The FDA has approved a new 5-day “day after” pill.  Hopefully, this should help lead to fewer unwanted pregnancies.  Some basics:

The Food and Drug Administration approved a controversial new form of emergency contraception Friday that can prevent a pregnancy as many as five days after sex.

The decision to allow the sale of the pill, which will be marketed under the brand name “ella,” was welcomed by family-planning proponents as a crucial new option to prevent unwanted pregnancies. But critics condemned the decision, arguing that it was misleading to approve ella as a contraceptive because the drug could also be used to induce an abortion.

Ella can cut the chances of becoming pregnant by about two-thirds for at least 120 hours after a contraceptive failure or unprotected sex, studies have shown. The only other emergency contraceptive on the market, the so-called morning-after pill sold as Plan B, is significantly less effective, becomes less effectual with each passing day and will not work after 72 hours.

Supporters and opponents both said the decision marked the clearest evidence of a shift in the influence of political ideology at the FDA. The last time the FDA considered an emergency contraceptive — making Plan B available without a prescription — the decision was mired in controversy amid similar concerns voiced by antiabortion activists. After repeated delays, Plan B was approved for sale to women 17 and older without a prescription.

Here we have a drug that generally works to prevent pregnancy.  In some cases it may actually terminate a pregnancy right after conception by preventing implantation, but last I checked, that was legal.  Are there some moral/ethical dimensions to this latter case?  Certainly.  But legal ones?  No.  The FDA’s job is not to decide if it is moral for a drug to prevent a new embryo from implanting, their job is to decide if a medication safely does what it is supposed to.  By all indications, Ella does that.  Thus, I find the “controversy” somewhat annoying and disingenuous.  If pro-lifers want to work to make a 2 day-old embryo fully legally protected, that’s certainly their right and there is a genuine moral/ethical case to be made, but I really hate the masquerading of it being about “protecting women” or “politics” and “ideology.”   A politicized decision would be one that ignored the science and the law.  This simply follows both.  The outcome may make the hardest core pro-lifers unhappy, but given our current laws there’s simply no reason the FDA should have decided other than they have.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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