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

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Currently there are two emergency contraception products available. One, called Preven, is a combination of estrogen and progestin, and the other, called Plan B, contains only progestin. In each case two doses must be taken; the first dose should be taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, says Nelson.

But the sooner the pills are taken the better they work, says Nelson. "This is especially true with the progestin-only product since in at least one study when the first dose was taken within 12 hours of unprotected sex only one-half of 1% of the women taking it became pregnant. The failure rate increased to 4% when the pill was taken in the last 12 hours of the 72-hour window," she says.

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.

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