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Emergency Contraception Without a Prescription

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"These pills won't cause an abortion or a miscarriage," says Jeffrey Waldman, MD. "If in fact you are pregnant when you take these pills, they will have no effect. The downside is the few minor side effects that you might have, like [nausea]. But basically, if you mistook the medication, the consequences are virtually nil."

Waldman, a California-based ob-gyn who is president of the medical director's council for Planned Parenthood, says having the product available on store shelves will provide women with more options than they currently have.

"It's not meant to replace contraception on a regular basis, but in an effort to prevent unwanted pregnancies, it's just another [option]," he tells WebMD.

Emergency contraception is already sold without a prescription in several European countries, and some contraceptive experts say it's about time the U.S. made it available to women here. This would ensure that a woman could buy it for an emergency and keep it at home in case birth control fails or is forgotten.

David Grimes, MD, says emergency contraception is "grossly underused" in the U.S., but he thinks putting it in drug stores and other places where women can buy it easily should help increase its use and prevent unwanted pregnancies.

"Any child can walk into a drug store or grocery store in America and buy a lethal quantity of aspirin, no questions asked," says Grimes, vice president of biomedical affairs for Family Health International. "[Emergency contraception] should be available to women right now without a prescription."

The makers of another emergency contraceptive, known as Preven, say as many as two out of three women in the U.S. have never even heard of emergency contraception.

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