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Birth Control Health Center

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Plan B Doesn’t Cut Pregnancy Rates

Study: Pregnancy Numbers Remain Steady After Easier Access to Morning-After Pill
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 pills.

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 sex.

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 Public Health.

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.

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