(CNSNews.com) - America's number one provider of abortions this week is urging the federal government to make the "morning after" pill available to women without a prescription because, the group contends, it would reduce the number of abortions in the U.S.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America clinics already dispense the drug regimen, also known as Plan B, in their "Emergency Contraception Kits."
In May 2004, the Food and Drug Administration rejected a bid to offer the drug over the counter because it said the application "did not demonstrate that Plan B could be used safely by young adolescent women for emergency contraception" without a doctor's input, according to the FDA website.
The morning after pill, differs from RU-486, which can be used to terminate a pregnancy as far along as 64 days. The morning after pill is actually a misnomer because it can be used during the first three days after unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent the fertilization of an egg or the attachment of a fertilized egg to a woman's uterus. However, it cannot dislodge an embryo already implanted in the uterus.
Planned Parenthood maintains that Plan B is safe to use and would prevent as many as 800,000 abortions each year. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the research arm of Planned Parenthood, about 1.37 million abortions take place in the United States each year.
"Every day that the FDA delays access to this safe and effective medication is another day that women are denied a second chance to prevent unintended pregnancy and possibly the need for abortion," Planned Parenthood President Gloria Feldt stated in a press release.
Dr. Scott Spear, national medical committee chairman for Planned Parenthood, added that "there is no downside to increased access to [emergency contraception] for all women at risk of unintended pregnancy.
"[Emergency contraception]," he said, "is an important tool in the fight to reduce teen pregnancy and improve public health."
But conservative groups opposed to the distribution of the morning after pill say the increase in availability will lead to an increase in promiscuous and unprotected sex.
"In the UK where they've approved it, we've seen that because it is available people do engage in riskier behavior," said Pia de Solenni, director of life and women's issues at the Family Research Council.
A study published in the January 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association indicated that over the counter access to the morning after pill had little impact - either in determining the amount of unprotected intercourse in which women engaged or the rate of unwanted pregnancies.
But de Solenni said she also has safety concerns over making Plan B more readily available. "If it were available over the counter, there's nothing to keep a woman from taking it several times in one month and we have no data confirming that that would be a safe procedure," she said.
De Solennia rejected Planned Parenthood's estimate that Plan B could prevent 800,000 abortions each year. "That's a number that they've drawn out of their hat, quite frankly," she said.
Conservatives also oppose Plan B for the drug regimen's capacity to prevent a fertilized embryo from implanting in a woman's uterus - which they say constitutes an abortion. "Up to now, if someone's pregnant, it means that an embryo has been conceived," de Solennia said. "They're changing the definition of pregnancy to mean ... the embryo has implanted and attached to the uterus."
Dr. Steve Galson, acting director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said in May that he was optimistic that the easy availability of the morning after pill would be beneficial.
"If Plan B is approved for nonprescription use, it would dramatically increase access to this product and will represent an important incremental step forward in contraceptive availability in the United States," Galson said.
A ruling from the FDA on whether Plan B will be available over the counter could come later this week.
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