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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

Morning After Pill May Become Over-the-Counter

Aired May 19, 2003 - 19:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, ANCHOR: Medical news, the emergency contraception kill now catching on in certain parts of the country. There are moves now to make it available without prescription.
Our medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta at the CNN Center tonight watching the latest on this story. Sanjay, good evening.

SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good evening, Bill.

Yes, it's a pill out there that many women still don't know about. It's called the morning after pill, and it can prevent pregnancy even if taken several days after.

And Bill, as you mentioned, there is some new news about this particular pill now. New Mexico has become the fourth state to allow pharmacists to directly dispense this pill without a physician's prescription. The other three states are Washington, Alaska and California.

One of the makers of one of the pills, Plan B pill, has also petitioned the FDA to try and make it over the counter. That would eliminate pharmacists and physicians, totally out of the process. A decision expected on that within the next nine months.

Let me give you some details about this particular pill, this morning after pill. What it really is, is a high dose birth control pill, really high dose. Must be taken within 72 hours. Two tablets taken 12 hours apart.

The statistics will suggest about 89 percent effective at preventing pregnancy. The cost of this thing, incidentally, about $20 to $30 a dose, which is usually about the cost of a full month's supply of birth control pills.

Since 1999, its popularity has continued to increase. Now about three million prescriptions over the last four years.

And the whole issue about whether or not it prevents abortions, one of the institutes that researches this sort of thing says it prevents about 51,000 abortions a year. That's according to the Alan Gutmarker Institute.

Also some news about this pill, it's been around for awhile but it might become even easier to get over the next several months.

HEMMER: Now, Sanjay, those who oppose abortion, have they staked out a position on this?

GUPTA: That's a really interesting question. I think that is the question. That speaks to the heart of how this pill works.

People don't know exactly how it works. But it's probably one of three ways. Either it prevents actual insemination of the sperm and the egg or it prevents implantation, meaning once the egg is fertilized, preventing it from actually implanting in the uterus or it prevents ovulation, meaning allowing the egg to come down the tubes.

Now those are sort of a lot of science-y terms, but basically most of the abortion groups have not opposed this particular pill because they think it actually acts before -- actually prevents the insemination part of this and the creation of life. But there have been some abortion groups who have taken some objection, saying if this -- if the insemination actually occurs and this pill actually prevents the fertilized egg from growing, that is abortion.

It is a bit of a contentious issue but much less contentious than another pill, RU-486, which a lot of people have heard of, that is much more rigorously opposed by some of the right-to-life organizations.

HEMMER: Dr. Sanjay Gupta, working tonight. Good to see you on this time of the clock. A little bit turned around, aren't we?

GUPTA: That's right. I'll see you in the morning, I think, 12 hours.

HEMMER: See you later.

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