New Studies Clarify Function of the Morning After Pill

Molly Duerig, WLP Undergraduate Intern

The New York Times published an article yesterday clarifying the uncertainties that surround the functionality of emergency contraceptive methods such as Plan B One Step. Cited in the article were a number of research studies, conducted by leading scientists in the years since Plan B’s approval in 1999, proving that the “morning-after” pill functions by delaying a woman’s ovulation—which occurs before her eggs are ever fertilized by a man’s sperm.

This result contradicts the current F.D.A. labeling found on morning-after pills, which implies that the drug blocks already fertilized eggs from implanting themselves in a woman’s uterus. Many opponents to abortion take issue with the drug because they believe a fertilized egg to be equivalent to a human being’s life. But many of those opponents should re-evaluate and alter their opinions on emergency contraceptive care, especially after the NY Times’ revelation of these results to the masses.

We discussed the morning-after pill’s role as emergency contraception (EC) in the reproductive health section of our report Through the Lens of EQUALITY: Eliminating Sex Bias to Improve the Health of Pennsylvania’s Women. The report states that “because it does not end a pregnancy but only prevents one, EC is not a form of abortion.  Rather, EC prevents abortions because it prevents unwanted pregnancies” (181). Emergency contraception like Plan B is an essential component of women’s reproductive and over-all health.

Earlier this year, the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics issued an official statement saying that pills with Plan B’s active ingredient (levonorgestrel) do not inhibit implantation. In the NY Times article, writer Pam Belluck cites the results of a number of studies conducted in recent years that contributed to that decision:

“In 2007, 2009 and 2010, researchers in Australia and Chile gave Plan B to women after determining with hormone tests which women had ovulated and which had not. None who took the drug before ovulation became pregnant, underscoring how Plan B delays ovulation. Women who had ovulated became pregnant at the same rate as if they had taken no drug at all. In those cases, there were no difficulties with implantation…”

The fact that morning-after pills do not inhibit implantation actually decreases their effectiveness as methods of emergency contraceptive care. Furthermore, the pills’ role to delay ovulation and prevent an egg from ever becoming fertilized proves it does not function as a method of abortion. This demonstrates not only the value, but the safety of the pill.

The Women’s Law Project has blogged before about the safety and worth of making emergency contraception available to women of any age, without requiring a prescription. In a post published in December of 2011, the WLP noted that “when our country faces approximately 3.1 million unintended pregnancies each year, unrestricted access to safe and effective contraception is vital.” The findings revealed by the studies mentioned in the NY Times piece further prove why access to emergency contraceptive care is so important.

It’s wonderful that the truth about the safety and functionality of morning-after pills is becoming widely known. However, it’s discouraging that the F.D.A. still refuses to alter the scientifically unfounded labeling of these pills as inhibitors to uterine implantation.

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One Response to New Studies Clarify Function of the Morning After Pill

  1. Pingback: Two Courts Come to Different Decisions on the ACA’s Provision Requiring Some Employers to Cover Contraception | Women's Law Project Blog

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