The F.D.A. Now Says It Plainly: Morning-After Pills Are Not Abortion Pills

According to data published in 2021 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one-quarter of women of reproductive age who have sex with men answered yes to the question: “Have you ever used emergency contraception, also known as ‘Plan B,’ ‘Preven,’ ‘Ella,’ ‘Next Choice,’ or ‘Morning after’ pills?” The agency did not break down the data by the type of pills taken.

Dr. Giovannina Anthony, an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Women’s Health and Family Care Clinic in Jackson, Wyo., said that because of claims by anti-abortion groups some patients have been confused about whether the pills can cause an abortion, and her staff will now be able to use the F.D.A.’s new interpretation of the scientific evidence to reassure them.

Dr. Anthony, whose state is among those trying to restrict access to abortion, said the F.D.A.’s new guidance “is critical for women who have had unprotected sex and live in geographic areas where abortion is either inaccessible, banned or impossible to obtain. It should encourage more women to use Plan B as an effort to decrease the unplanned pregnancy rate.”

As far back as the 1999 approval process, the maker of Plan B — Barr Pharmaceuticals, later acquired by Teva — asked the F.D.A. not to list an implantation effect on the label, The Times reported in 2012.

Experts said implantation was likely placed on the label partly because daily birth control pills, some of which contain Plan B’s active ingredient, appear to alter the endometrium, the lining of the uterus into which fertilized eggs implant. Altering the endometrium has not been proven to interfere with implantation. But in any case, scientists said that unlike the accumulating doses of daily birth control pills, morning-after pills do not have time to affect the uterine lining.

By 2007, evidence was accumulating that morning-after pills did not block implantation. In 2009 to 2010, during discussions about making Plan B available over the counter for all ages, Teva also asked that implantation be deleted from the label.