If the Food and Drug Administration gives its final OK as expected next month, a new emergency contraceptive or "morning-after pill" known as Plan B will soon be available without a prescription.
Groups opposed to the measure fear that women will be more careless about contraceptive use if they have easy access to the morning-after pill. "More people will engage in risky sexual behavior and will increase their exposure to STDs," says Wendy Wright, policy director for Concerned Women for America, a faith-based public policy group. She cites the case of Great Britain, where emergency contraception is easily available, and where newspapers have reported an increase in sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers. While no direct cause and effect can be established here, Wright says, "We don't always need studies. We can look at experience."
But other evidence actually suggests that access to emergency contraception may in fact encourage women to use regular birth control. A study sponsored by the Population Council and based on focus groups with women from France, Norway, Sweden and Portugal, found that use of an over-the-counter emergency contraceptive encouraged women to use contraception more effectively. "Taking an emergency contraceptive forced the women to think about how they did not want a child, and made them decide to use a new method of birth control, or to follow their regime more carefully," says Jennifer Blum, an author of the study and staff program associate at the Population Council.