Study Shows Emergency Contraception Reduces Unwanted Pregnancy

An Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) study released today revealed that emergency contraception (EC) was responsible for reducing unwanted pregnancies and lowering the number of abortions in the US by as many as 51,000 in the year 2000. The report also showed an 11 percent decline in overall abortion rates in the US between 1994 and 2000; increased use of EC may be responsible for up to 43 percent of that decline. Emergency contraception is a concentrated dose of birth control hormones that is up to 95% effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, contraception failure, or rape. EC could prevent 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions by 800,000 in the United States alone, according to a 1998 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported the Associated Press.

Despite this drug’s incredible potential to advance women’s reproductive health care, 9 out of 10 women of reproductive age do not know about emergency contraception, and only 1 out of 5 physicians regularly discuss it with their patients, according to Planned Parenthood Federation of America. So-called “conscience clauses” permit doctors and pharmacists to refuse to prescribe or dispense emergency contraception, further restricting women’s access to this important drug. A survey of all 597 Catholic hospital emergency rooms in the US, released by Catholics for a Free Choice on Dec. 12, found only 5 percent of Catholic emergency rooms provide EC upon request, and an additional 23 percent provide EC only to rape victims.

According to AP, women in certain states can obtain EC prescriptions online without having to visit a doctor or nurse practitioner; for example, Planned Parenthood’s Columbia/Willamette chapter just opened an online EC prescription service in Oregon. The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Emergency Contraception Over the Counter (EC OTC) campaign is petitioning the FDA to allow women to access EC over the counter without a prescription so that EC can be easily and quickly accessible to all women in the United States. EC is already available over the counter in California, Washington, and Alaska. “Requiring a visit to the doctor for a medication that is safer than aspirin or Tylenol makes no sense. Women have to be aware that this is out there and they have to get it in their medicine cabinets, just like bandages, before they need it,” stated Dr. Anita L. Nelson of the UCLA School of Medicine to WebMD Medical News.

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AGI report November/December 2002; WebMD Medical News 9/11/02; PPFA 12/17/02; AGI 12/17/02; Catholics for a Free Choice 12/12/02; AP 12/17/02; USA Today 12/16/02; Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report 12/17/02; Feminist Daily News Wire

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