Ella is causing quite the controversy. No, she's not a Victoria's Secret model or co-starring opposite Johnny Depp in an upcoming blockbuster. Actually, it is a new birth control pill that can prevent pregnancy after an "oops!" moment, and it just became available by prescription. Like Plan B—which is most effective the "morning after" but far less effectual 72 hours later—Ella is emergency contraception.
But, unlike Plan B, Ella can cut the chances of becoming pregnant by about two-thirds for at least 120 hours after a condom fail or unprotected sex, studies have shown. That's two days longer than Plan B.
Regardless of whether or not the drug fills a void in the contraception market, there are plenty of pro-life, hyper-reactionary opponents who want to see it done away with because they argue that Ella's the same thing as an abortion. The thing is, it's not.
How it works: Ella hinders progesterone and postpones the surge of hormones that tell the body it's time to release a mature egg. With progesterone's activity held at bay, the womb cannot be prepared to accept a fertilized egg and to care for a developing embryo.
The brouhaha: Ella is like a chemical cousin to the abortion pill RU-486, or mifepristone, which also blocks progesterone in an effort to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting; it also dislodges growing embryos. But evidence shows that Ella does not terminate already existing pregnancies.
That may be because Ella is a significantly lower dose than RU-486. In fact, experts at Princeton say a woman would have to take Ella "many, many, many times" to induce an abortion. And since it's available only by prescription, how might a woman obtain that much of the drug? Besides, if she was that inclined to get an abortion, wouldn't she do just that?
Also, in theory, high or repeated doses could also alter a woman's uterus and prevent implantation or disturb a pregnancy in progress.
But if implantation was obstructed by Ella—which may or may not be possible—the woman taking the drug doesn't want it to occur anyway! That's her choice. As for the second concern, a handful of women who were discovered to be pregnant after taking Ella didn't appear to suffer from ill effects.
The bottom-line: Sexual assault victims and young women who aren't aware of emergency contraception until it's too late for Plan B deserve another option. The 1 in 10 women searching for emergency contraception after the 72-hour window for Plan B deserve an option. Sexual slip-ups happen. Thankfully, this isn't 1959. We now have the technology to prevent pregnancy after an "oops" safely and effectively. For the sake of remaining in the driver's seat when it comes to our own reproductive lives, let's keep it that way.
Image via Julie V/Flickr