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FDA panel endorses 'morning after' pill

June 29, 1996
Web posted at: 12:25 a.m. EDT

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- An advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) opened the door Friday for drug manufacturers to tell women about another use for oral contraceptives -- as a so-called morning-after pill.

The committee found unanimously that use of emergency contraception, already in widespread practice, was both safe and effective.

"Many of us have been aware of it," said Dr. Margaret Bridwell, Clinic Director at the University of Maryland. "(We) have been using it for years and it really has been sort of standard of practice for this kind of thing."

The FDA said the method is 75 percent effective if a high dosage is taken within 72 hours of having unprotected sex.

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Contraceptives recommended for such emergency use were those containing ethinyl estradiol and morgestrel or levonorgestrel.

The recommendation has hatched strong opposition from some anti-abortion activists.

Approval of post-coital use of the pill was opposed by the Family Research Council, which called it a "morning after" pill and neither "emergency" nor "contraception."

"It accomplished an abortion by not allowing the fertilized egg to implant," said Kristi Hamrick of the Family Research Council.

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The FDA must now decide whether to follow the committee's recommendation, a decision that will not involve a discussion of abortion.

"The scientific and medical definition of abortion is after implantation," said Mary Pendergast of the FDA. "These birth control pills are used to prevent pregnancy, not to stop it. This is not abortion."

According to the FDA, oral contraception for emergency use has been studied since 1974 and have been approved for such use in several European countries and in New Zealand.

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In 1994, the FDA rejected a petition to force drug companies to tell women about emergency contraception. The FDA's impending decision may not change that immediately, which does not sit well with some women.

"I think if it was affecting them and their bodies, they would want to put that little label on there a whole lot sooner," said a woman at the University of Maryland. "It's a man's world, we all know that."

If the FDA acts, it would still be up to drug makers and doctors to decide whether emergency contraception keeps its status as one of the best kept secrets in America.

From Correspondent Aileen Pincus and Reuters.

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