Contraception and Chance

The pros and cons of "the morning-after pill" and emergency contraception.

By Carlin Flora, published on January 1, 2004 - last reviewed on February 22, 2006

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

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.

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

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

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.