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Obstetricians Say Morning-After Pills Can Prevent Half a Million Abortions

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Nelson, who has been spearheading the emergency contraception campaign for more than three years, tells WebMD that ACOG first asked its members to "write a prescription for emergency contraception every time they wrote a birth control pill prescription." She made that request in 1999, but "now we are kicking it up a notch by asking physicians to make this part of well-woman care."

It is a fact of life, says Nelson, that "accidents like broken condoms or other contraceptive failure are most likely to happen on Friday or Saturday nights. You know how difficult it is to reach your doctor over the weekend. Now imagine that you do make contact with the doctor, get the prescription, now you have to find a pharmacy to fill it. And all of this has to be done in 72 hours."

That approach, she says, often proves unworkable. A better way is to have the morning-after pills on the "medicine cabinet shelf next to the bandages. We don't expect a woman to wait until she cuts herself before she goes to the store to buy a bandage," she says. "We want emergency contraception to become as commonplace as first-aid kits."

Purdon says that ACOG, which represents more than 40,000 obstetricians and gynecologists, also supports making the pills available over-the-counter, but he says that he doubts the Bush administration would permit such a move.

Purdon also says that the FDA cannot make a drug available for over-the-counter sales until it is asked to do so by the manufacturer, and that hasn't been done yet. "Currently the manufacturers are preparing the needed documents," he says.

Nelson says emergency contraception is an ideal over-the-counter drug because "it is safe. The maternal mortality rate is about one death in every 13,300 pregnancies. In all the studies with emergency contraception there has not been a single death. These are very safe products."

Another obstacle to more widespread availability, says Purdon, is that some pharmacies have refused to stock the pills. Walmart, for example, will not sell the products in its pharmacies.

Nelson says the morning-after pills should be acceptable to anti-abortion groups because the pills prevent ovulation and thus prevent conception. But she says that if a woman does ovulate, and sperm fertilizes the egg, these pills also prevent implantation of the egg in the uterus. "This is called interception," she says. Some anti-abortion groups are also opposed to interception.

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