Contraception and Chance

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."

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

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.

Others agree that the experience of taking a morning-after pill can motivate a woman to get serious about birth control. "Having to use an emergency contraceptive is like a wake-up call," says S. Marie Harvey, professor and chair of the Department of Public Health at Oregon State University. Harvey led a study of women who had used emergency contraception (via prescriptions), and reports that only one out of her 235 subjects planned to substitute emergency contraception for a standard method.

Access to a birth control may also help in the fight against STDs, Harvey says: "Women have said they will be more likely to use condoms if they know there is something they can do if it breaks. When used correctly, the condom is the best we've got in terms of dual protection against pregnancy and STDs."

Harvey's study found that of the women who informed their partner about their use of a morning-after pill, 92 percent agreed that the incident would not make him less willing to use contraception in the future.

Nausea and other side effects may further deter women from relying on Plan B, which contains a higher dose of the same hormone used in birth control pills. "While most women reported being satisfied with the drug, taking it is not pleasant," says Harvey.

Current Issue

Let It Go!

It can take a radical reboot to get past old hurts and injustices.