After ten years of emergency contraception being available in the UK, there is now a new version of the morning-after pill that can be taken up to five days after unprotected sex. However, a recent study of the drug has provoked anger from anti-abortionists, raised questions of STIs spreading, and ignited rows over fair access to medication.
The comparative study, involving 2,221 women, was recently published in the British medical journal The Lancet. The study highlights the capabilities of the new pill by comparing it to the current, most widely used morning-after pill, Levonorgestrel.
Ulipristal acetate, sold as Ellaone, provides longer protection against unwanted pregnancy than any other pill on the market — it can be taken up to five days after intercourse. It is also proven to be up to twice as effective in preventing unwanted pregnancies.
However, it is not as accessible to the public. It isn’t yet available over the counter, meaning women have to consult a doctor in order to obtain it. Also, the pill is three times as expensive as Levonorgestrel.
The pill is angering anti-abortion campaigners, who angrily brand the drug the “abortion pill”. It has also received criticism by some newspapers, with headlines like “5 day pill to ‘dump’ a baby” in the Sun.
Ellaone is causing controversy over how it may alter people’s attitudes towards sex. It doesn’t protect against STIs, and so only works as a contraceptive, not a barrier to infection.
However, the drug could be useful to women over bank holidays, for instance, when pharmacies can be closed, or to those who have busy lifestyles.
The Family Education Trust (FET) see the matter differently: “Even when women have been able to obtain the drug in advance of need and keep it in the bathroom cabinet, the morning-after pill hasn’t reduced rates of unplanned pregnancies or abortions,” a spokesperson says.
Norman Wells, director of FET, says the pill raises ethical issues that women are often not made aware of: “Despite the morning-after pill being marketed as a contraceptive, it is taken with the intention of preventing the implantation of a fertilised egg after conception has taken place.
“The easy availability of the morning-after pill is also having a damaging social effect, by lulling young people in particular into a false sense of security, encouraging a more casual attitude to sex, and exposing them to increased risk of sexually transmitted infections,” he says.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) supports new developments in emergency contraception for women. Ann Furedi, chief executive of the BPAS, referred to the pill as “exciting news”. She says it consists of “different hormones than are traditionally used in contraception, so it may be that these will prove to have other contraceptive uses in future.”
Anna Glasier, who led the recent study into the drug, says more data will have to be collected before it can be sold over the counter. Because the pill is new, it needs to “be around for a couple of years without seeing any unexpected adverse events before anyone would contemplate making it available without prescription,” she says.Tweet