The Launch of ella: A New Way to Prevent Pregnancy, Another Anti-Choice Controversy

Amie Newman

A new form of emergency contraception, ella, is now available to women in the United States. And predictably, the far right is up in arms.

In August of this year, ella, a new form of emergency contraception was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with very little controversy. Unlike it’s predecessor, Plan B, also a form of emergency contraception, ella did not engender the debate, or get caught in the endless political delays characteristic of Plan B under the Bush Administration. Plan B was ultimately approved for over-the-counter sale to women ages 17 years old and older (despite the fact that the FDA’s own expert panel noted that it was perfectly safe for younger women to use EC as well – an issue womens’ health advocates are continuing to challenge).

Today, Watson Pharmaceuticals, Inc. announced that ella will now be available to women in the United States by presciption, and, according to Watson’s Executive Vice President Fred Watson, “is the first truly new emergency contraceptive option for U.S. women since 1999.”

And while a “controversy” has been fabricated by anti-choice leaders who do not want another method of safe emergency contraception on the market, in reality the pill is just that – one more option for women who have had unwanted or unplanned sex or birth control failure and wish to prevent pregnancy.

What makes ella different than Plan B? Where Plan B works best if taken within 72 hours after sex, ella has a window of up to 5 days following unprotected sex. It’s especially important, of course, given that women around the country are still fighting for access to emergency contraception from pharmacists who believe their “moral opposition” to safe and legal contraception for women trumps a woman’s right to health care and to maintain control over her own life.

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Ella works by preventing or delaying ovulation for five days, which is – the news release for ella notes – the amount of time sperm can live in female genital tract. Women who are, or who suspect they are, pregnant or women who are breastfeeding should not take ella, notes Jodi Jacobson writing on Rewire earlier this year. The pill can be taken anytime, however, in that five day window. Maybe we can finally toss that “morning-after pill” misnomor now?

Ella will not only be available, by prescription, at pharmacies but also immediately available at a licensed, online pharmacy after a woman completes an assessment and consultation with licensed physicians. It will then be delivered overnight to the woman.

Anti-choice leaders who are firmly against contraception at all have been predictably frustrated over ella’s approval from the beginning. As Robin Marty wrote back in July of this year:

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America, a conservative group, called ella an unsafe abortion pill that men might slip to unsuspecting women.

“With ella, women will be enticed to buy a poorly tested abortion pill in the guise of a morning-after pill,” she said.

Anti-choice leaders like Wright are using the argument that ella uses a progesterone-like chemical similar to RU-486, which is used for medication abortions, and is therefore essentially an abortifacient. It’s an entirely medically-inaccurate argument though it hasn’t stopped publications like the Washington Post from using quotes which do not contain an iota of fact, from the anti-ella crowd.

Emergency contraceptive pills like Plan B and ella, do not end a pregnancy (which occurs after a fertilized egg has implanted to the uterine wall) but instead delay or inhibit ovulation or, less likely, prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.  This clear medical information from experts, however, has not stopped Wright and others from using a non-medically based, ideological opposition to attempt to prevent access to this  form of contraception.

Planned Parenthood Federation of America President, Cecile Richards, said of ella’s launch:

“Preventing unintended pregnancies is one of Planned Parenthood’s top priorities,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Today’s launch of ella in the U.S. gives American women one more option for backup birth control.”

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