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Sunday, May 26, 2013
Time is of the essence in emergencies
On April 30, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the over-the-counter sale of emergency contraception to women 15 years of age and older. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 49 percent of pregnancies in the United States are unintended, which makes our rate of unintended pregnancies much higher than other industrialized countries. The decision to expand access to emergency contraception is an important first step in reducing the high rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States.
Consistent use of reliable birth control is the best way to prevent an unintended pregnancy, but unprotected sex does occur, and sometimes condoms fail. Emergency contraception works by delaying ovulation, providing a safe, effective way to prevent pregnancy when it is taken within five days of having unprotected sex. Women younger than 17 years of age previously had to get a prescription for emergency contraception from their doctor and wait for it to be filled, prolonging the time it took for them to access a medication that needs to be taken quickly. Selling emergency contraception over the counter gives women fast access to the medication, thus improving the pill’s effectiveness.
The FDA’s decision has left some barriers in place. In order to access emergency contraception, young women will have to provide a state-issued photo identification proving they are 15 years of age or older. Most 15-year-olds do not have a state-issued identification, and even many older adolescents who could obtain a driver’s license don’t for various reasons.
Photo IDs and age restrictions are unnecessary hurdles to accessing emergency contraception. Doctors have been prescribing emergency contraception since the 1960s, and studies dating to 1974 have proven that emergency contraception is safe and effective for women of all ages. Research shows adolescents are as likely as adults to use it correctly and that increased access to emergency contraception does not increase sexual activity among young people or the rates of unprotected sex.
Improving access to emergency contraception offers health benefits such as improved maternal and infant health. The rate of unintended pregnancy is particularly high for low-income women, who frequently lack access to health care. Women who plan their pregnancies are more likely to receive prenatal care, which improves both their health and their children’s health. Emergency contraception also reduces the need for abortion by preventing unintended pregnancy.
Policies regarding access to reproductive health care should be based on medically accurate scientific evidence. As the nation’s leading provider of women’s health care, Planned Parenthood knows firsthand how critical it is that all women be able to get emergency contraception quickly and without hurdles.
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