The Food and Drug Administration on Friday altered the language attached to emergency contraceptive pills to clarify that they are not abortion drugs.
The agency’s update eliminates previous language that had suggested that the over-the-counter products, commonly described as morning-after pills or Plan B, could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. The new language clarifies that the pills work by stopping or delaying an egg’s release from the ovary.
Foundation Consumer Healthcare, the maker of the brand-name morning-after pill Plan B One-Step, requested the update, which the FDA said is backed by science. The change also comes amidst upheaval for abortion and family planning laws throughout the nation, with a significant portion of anti-abortion advocates arguing that life begins at conception. Some states allow pharmacists to refuse to stock emergency contraceptive pills, which are available without a prescription. Nine states have also used the Plan B label’s previous wording on implantation to justify excluding emergency contraception from state family planning programs.
Since a Supreme Court ruling in June reversed federal protections for abortion, 26 states have enacted new abortion limits, with some banning the procedure at as early as six weeks.
The FDA update also includes a new section on its website in answer to the question, “Is Plan B One-Step an abortifacient (causing abortion)?”
“Plan B One-Step will not work if a person is already pregnant, meaning it will not affect an existing pregnancy,” the FDA response clarifies. “Plan B One-Step prevents pregnancy by acting on ovulation, which occurs well before implantation.”
The FDA still warns that Plan B is not for routine contraceptive use.
While the Foundation Consumer Healthcare asked for the change, 11 generic manufacturers will also be required to update their language.
In the wake of the Roe upheaval, federal health officials have stressed that contraception, and separately, a two-pill abortion medicine, are still available.
The Health and Human Services Department “has been preparing for this for some time,” Secretary Xavier Becerra said during a press conference in the days after the Supreme Court decision. “There is no magic bullet. But if there is something we can do, we will find it and we will do it at HHS.”
Pro-abortion rights advocates argue that it is increasingly difficult for people in abortion-restrictive states to access any form of reproductive care, particularly with health care deserts already existing in 40% of those states’ counties.
Advocates have long been pushing for updates on the language around emergency contraception. After an investigation by The New York Times more than a decade ago, an FDA spokesperson acknowledged at the time that “emerging data on Plan B suggest that it does not inhibit implantation.”
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