The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the sale and use of an "emergency contraceptive" that opponents are calling the "new abortion drug."
"Women deserve better than this," said Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. "If the FDA deliberately misleads women by mislabeling the drug as a contraceptive, and does not send the drug back for adequate trials to determine the possible serious complications to women and their babies, it will be putting abortion politics above women's health."
Called ella, the drug is a prescription-only product that prevents pregnancy when taken orally within 120 hours after a contraceptive failure or unprotected intercourse, according to the FDA. Ella is not intended for routine use as a contraceptive.
The likely main effect of the drug is to inhibit or delay ovulation, the FDA stated.
Plan B, or the "morning-after pill," is the only other emergency contraceptive on the market and prevents pregnancy up to 72 hours.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America applauded the approval.
"Ella, or UPA, is safe and effective at preventing ovulation and therefore pregnancy in the five days after unprotected intercourse," said PPFA Vice President for Medical Affairs Dr. Vanessa Cullins. "Given the fact that half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended, it is vital that women have an array of choices available to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Ella will become an important option for women."
Pro-life groups, meanwhile, contend that ella operates the same way as RU-486, the one legal abortion drug in the United States, yet is being prescribed as an emergency contraceptive.
"The FDA opted against including the critical fact that Ella can cause an abortion on a baby already implanted in its mother's womb in the drug labeling information," said Jeanne Monahan, director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council. "The difference between preventing and destroying life is enormous, and women have the right to know how this drug will act on their bodies and on their babies."
Ella, Monahan argues, works very differently than Plan B.
"Plan B cannot terminate an already implanted embryo, whereas ella can," she said. "Plan B is a kind of progesterone, and progesterone is needed by the uterine lining to grow and feed the embryo. Ella is a selected progesterone receptor modulator (SPRM). An SPRM blocks progesterone receptors and thereby starves a developing baby of this needed protein."
The currently legal RU-486 is an SPRM and has resulted in numerous deaths of women.
"The FDA advisory panel largely ignored important questions, including impacts on women's health and the abortifacient capacity of Ella," Monahan added. "The FDA and the Obama Administration now follow suit. By approving this drug quietly on a Friday afternoon when most of Washington was on vacation, the Obama Administration and the FDA once again placed politics above science, women's health and informed consent."
Critics have also raised concerns that with the approval of ella, the Obama administration has paved the way to "covertly allow federal funding for abortion."
In March, President Obama signed an executive order restricting abortion funding under the new health care reform law. Pro-lifers, however, are still wary that abortions will be covered by tax dollars.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) is calling on Obama to issue an executive order prohibiting federal agencies from providing funding for ella or insurance coverage that includes ella.
"Ella might ... be mandated as a preventive service under Obamacare thus forcing insurance companies to cover this new abortion drug," Smith said in a statement. "The FDA is supposed to protect people from dangerous drugs and deceptive marking. Instead, ... they have proven they are willing to be complicit in this abortion cover-up.
"At a minimum the drug should be classified as an abortion drug," he asserted.
The prescription product has been available in Europe since last May.