Outdated wording on product labels of the most popular over-the-counter emergency contraception in the US has complicated the political battle over reproductive rights, women's health advocates have said.
KHN  — 

A brand of specialty mozzarella cheeses. A collection of natural-gas storage terminals. And America’s top-selling emergency contraception.

At a moment when half of US states stand poised to outlaw or sharply curtail abortion services, the last-ditch pill for women aiming to stave off an unwanted pregnancy rests in the unlikely stewardship of two private equity firms whose varied investment portfolios include Italian foods, vineyard management and children’s cough medicine.

Kelso & Co. and Juggernaut Capital Partners bought Plan B One-Step from Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd. for $675 million in 2017 as the Israeli-based pharmaceutical giant was selling off its global women’s health business. In the years since, the drug has become America’s most widely used over-the-counter emergency contraception and — at an average cost of $45 per dose — one of the highest-priced over-the-counter medications sold in the US.

Foundation Consumer Healthcare, the company owned by Kelso and Juggernaut that sells Plan B, has managed to aggressively market the product while staying under the radar of anti-abortion activists and Republican lawmakers who vilify it as another form of abortion.

But the company’s stewardship — and women’s continued access to Plan B — have become matters of urgent concern as the religious belief that life begins before a fertilized egg implants in the uterus gains currency as a legitimate legal standard among Republican lawmakers in state capitals and in Congress. If the Supreme Court cements a leaked draft decision to overturn Roe v. Wade without explicitly deferring to the medical standard of when a pregnancy begins — which is after implantation — Republican-controlled legislatures could declare Plan B and intrauterine devices, or IUDs, to be abortifacients.

States that enact legislation to confer “personhood rights” to fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses would open a new frontier in laws that dictate the options available for women who are pregnant and those who seek not to become pregnant. The states considering such a move include Alabama, Missouri and Kansas.