Plan B Doesn’t Cut Pregnancy Rates
Study: Pregnancy Numbers Remain Steady After Easier Access to Morning-After Pill
WebMD News Archive
April 17, 2007 - So-called morning-after contraception works for individual
women, but it isn’t working to lower unwanted pregnancy rates at the population
level, an analysis of the research shows.
Researchers concluded that easy access to emergency contraception (involving
higher doses of hormones found in birth control pills) does not reduce
unintended pregnancy rates.
The analysis of eight studies involving more than 6,000 women revealed that
pregnancy rates were the same for women who did and did not receive an advance
supply of emergency contraception along with counseling about how to use the
Late last summer the FDA agreed to over-the-counter sales of the emergency
oral contraceptive sold as Plan B to women aged 18 and older.
Supporters of the move contended that easy access to Plan B would help
reduce unintended pregnancy rates, while critics charged that it would
encourage promiscuity and increase the likelihood of women having unprotected
Neither conclusion is supported by the research, one of the authors of the
analysis tells WebMD.
“The women who had the emergency contraception on hand did use it more
often, but that didn’t translate into a decrease in pregnancy rates at a
population level,” says Chelsea Polis of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of
Wasn’t Used When Needed
When used correctly, morning-after contraception is very effective for
preventing pregnancy. The high-dose pills should be taken as soon as possible
after unprotected sex, but the strategy can prevent pregnancy for up to five
days after intercourse. Plan B must be used within 72 hours of intercourse.
Polis says it is clear that the study participants who had Plan B or another
emergency oral contraceptive on hand were not using emergency contraception
every time they had unprotected sex.
“A high percentage of women who became pregnant hadn’t used [emergency
contraception] when they needed it,” she says.
Four of the eight studies included information on women who had the
emergency contraception on hand but got pregnant anyway. In these
studies, 64% to 79% of the women said they did not use emergency contraceptives
in the cycle in which they became pregnant.