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Biology 103
2003 First Paper
On Serendip

Emergency Contraception

Megan Williams

There are many myths surrounding the use of emergency contraception. The question of what it is and when to use it is just a fraction of the controversy surrounding this arguably new practice. Emergency contraception is a method of preventing pregnancy after the act of unprotected sexual intercourse. It does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases. However, emergency contraception can not be obtained without a prescription. Why does the US government not trust women with the choice of making sure they do not get pregnant after having unprotected sex? If abortion is a choice and abortion terminates a life, why can women not have the choice to make sure they do not need an abortion? What is wrong with preventing an unwanted pregnancy?

There are two types of emergency contraception, pills (ECP's) or copper T intrauterine devices (IUD). There are two distinct pill types, the brand name "Preven" and the brand name "Plan B". Preven contains the same hormones as regular birth control, estrogen and progestin. (1) It causes more instances of nausea and vomiting than Plan Bs, and decreases the chances of pregnancy by 75%. However, Preven can be used as an ongoing form of birth control. Plan B only contains the hormone progestin. It is more effective, decreasing chances of pregnancy by 89%, and has less of a chance for side effects. (1) These pills can be taken immediately after the sex, or up to 72 hours later. (2).
The other form of emergency contraception, IUD, can be inserted up to five days after the unprotected sex and is more effective than the pills (99% decreased chance of pregnancy). (1) An IUD can be left in for up to 10 years as a form of birth control, but in some cases can lead to pelvic infection, which in turn could lead to infertility. (1)

Emergency contraception works in three ways. It slows down ovulation, it stops the fertilization of the egg, and it stops the attachment of the egg to the wall. (2). It is not an "abortion pill" or RU-486. (2).
It does not kill the baby, as the baby is never formed. Emergency contraception can be used in instances of a broken condom, sexual assault, or really anytime after unprotected sex. This is part of the issues surrounding its use. Many physicians do not think that it should be used in any situation, except that of true emergency. This is part of the reason that emergency contraception is not an over the counter drug. It is approved by the FDA, but all but three states in the US require a woman to see a physician before they can get a prescription for it. About one half of unwanted pregnancies are due to the failure of a contraceptive. Similarly, about one half of unwanted pregnancies end in abortion. (3).
What would be worse, killing an unborn child or making sure that the child is never biologically formed?

However, many pharmacies refuse to stock ECP's. One for example, is Wal-Mart. Many groups, such as the AMWA, see this as "denial of emergent care".(3). In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists "estimate that emergency contraception could prevent 800,000 abortions and 1.7 million unintended pregnancies in the United States each year". (4).

ECP's are available through Planned Parenthood. They are priced on a sliding scale, with the average cost of $20-$25 for pills and $30-$35 for a visit. (5).

Many groups are adamant about making emergency contraception an over the counter purpose. Other countries, such as France and Britain already have the luxury of such a purpose. The American government still denies the request for these to be readily available for American women. Why is this so? In a country where abortion is such a moral issue, you would think that an alternative to having to end a life would be widely welcomed by all sides of the issue.

WWW Sources

1) emergency contraception at princeton
2) teen forum on ec, myth/fact based site
3) publication paper, stand on emergency contraception
4) ec connection, valuable resource
5) plannedparenthood, good price list

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