Easier Access Sought for "Morning-After" Pill in U.S.

But Critics Note Its Potentially Abortifacient Effects

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WASHINGTON, D.C., FEB. 15, 2001 (Zenit.org).- More than 60 medical and women´s groups have urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to make the «morning-after» pill available over the counter, despite fears of its potentially abortifacient effects.

The American Public Health Association, the American Nurses Association and dozens more organizations thus join other groups, including the American Medical Association, in public support of making the pill available without a prescription, the Chicago Tribune reported today.

The call Wednesday will likely intensify the debate over the availability of «emergency
contraception,» because the morning-after pill can block a fertilized ovum from attaching to the uterus — in effect, causing an abortion.

Critics also say freer access to the drug actually puts a woman´s health in greater danger through side effects, risk of sexually transmitted diseases, and lack of a doctor´s supervision, the Tribune noted.

Ultimately, the FDA is likely to consider Wednesday´s petition along with applications filed by the product´s manufacturers. Women´s Capital Corp., maker of one contraceptive called Plan B, is about to begin FDA-sanctioned studies of hundreds of women that it hopes will lead to approval of nonprescription pills next year, the Tribune said.

Some women´s health activists want the morning-after pill sold over the counter because, they say, some women lack insurance or cannot obtain a prescription in time.

But, «it´s a drug that acts as an abortifacient,» said Dr. Eugene Diamond, clinical professor of pediatrics at Loyola University´s Stritch School of Medicine. «It doesn´t act by suppressing ovulation.»

Diamond, also medical director of the pregnancy counseling center Birthright of Chicago, cautioned against the pill´s side effects. «These are not innocuous drugs,» he said. «Almost everyone gets nauseated.»

Two brands of morning-after pills, Preven and Plan B, have been sold in the United States by prescription since 1998.

Emergency contraceptive pills already are available over the counter in some European countries; in Britain, girls can get the morning-after pill at school without parental permission.

Possible side effects of the pill are similar to those of regular birth-control pills, including nausea, blood clots and breast tenderness, but they can be more severe.

In addition, a woman who is taking the pill without knowing she was already pregnant could damage the development of her unborn child, Diamond said.

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