Video: What's holding up the morning-after pill?

updated 5/8/2006 8:17:52 PM ET 2006-05-09T00:17:52

Women of reproductive age should get an advance prescription for emergency contraception to keep in case they ever need it, the nation’s largest gynecologist group advised Monday.

“Accidents happen,” say new waiting-room posters headed for the 49,000 members of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The posters are part of a campaign urging doctors to explain the morning-after pill to every woman of reproductive age they examine, and offer a prescription to those eligible.

The campaign aims to increase access to emergency birth control following the Bush administration’s refusal to allow it to be sold without a prescription nationwide.

The morning-after pill is “safe, it’s effective and it should be available over the counter,” said Dr. Vivian Dickerson, ACOG’s past president. Pending that, an advance prescription gives women “more access when they need it.”

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Early dose is key
The morning-after pill is a high dose of regular birth control pills. It cuts the chances of pregnancy by up to 89 percent if used within 72 hours of rape, condom failure or just forgetting routine contraception.

The earlier it’s taken, the more effective it is. But it can be hard to find a doctor to write a prescription in time, especially on weekends and holidays.

Citing assessments that easier access could halve the nation’s 3 million annual unplanned pregnancies, ACOG and many women’s groups backed a manufacturer’s request to sell the morning-after pill without a prescription, the way it’s sold in Britain and Canada and in a handful of U.S. states.

Conservatives who consider the pill tantamount to abortion have intensely lobbied the White House to reject nonprescription sales, saying they could increase teen sex.

Last year, top-ranking Food and Drug Administration officials overruled their own scientists’ decision that nonprescription sales would be safe and, citing concern that young teens might use the pills, indefinitely postponed a decision.

The drug has no effect if a woman is already pregnant.

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