Despite the age-old belief that the purpose of sexual interaction is to reproduce, people have attempted to practice means of contraception for thousands of years. In Europe, large segments of the population began to use various methods to regulate conception, pregnancy, or births in the latter part of the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century, the widespread desire for more forms effective means of controlling the number of births resulted in the development of numerous devices and or medications that provided both men and women with opportunities to use contraceptives. With the increased demand and practice of contraception, the medical community needed to provide the population with the best means possible for each individual to prevent conception. For this reason, medical science has in the past few years has made significant advances in the different areas of birth control.
The discovery of emergency or postcoital contraceptives was a breakthrough in the treatment of early-unwanted pregnancies. This particular method of preventing conception has actually existed for many years in the United States and throughout the world. The currently approved method and dosage is 0.10 mg ethinyl estradiol (estrogen) and 0.50 mg levonrgestrel (progestin) taken within 72 hours of intercourse and another dose 12 hours later (Emergency). This is a modified or off-label use of the oral contraceptives normally prescribed for women and is perfectly legal, but not officially approved. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just recently officially approved the use of oral contraceptives as postcoital contraceptives at the doses listed above (Federal). Recently, the French abortion pill RU486 (mifepristone) was also approved for use in the United States as both a postcoital contraceptive and as an alternative to surgical abortion.
The estrogen/progestin and RU486 both accomplish pregnancy prevention by not allowing a fertilized zygote to implant on the uterine walls and grow to development. However, the methods behind the drugs differ. The estrogen/progestin regiment prevents pregnancy in three different ways depending on the time taken. It can prevent ovulation, inhibit fertilization, or alter the endometrium (uterine lining) thereby stopping implantation, but it cannot affect an implanted zygote (Federal). However, the effects of RU486 vary considerably. It alters the endometrium so that no implantation can occur, and if implantation has already occurred, a spontaneous abortion or miscarriage will occur (Piaggio, et al.) Therefore, RU486 is both a postcoital contraceptive and an abortifacient-agent that causes abortion. With the emergence of these two forms of birth control, many groups have begun to re-evaluate the actions and implications of all postcoital contraceptive agents. The controversy is rooted in whether the administration of these types of medications is the solutions to "unprotected...