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The Plan B pill was released in the United States in 2006. A French drug company is hoping to release a new drug in the U.S. that is already available in Europe: one that could prevent pregnancy for as many as five days following unprotected sex.

Ella drug raising questions in U.S.

WASHINGTON -- A French drug company is hoping to offer American women something their European counterparts already have: a pill that works long after "the morning after."

The drug, dubbed ella, would be sold as a contraceptive -- one that could prevent pregnancy for as many as five days following unprotected sex. But the new drug is a close chemical relative of the abortion pill RU-486, raising the possibility that it could theoretically be used to induce abortion by making the womb inhospitable for an embryo.

The controversy sparked by that ambiguity will force a panel of federal advisers scheduled to consider endorsing the drug to grapple with a host of thorny issues. The last time the Food and Drug Administration vetted an emergency contraceptive -- Plan B, the so-called morning-after pill -- the decision was mired in debate over such fundamental questions as when life begins and the distinction between preventing and terminating a pregnancy. Ella is raising many of those same questions -- but more sharply, testing the Obama administration's pledge to keep ideology from influencing scientific decisions.

Plan B, which works for up to 72 hours after unprotected sex, was eventually approved for sale without a prescription, though a doctor's order is required for girls younger than 17. The new drug promises to extend that period to at least 120 hours. Approved in Europe last year, ella is now available as an emergency contraceptive in at least 22 countries.

Ella is being welcomed by many U.S. advocates for family planning and reproductive rights. Opponents of the new drug, however, argue that the French company and the FDA would be misleading the public by labeling ella as an emergency contraceptive. Its chemical similarity to RU-486 makes it more like the controversial abortion pill, which can terminate a pregnancy at up to nine weeks, they say. RU-486 has soared in popularity since approval 10 years ago in the United States, raising the possibility that ella -- or ulipristal acetate -- might become ubiquitous in American women's medicine cabinets.

"With ulipristal, women will be enticed to buy a poorly tested abortion drug, unaware of its medical risks, under the guise that it's a morning-after pill," said Wendy Wright, of Concerned Women for America, which led the battle against Plan B.

Update: The drug, which would be sold under the name Ella, is safe and effective, outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration said Thursday in two 11-0 votes in Gaithersburg, Md. Read the full story here.

Kagan gave advice on abortion bill

WASHINGTON -- Elena Kagan helped shape the Clinton administration's fight against a Republican bill to limit abortion, aiming to bolster the rights of women and honing the message of the administration and its allies.

Now President Barack Obama's nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, Kagan in 1996 and 1997 immersed herself in both the legal and political aspects of the fight over a procedure opponents termed partial-birth abortion, according to documents released by the William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Ark.

Kagan laid out alternative phrasing for a draft statement by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Although the medical group said the procedure should be an option, the draft statement also said that an expert panel didn't think the method was the only way to save a woman's life or health.

"This, of course, would be disaster -- not the less so (in fact, the more so) because ACOG continues to oppose the legislation," Kagan wrote in a Dec. 14, 1996, memo.

Notes in Kagan's handwriting list "suggested options" for modifying the group's statement, including that the procedure "may be the best or most appropriate" option.

That language ended up in the final version of the group's statement alongside the original sentence about the expert panel's findings.

A spokesman for Obama said Kagan was providing legal advice and evaluating policy proposals for a president with a well-established position on the issue.

"He supported a late-term abortion ban with a narrow exception for the health of the woman," said Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman.

Clinton vetoed the ban in April 1996, saying there wasn't a clear exception for the life or health of the mother. The White House later fought to prevent Congress from overriding Clinton's veto.

Congress enacted the partial-birth ban after Republican George W. Bush succeeded Clinton as president.