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Doctors Call For Over-the-Counter Access to Emergency Contraception

As the United States continues to experience one of the highest rates of unintended pregnancy in the developed world, support for emergency contraception (EC) is increasing, backed by several studies and prominent doctors. EC prevents pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex. Groups such as the Feminist Majority Foundation are campaigning to win Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval of over-the-counter emergency contraception, which could prevent almost half of the country’s three million unintended pregnancies each year, as well as 800,000 abortions, according to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Dr. David Grimes of Family Health International released an article in The New England Journal of Medicine yesterday urging the FDA to allow over-the-counter EC, as many other countries, including Great Britain, France, and South Africa, have already done.

Another study has indicated that healthcare providers are not effectively communicating to their patients the potential for EC to prevent unintended pregnancies. Of the women surveyed, 73 percent were unaware of EC, and nearly two-third of those women later became pregnant in a situation where EC could have been used, according to United Press International. Dr. Anita L. Nelson of the UCLA School of Medicine told WebMD Medical News that she makes it a point to talk to her patients about EC, and offers them prescriptions for EC to keep in their medicine cabinets in case of emergencies. She supports offering EC over-the-counter. "Requiring a visit to a doctor for a medication that is safer than aspirin or Tylenol makes no sense," said Dr. Nelson. "Women have to be aware that this is out there and they have to get it in their medicine cabinets, just like bandages, before they need it," according to WebMD Medical News.

California has taken a step toward increasing women’s access to EC. Last week, Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill mandating hospitals, including Catholic hospitals, to provide EC to victims of sexual assault – making California one of the first states to do so. Under the new law, women who cannot afford the drug will receive it for free. More than 8,000 women report they are raped each year in California, according to the state Department of Justice. The Office of Population Research at Princeton University reports that women are not routinely offered EC after being sexually assaulted, and that of the 25,000 pregnancies that resulted in 1998 from rape, as many as 22,000 could have been prevented by offering women EC, according to the Associated Press.

TAKE ACTION: Send a petition to the FDA to support approval for over-the-counter emergency contraception.

Media Resources: Associated Press 9/6/02; WebMD Medical News 9/11/02; United Press International 9/12/02

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