Media reports indicate that the use of emergency contraception (EC) is on the rise. In fact, the percentage of women using emergency contraception from 2006 to 2010 more than doubled to 11% from 4% in 2002 (and fewer than 1% in 1995).
The most commonly used brand is Plan B, which has been sold over-the-counter to those 18 years of age and older since 2006. Because EC is considerably more accessible since 2006, the increase in usage is not surprising or suspect. What is surprising is media coverage of the CDC report glosses over significant findings and limitations of the study.
A complete investigation of the CDC report uncovered the following concerns:
- Most women using EC report doing so after unprotected sex (49%), and not as a back-up to a normal birth control method (45%).
- The report shows that 41% of users have used EC more than once, with 17% using it three times or more. The researchers did not provide a range that indicates how many times habitual users (abusers) take EC- just three times or in extreme cases 15 and even 60 times.
- The interviewers gave women only three categories for reason of EC: unprotected sex, fear of contraceptive failure and other. Given the fact that some habitual users of EC have admitted using a regular method of birth control but doing so inconsistently/carelessly because they knew they could take EC after-the-fact, the 45% of users reporting it as contraceptive back-up are likely having unprotected sex, making the 49% figure deceptively low.
- The researchers failed to provide a timeframe so it is unknown how often women take EC. Merely asking respondents the first time they used EC followed by the number of uses would have indicated if multiple uses were spread across years, or if habitual EC use is a lifestyle choice.
Ultimately, an increase in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among EC users may indicate that the accessibility of these pills could contribute to riskier sexual behaviors in the general population, especially younger girls. Since a literature review of 23 studies found no evidence that EC had any effect on pregnancy and abortion rates, there is not sufficient scientific evidence to suggest that EC offers any positive externalities in public health whatsoever in spite of incomplete media reports.
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LifeNews Note: Jacqueline Harvey is a scholar of public policy and bioethics from Texas who works as a consultant in social services, primarily in statistics as a non-profit program evaluator and policy analyst. Dr. Harvey’s background includes both undergraduate and graduate degrees in social work, as well as a Ph.D. in Public Administration and Public Policy from the University of North Texas, with considerable coursework in public health and healthcare administration from the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Reprinted with permission from Reproductive Research Audit.