This archived article was written by: Sean Webster
When does life begin and when does it end? This is just one question that opponents of emergency contraceptive pills have asked. The topic of wether or not ECPs are a legal abortion is just one-controversial issue that has been brought up in the recent past. Along with this debate and many others, ECPs have been a tough topic from small communities all the way to the Federal Government. Despite all this controversy and fighting, there is a lot of good that can come out of these little pills.
Emergency contraceptive pills, or “the morning after pill,” is one of the last safe steps for women in preventing an unplanned pregnancy. First of all, there are two types of emergency contraception. The first kind, Preven, uses two different hormones, estrogen and progestin. The second kind, Progestin-only or the more common name Plan B, uses only progestin. Preven is about 75 percent effective and Plan B is about 89 percent effective. What this means is that if 100 women had unprotected sex during their most fertile days, eight would get pregnant. But following ECP treatment, only two would get pregnant if they took Preven, therefore a 75 percent reduction. But if the same eight people took Plan B, then only one would get pregnant, an 89 percent reduction. These two emergency contraceptives are proven to be quite effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy.
ECPs work by providing a strong burst of hormones that interfere with hormone patterns essential for pregnancy to occur. ECPs reduce hormones released by the ovaries and disrupt the development of the uterine lining. These disruptions are only temporary, lasting only a few days. This is where most of the controversy comes from. Many people think that ECPs are just a simple way to have a legal abortion. This is not true. ECPs work before implantation and not after a woman is already pregnant. Emergency contraceptives prevent a pregnancy, not disrupt one.
Timing is everything when it comes to Emergency contraceptive pills. Although it is nicknamed “the morning after pill,” a person doesn’t have to wait until the morning after. ECPs should be taken as soon as possible, ideally within 72 hours of unprotected sex. But depending on where you’re at in your monthly cycle, the pill can still be effective up to 5 days later. The rate of pregnancy is 0.4 percent when ECP treatment is initiated within 24 hours. The pregnancy rate is about 2.7 percent when treatment starts 48 to 72 hours after intercourse. So don’t wait until it’s too late.
ECPs can also play a very important role when it comes to survivors of sexual assault. In the United States each year, there are nearly 700,000 reported and un-reported rapes. Out of these, 32,000 will become pregnant. But with quick treatment through ECPs, the number of women that become pregnant can be reduced greatly. ECPs can be a lifesaver when it comes to preventing an unwanted pregnancy due to sexual assault.
Some of the most recent controversy over ECPs is centered directly around pharmacies and their larger corporations. Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the United States, and the fifth largest provider in pharmaceuticals. As of 1999, Wal-Mart pharmacies have stopped dispensing ECP’s.
This decision came straight from corporate headquarters and has angered a lot of health care officials across the nation. By not having access to ECPs, the pregnancy rate is sure to increase. Luckily, Smith’s and K-Mart are still providing and dispensing ECPs. Also there are quite a few individual pharmacists that refuse to dispense ECPs because it comes in conflict with their moral and religious grounds.
Overall, ECPs do more good than bad. They offer women an important second chance to prevent pregnancy when an accident might occur during intercourse. Traditional contraceptive methods such as condoms, birth control, and just plain abstinence would be the best bet for preventing unwanted pregnancies. But if an accident does occur during intercourse, there should always be emergency contraceptive pills available at your local health clinic.
*Information for this article came from: American Family Physician, 8/2004; Center for Reproductive Rights; International Consortium for Emergency Contraception; Medline Plus Medical Encyclopedia; New England Journal of Medicine; USA TODAY.
Emergency contraceptive pills are also available at CEU’s Health & Wellness Clinic.