Emergency Birth Control May Not Work for Women Over 176 Pounds

A morning-after pill similar to Plan B was found to be ineffective for heavier women.

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A package of Plan B contraceptive

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

French pharmaceutical company HRA Pharma will begin warning women that their drug, Norlevo, does not work for women weighing more than 176 pounds, Mother Jones reported.

Norlevo, which Mother Jones notes is identical to Plan B, will change its packaging information to be transparent about weight limits. The emergency-contraceptive pill begins to lose its effectiveness in women weighing more than 165 pounds and is completely ineffective starting at 176 pounds.

If the same goes for similar pills sold over the counter in the United States, such as Plan B One-Step and Next Choice One Dose, the implications for American women, particularly those of African descent, are huge.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's data (pdf) on weight shows that the average American woman 20 years and older is 166.2 pounds. The average African-American woman is about 20 pounds heavier, at 187.9 pounds. In other words, the pill would have decreased ineffectiveness for the average American woman and wouldn’t work at all for the average African-American woman.

According to the Office of Women’s Heath of the Department of Health and Human Services, African-American women have the highest rates of obesity in the United States in comparison to other groups.

CDC data shows that in 2011 African-American women were 80 percent more likely to be obese than their white counterparts. The same was true of African-American girls from 2007 to 2010, the Office of Minority Heath reported.

A CDC survey (pdf) from February found that 5.8 million American women aged 15 to 44 used emergency contraception from 2006 to 2010, though African Americans were less likely to have used it than their white and Hispanic counterparts.

Naturally, emergency contraception advocates were not pleased.

"There's a whole swath of American women for whom [these pills] are not effective," said James Trussell, a professor of public affairs at Princeton and a senior fellow with the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that focuses on reproductive health and rights.

Read more at Mother Jones.

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