Recently, emergency contraceptives have been at the center of the debate as to whether employers must cover contraception under their health insurance plans. Under the Affordable Care Act, which covers preventive care, non-exempt employers must cover the morning-after pill (Plan B) and the week-after pill (ella) for their employees. Some companies don’t want to follow this requirement because they claim that these drugs cause abortions. However, it seems that these claims are based on outdated information, because recent research now definitively proves that Plan B doesn't cause abortions, and that ella most likely doesn’t impact established pregnancies.

In the past, researchers knew that Plan B prevented pregnancy primarily by stopping ovulation, and therefore, fertilization. However, they were not certain whether it prevented fertilized eggs from implanting in the uterus. An abortifacient (abortion-causing drug) is something that interrupts an established pregnancy, which is typically considered to be when a fertilized egg implants in a woman’s uterus. By this definition, a drug that causes an unimplanted fertilized egg to leave a woman’s body is not considered an abortion, but it is still objectionable by some parties.

Recent studies, including one led by the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, have proven that these objections are unfounded by showing that Plan B only prevents ovulation and fertilization. It in no way stops a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus, and does not cause abortions. This is also most likely the case with the week-after pill, known as ella, although the research is not as definitive. Ella is related to the abortion drug, RU-486 (Mifeprex), but unlike that drug which predominantly affects a woman’s endometrium, ella more strongly affects a woman’s ovaries, preventing ovulation. One study found that the rate of women who took ella after ovulation experienced pregnancy at the same rate as women who did not take it, indicating that the drug most likely does not prevent implantation.

While there is still stronger controversy when it comes to ella, individuals in the medical field opposed to abortion are starting to accept the fact that Plan B doesn't cause abortions, which is an important step in its increased acceptance as a contraceptive.

Source: Rovner, Julie. “Morning-After Pills Don’t Cause Abortion, Studies Say.” NPR. 4 February 2013.

For more information on the preventive services covered for women under the Affordable Care Act, click here.

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