Two new studies have found that emergency contraception can be effective up to five days after unprotected intercourse. Until now, the pill was only thought to be effective in preventing pregnancy up to 72 hours after unprotected sex. However, the researchers found that the difference between women who take emergency contraception (EC) within 72 hours and those who take EC within 120 hours is statistically insignificant, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The pill is still most effective when taken within the first 24 hours after unprotected sex, when it lowers a woman’s risk of becoming pregnant by up to 95 percent. Overall, EC is 75-88 percent effective. The studies are published in the June issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology, ACOG’s journal.
One of the studies’ authors, Dr. Charlotte Ellertson, cautions that it is still important to take the pills as soon as possible, according to ACOG. However, given the findings of these studies, doctors should still dispense EC even after 72 hours and “there should be no cutoff imposed by the clinic,” she said. Offering women advance prescriptions of EC is one way to ensure that women will be able to take the pill soon after unprotected sex. “Even though these pills are effective for several days, the emphasis should be on taking them as soon as possible after having sex,” said Kirsten Moore, president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, according to WebMD News. “The best way to ensure this happens is if they are already in a woman’s medicine cabinet.”
The Feminist Majority Foundation, along with a host of other reproductive health and rights groups, including ACOG and the American Medical Association, advocates for Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for EC to be available over the counter. The Women’s Capital Corporation, makers of Plan B, have submitted a request to the FDA for over-the-counter status. The FDA is expected to make its decision at the end of this year or in early 2004. “The United States has the highest rate of unintended pregnancies in the industrialized world,” said Beth Jordan, MD, medical director of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “Since emergency contraception has the potential to prevent half of these pregnancies, the scientific imperative is clear: emergency contraception must be available over the counter.”