The real emergency contraception

Preventing unintended pregnancies is better for women, children and society.

I feel the need to clear up some incorrect information that the Daily published in an article and editorial on emergency contraception, and reinforce correct facts in order to help dispel some common myths that surround it.

Plan B, the pill form of emergency contraception in the United States, is effective until 120 hours after intercourse. It is more effective the sooner it is taken, and can be taken immediately. If taken within 72 hours, it can reduce the chance of pregnancy as much as 89 percent. To break this down, here is an example: If 100 women had unprotected intercourse, about eight of them would get pregnant. If they all took Plan B, depending on how soon it is taken, only one or two would get pregnant.

The most common myth about Plan B is that it is a form of chemical abortion. While abortion takes place after pregnancy, emergency contraception prevents pregnancy. Plan B’s only proven mechanism of action is to delay or inhibit ovulation ” no egg, no baby. It may also work by thickening the cervical mucus to trap sperm, preventing them from traveling the fallopian tubes to fertilize an egg.

Recent studies show that Plan B does not alter the endometrium, meaning if the pill is taken after a fertilized egg is already present, it will attach normally (see the Population Council’s May 2005 “Population Brief”). This is all aside from the fact that the medical definition of pregnancy is implantation, which takes place five to seven days after sex and is not affected by emergency contraception.

Even conception is not instantaneous ” it generally takes a good 12 hours before viable sperm reach an egg. Another myth is that Plan B is too dangerous to be allowed, much less to be allowed over the counter. Plan B is actually an incredibly safe drug. Its only contraindications are pregnancy (because it will not work), hypersensitivity to its components or undiagnosed vaginal bleeding.

Side effects, while not pleasant, are temporary ” things like a change in menstrual cycle, nausea, vomiting or headache. Risks associated with regular hormonal contraception, such as increased risk of blood clots, do not apply here, as Plan B is meant to be a one-time dose of a high level of hormones rather than a continuous lower dose of hormones over a long period of time.

Emergency contraception opponents also claim that increased availability of emergency contraception will cause “increased promiscuity” and a lessening of reliance on regular forms of contraception, including hormonal birth control and condoms. However, study after study has shown that not only do rates of sex not change, in many cases regular contraceptive use actually increases, especially for teenagers.

Plan B meets standards for over the counter status. It’s easy for the patient to know when it is needed (who needs a doctor to tell them that the condom broke?), it is safe for widespread use and it’s easy to use. It does not cause birth defects if it is used if an established pregnancy already exists, it is not something one can overdose on and over the counter status will make it much more accessible for poor and rural women.

Even if opponents choose to ignore the studies and cling to the disproved notion that it affects implantation, they should support it going over the counter. Conception is not instantaneous, and if Plan B is more accessible, it can be taken sooner. If taken within those 12 hours, there should be no moral objections, as there cannot be a separate life. Preventing unintended pregnancies is better for women, children and society. Plan B is a tool in this battle, and should be available over the counter.

Bree Richards is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]