In August 2010, the Food and Drug Administration approved a new prescription emergency contraceptive, ella (ulipristal acetate). Manufactured by HRA Pharma, ella has been available in Europe under the name ellaOne since May 2009. Women can take ella to prevent pregnancy up to five days following unprotected sex, whereas the drug's predecessor, Plan B, has a window of only 72 hours.
Emergency contraceptives (EC) like ella are among the many tools at women's disposal to protect their reproductive autonomy. If a woman has unprotected sex, or a condom breaks, EC can help prevent an unwanted pregnancy. EC is especially critical for rape victims, and is usually offered to victims as part of sexual assault forensic exams.
Unfortunately, voices from the Religious Right look askance at EC and have shown considerable animosity toward ella. By incorrectly labeling EC an "abortifacient", they seek to cultivate anti-abortion advocates' antipathy toward this important form of contraception. The common argument is that by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, EC medications like ella terminate a potential pregnancy. This differs from the medical definition of abortion, which involves the termination of an established pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg has already implanted in the uterus. In short, by opposing EC, these Religious Right voices seek to thwart another means by which women make their own reproductive choices.
For example, a LifeSite News article incorrectly labels ella as a dangerous "abortion drug." Another article from OneNewsNow also called ella an "abortifacient." Dr. Donna Harrison, president of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, asserted that the availability of ella in the U.S. would constitute an attempt to get "an abortion drug over-the-counter." Wendy Wright of Concerned Women for America claimed that women would be "enticed" into buying a "poorly tested abortion drug" with the release of ella. A coalition of anti-abortion organizations have created a website called "ella Causes Abortions," seeking to discredit the drug. In an online action alert, the Family Research Council incorrectly compares ella to the abortion drug RU-486 and beseeches supporters to tell pharmacies not to stock ella (see www[dot]frc[dot]org//get.cfm?i=AL10L06&f=AL10L06&track=0).
Religious Right animosity toward EC began long before the release of ella. In 2007, a coalition of anti-choice groups, including the Family Research Council and Concerned Women for America, filed a lawsuit against the FDA over its decision to approve the sale of Plan B. Heartlink, a website maintained by Focus on the Family, insists that EC can cause early abortion because the drug prevents a fertilized egg from implating on the uterine wall (see www[dot]heartlink[dot]org/hottopics/A000000480.cfm). A Heartlink brochure on EC makes the same claim (see www[dot]heartlink[dot]org/pdf/MorningAfterPill.pdf). A 2006 article at the Wisconsin Christian News site incorrectly calls EC an "abortion-causing drug" and lambastes the Wisconsin legislature for voting in favor of dispensing EC in Wisconsin hospitals.
The Religious Right's disdain for ella and other forms of EC is a stark reminder of their position on women's reproductive rights. Radical anti-choice voices oppose not just abortion, but other reproductive health tools such as EC, galvanizing anti-abortion advocates by incorrectly associating EC with abortion. The struggle for reproductive choice is about more than women's right to abortion -- it is also about women's right to prevent pregnancy.
For additional commentary, visit these links.
RH Reality Check: ella and Iowa: A Tale of Two Anti-Choice Outrages
RH Reality Check: The Launch of ella: A New Way to Prevent Pregnancy, Another Anti-Choice Controversy
Slate: Is ella Birth Control or Abortion?
Huffington Post: Understanding ella, the Latest Controversy in "Morning-After Pills"
Media Matters: Washington Times Falsely Equated Emergency Contraception with Abortion