Understanding Emergency Contraception
What is Emergency Contraception (EC)?
- Emergency contraception (EC) is a method of preventing pregnancy after unprotected sexual intercourse-when a condom breaks, after a sexual assault, or any time unprotected sexual intercourse occurs. EC does not protect against sexually transmitted infections. EC pills are often called “morning after pills” but can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse, although they are most effective when taken within 24 hours.
How does EC Work ?
- While most effective if taken within 24 hours, EC can be taken up to 120 hours after unprotected intercourse. The hormones in EC can delay or prevent ovulation, or interfere with fertilization or implantation. Neither a pelvic examination nor a pregnancy test is required before treatment.
- EC cannot be used instead of a condom. EC does not protect from sexually transmitted infections, so always use a condom.
EC is Extremely Safe and Effective
- When taken within 24 hours of unprotected intercourse, EC can be up to 95% effective. Overall, EC lowers a woman's risk of becoming pregnant by 75-88%. EC has minimal side effects, the most common being nausea. However, anti-nausea medication can be taken an hour before the first dose of EC to reduce this side effect.
Young Women Need Increased Access to EC
- Although EC is available over-the-counter for women 18 and older, many college campus health care centers need to make EC more accessible. Many health centers are closed on the weekends, leaving women unable to find timely access to an EC provider. The Feminist Majority Foundation, together with other women's rights and reproductive health groups, campaigned successfully for the FDA to make emergency contraception pills available over-the-counter. However, some pharmacists and pharmacies have refused outright to fill prescriptions for or provide EC.
- Advanced prescriptions are only necessary if a woman is under 18 and not in a pharmacy access state.
EC is Essential to Women's Health and Lives!
- EC is an important backup method of birth control because it increases women's control over their reproduction. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, there are 3 million unintended pregnancies in the US each year. EC has the potential to cut the number of unintended pregnancies in HALF and prevent as many as 800,000 abortions each year.
Conscience Clauses and Your Pharmacy Rights
- In every state in this country there are pharmacies with official policies that allow each of its pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription if dispensing that drug offends his/her own personal, moral, or religious beliefs. These "Conscience Clauses," as they are commonly referred to, can restrict a woman's access to full health services. They are particularly harmful to women seeking emergency contraception, which is effective only in the first 120 hours after unprotected sex and is most effective in the first 24 hours.
- You have the right to be referred to another pharmacy/pharmacist if your prescription is refused. Your prescription belongs to you, and you have the right to have it returned to you.
What You can do to Promote Access to EC
- Demand that your local pharmacy provide EC for women of all ages without a prescription! If you live in a "Pharmacy Access" state, your first step is to find out if the pharmacies close to your campus have a pharmacist who can provide EC without a doctor's prescription. Then carry out one or all of the following actions, or come up with your own!
- Flood your pharmacy with comment cards! Collect suggestion/comment cards from pharmacies near campus, and table with them in high traffic areas. For pharmacies that do not provide EC without a prescription, have students fill out cards asking them to start. If the pharmacy has a pharmacist who provides EC directly, have students write messages of appreciation.
- Meet with your local pharmacy! Your student group may want to target a particular pharmacy for this action. Pick one near the campus that is not part of a national chain that refuses to offer EC altogether and try to set up a meeting with the pharmacist or pharmacy manager. Bring the suggestion cards you have collected or bring letters and petitions. Talk with them about the campus community's need for access to EC. Let the pharmacy know that if they start to offer EC directly, your group will publicize the information on your campus.
- Encourage Useful Signs! Advocated for your local pharmacies to post signs in their front windows saying whether or not they stock EC so that women needing EC do not have to wait in line to find out that a certain pharmacy does not stock it.
- Talk to your City Council! Encourage your city council to make an agreement with a local pharmacy chain to ensure that city employees are not denied EC.
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