RMC Responds: Myths and Facts about Emergency Contraception

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Join us every Friday in RMC Responds as we react to some of your comments from Facebook and twitter.  Please keep commenting, and let us know what you think!

In response to a Facebook post earlier this week, Amanda said that “taking emergency contraception is not some momentous decision – it is a smart choice if unprotected or failed protection occurs…for whatever reason.”

We agree. In February, RMC published another article that highlighted the importance of increased access to birth control and contraceptive techniques. When over 9,000 low-income women in the St. Louis, Missouri area were given contraception for three years, from 2008 to 2010, annual abortion rates among the participants dropped an unprecedented 60 to 75 percent lower than the national average. In the end, increasing women’s access to contraceptive services not only drastically reduces the rate of abortions nationwide, but it’s the most long-term, cost-effective policy decision the government can make.

Plan B One-Step, also known as the “morning after pill” is a form of Emergency Contraception (EC) that is used to prevent potential pregnancies resulting from unprotected sex or contraceptive failure.  According to the FDA, Plan B is safe for women of all ages.  Earlier this year, Princeton University released a series of articles that describe the use and function of Plan B pills as they are taken by women across the country. Along with Plan B’s own documented safety information, these articles serve to illustrate the correct application and health benefits that Plan B can have for women over time.  Unfortunately, like many issues related to reproductive health, the provision of emergency contraception has been politicized over the past few years leading to many misunderstandings about the drug itself.

That emergency contraception is an abortion pill is a common misnomer.  The Plan B pill is different from the abortifacient RU-486 pill and does not cause abortions in any manner. In fact, it is plainly noted on the packaging that “Plan B should not be used if you are already pregnant (because it will not work)”. The hormone Levonorgestrel is used to prevent fertilization by inhibition of the ovulation process and cannot prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. Emergency contraception is a method of birth control. Recent research indicates that the pill can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected sex, but the pill is more effective the sooner it is taken. This data will undoubtedly lead to many women being able to prevent their unanticipated pregnancies when something goes drastically wrong.

Another common misunderstanding about EC is that giving women increased access to the drug will encourage them to have unsafe sex and use EC as a regular method of birth control, instead of only in emergencies. A study released earlier this year by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention found that the rate of use of EC among women ages 15-44 rose sharply from 4.2 percent to 11 percent between 2002 and 2010.  Most significant about the CDC report is the fact that the majority of women who had used the drug used it only one time, suggesting that it did not replace their regular contraceptives, but was only a precaution in an emergency situation. The report also showed that EC is used by women across all demographics, revealing the importance of increasing access to and education about this method of contraception.

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