Once-a-month pill may be next contraceptive method
Researchers say tablet could be taken after sex, but predict outcry from anti-abortion activists
A contraceptive tablet that acts like the morning-after pill but could be taken up to a month after sex is probably scientifically possible and would be welcomed by women, scientists said yesterday.
But the authors of a paper in a medical journal say efforts to get such a pill on the market could falter because of the political controversy likely to be kicked up by opponents of abortion.
The authors of the paper in the Journal of Family Planning and Reproductive Health Care would like to see funding for exploratory work on a post-sex pill, which they expect would be similar to the morning-after pill but used routinely and potentially only after the woman has missed a period. The morning-after pill has to be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.
"A woman could potentially use a post-fertilisation method on a planned schedule only once in each menstrual cycle, no matter how many prior coital acts she had had in that cycle," write the experts from the US and Sweden.
"If the drug were effective when administered after implantation of an embryo, timing would be flexible, and she might even be able to limit its use on average to a few times a year when her menstrual period was late. Importantly, post-fertilisation methods would eliminate the conceptual and logistical challenge of needing to obtain and initiate contraception before having sex, which can be daunting for both women and men."
But controversy is inevitable, they say. Pregnancy is defined in the UK and US as occurring when the fertilised egg implants in the uterus. Some people are uncomfortable even with contraceptive methods that prevent implantation of a fertilised egg, the authors say, but interrupting the course of a pregnancy after implantation "is abortion by any definition".
Abortion is legal in the UK, the US and elsewhere. Nearly a third of women in England and Wales and the US will have an abortion in their lifetime.
The article says some contraception methods now in use probably act after fertilisation, at least in part. The IUD - intrauterine device or coil - may work, it says, by preventing the fertilised egg from implanting in the uterus.
Dr Elizabeth Raymond, of Gynuity Health Projects in New York, the lead author, said one concern she and her colleagues shared in writing the paper was publicising the post-fertilisation effects of some of the current contraceptive methods, for fear of causing unwelcome controversy. "The family planning advocacy community has not wanted to really talk about that very much because it could raise concerns about those contraceptives as well and that could be a problem," she said.
"But we feel we need to be open and start talking about how the current methods really work and how this method could work if we could develop it."