Return to Transcripts main page

American Morning

Debate Over Morning-After Pill Heats Up

Aired September 12, 2002 - 08:45   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Medical news now. The controversy surrounding the morning-after pill about to get even more heated. Some prominent health officials are calling for the pill, now only available by prescription, to become an over-the-counter drug.
If the FDA approves, it would guarantee greater access to this form of emergency contraception, but anti-abortion groups strongly opposed to this. They say that the -- pill, rather, is nothing more than an easy method for abortion.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta measures it for us today in our "House Call" -- Sanjay, good morning.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Bill. Well, it is a -- an emergency contraceptive pill is sort of a scary name, and what we're talking about is a pill that women take immediately after unprotected sex, and then again 12 hours later for the express purpose of preventing a pregnancy.

I say preventing a pregnancy, and it's a hot topic, as you mentioned, Bill, for a couple of different reasons. First of all, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology released a statement, when asked about this particular pill, and what they said, was that specifically -- I think we have the statement here somewhere -- but specifically, about half of the 6.3 million annual pregnancies in the United States are unintended. Unplanned might be another word that could have been substituted there.

Emergency contraception holds the potential to cut this figure in half, specifically when talking about abortions. It's also a hot topic, Bill, because when you talk about these two particular pills, Preven and Plan B, as they are called, they specifically require a prescription. They have been requiring a prescription for the last three years, and now, the several organizations, 70 organizations say why do we need a prescription for this pill? Why should people have that? If you take it earlier, it is more effective, so prescription sort of prohibits that from happening. Let's get rid of the prescription, let's make it over-the-counter. And that is sort of the focus of this debate.

HEMMER: You mentioned the debate. Put on your medical hat for us then. What are the pros and cons of doing this?

GUPTA: Well, let me just tell you a little bit about -- you know, learning how this pill works, and that might sort of set the scene for you there. Not to get too much into the birds and bees, but let's take a look at this animation here. If you take a look at an animation, you see the eggs actually coming down the fallopian tubes here. You'll see that, and then sperm actually entering the uterus as well. When that happens, fertilization might potentially occur, as you see, as the sperm approaches the egg. What this pill does, it actually prevents three things potentially from happening.

Either ovulation, which actually prevents the eggs from getting down the fallopian tube in the first place, fertilization, which prevents the egg and the sperm actually coming together, or implantation, which is sort of the third process predicating a pregnancy.

Now, again, women have to take this either right after and 12 hours, or within about 72 hours of unprotected sex. Again, with the express purpose of preventing pregnancy.

Bill, it is a medical and a political sort of debate, no question about it.

Pros and cons: well, the pros are -- one is that the pill seems to work. It's hard to measure this sort of thing because you're looking for not having a pregnancy, but most of the women that are actually polled that use this pill say they would take it and recommend it to others. It has low side effects.

The cons, of course, Bill, many have associated this with being a pseudo-abortion pill. That is sort of the biggest stumbling point right now.

HEMMER: And as we wait on this ultimate decision, it could come when, Sanjay?

GUPTA: Well, the FDA still says it needs more studies. They want to make sure that it is easy to understand for potential consumers. They want to make sure that minors are addressed. Is this going to be something that requires parental notification, and they want to make sure that it is safe. And these are the things that the FDA will wait before they can actually make it an over-the-counter substance.

HEMMER: Thanks. Good to see you again.

GUPTA: Good to see you.

HEMMER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta with our "House Call" today.