Does “Ella” Prevent Ovulation Or End A Pregnancy?

Ella is already being used in Europe. Now its manufacturers are trying to bring it to America. And the FDA just might let them.
Ella is already being used in Europe. Now its manufacturers are trying to bring it to America. And the FDA just might let them.

An advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is recommending the approval of a new drug called ella, “an emergency contraceptive for use up to five days after sex.”

Efficacy of “Emergency Contraceptives” Still In Doubt

This is an “improvement” over Plan B, which is supposed to be used no more than three days after having sex.

The excitement over emergency contraception, of course, assumes that it actually prevents pregnancy in the first place—a premise that is still unproven.

According to Anna Glasier, former director of a health care organization in Scotland, a study in Britain actually found that abortion rates went up even as use of “emergency contraception” increased. The same article reports that ten studies found that having these pills readily available had no impact on pregnancy or abortion rates.

How Does Ella Work?

But, let’s assume ella is effective so we can examine how it works. One article states, “The dispute is whether the drug works by delaying ovulation (as the pill’s manufacturer claims) or by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting itself in the uterus (as anti-abortion advocates say).”

I wrote a time line of the very earliest days of pregnancy and the first moments of each person’s life to try to determine how ella might work:

Day 1: ovulation

Day 2: sex and fertilization (aka conception) (Carnegie Stage 1)

Day 3 (first day after sex): the newly formed zygote “cleaves” forming two “blastomeres” (Carnegie Stage 2)

Day 6 (fourth day after sex): the “morula…enters the uterine cavity” and develops into a blastocyst (Carnegie Stage 3)

Day 7 (fifth day after sex): the blastocyst begins to attach itself to the wall of the uterus. (Carnegie Stage 4). Or: ella terminates the pregnancy and aborts the tiny baby.

Ella Aborts A Tiny Baby

Ella may prevent ovulation in some instances.

However, as my time line above shows, it will not always work this way. According to the New York Times,

Dr. Scott Emerson, a committee member and professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington, said any drug that can prevent pregnancy if taken five days after unprotected sex must do more than simply delay ovulation.

I agree.

The Real Question: When Does Pregnancy Begin?

Yet there are some who will still say ella, Plan B, and other “emergency contraceptives” do not abort a pregnancy.

Here’s where we encounter a problem of definitions: When does pregnancy begin?

A Google search of define: pregnancy shows the varying definitions—While Princeton says pregnancy is “the period from conception to birth,” Wikipedia says “pregnancy is the period… from implantation in the uterus through gestation.”

The abortion-rights crowd typically argue that pregnancy begins at implantation. This means that as long as the unborn child hasn’t implanted in the uterus, a woman isn’t pregnant—and thus IUDs and Emergency Contraceptives are do not end “a pregnancy,” despite what they might to do the child at the blastocyst stage.

Pro-lifers argue life begins at conception, since this is the beginning of a person with unique genetic material. This is also a definition frequently found in medical dictionaries and was commonly accepted for years before the “implantation” definition became popular among some. (For an excellent analysis of definitions given in medical dictionaries, see Christopher Gacek’s article for Insight [pdf].)

This allows Gardiner Harris of the New York Times to write that:

Animal studies showed that ella had little effect on established pregnancies… Dr. David Archer, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Eastern Virginia Medical School who spoke on behalf of ella’s maker, said ella was not an abortion pill. “I just don’t think there is any element here that would allow me to say that this has an abortifacient activity,” Dr. Archer said. [emphasis added]

Archer, then, is not lying, per se. He is simply using a different definition of “pregnancy”—one that says you’re not pregnant for the first week of your unborn child’s life.

The Drug Company Doesn’t Care Who Gets Hurt

Wendy Wright, the president of Concerned Women of America, pointed out the health risks ella might have if a woman were already pregnant when taking the pill.

Although those who work for the drug company say it had “little effect on established pregnancies,” Wright stated that nearly every pregnancy in the animal tests ended in a stillbirth. Despite this, the panel refused to add a warming label because this would “bias people against the drug.”

It’s all very illogical, isn’t it? But this semantic gymnastics and refusal to look at the facts allows ella’s manufacturers to produce and profit off of this abortifacient pill without feeling guilty about the people they are hurting.

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