs by taking ella. They also have said some women are likely to ignore the product label and take ella more than five days after intercourse, threatening newly implanted embryos.
When the FDA announced its approval of ella, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, called the action "one more tragic step away from the culture of life on which our nation was founded."
The same drug has been on sale in Europe under the name "ellaOne" for the last 18 months.
RU 486, which was approved by the FDA in 2000, is used as the first part of a process normally occurring in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. After RU 486 causes the death of the tiny child, a second drug, misoprostol, is taken two days later, causing the uterus to contract and to expel the baby.
The "morning-after" pills Plan B and Next Choice are basically heavier doses of birth control pills. Under the regimen, a woman takes a pill within 72 hours of sexual intercourse and another dose 12 hours later. Another "morning-after" pill, Plan B One-step, can be taken in a single dose within 72 hours. The "morning-after" pill supposedly works to restrict ovulation in a woman or prevent fertilization, but it also can prevent implantation.