updated 4/1/2004 4:58:48 PM ET 2004-04-01T21:58:48

Teenagers who have emergency “morning-after” birth control pills at home are no more likely than other young people to have unprotected sex, a study found.

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University of Pittsburgh researchers questioned women ages 15 to 20 who had immediate access to the pills and those who did not. The study, published in the April issue of the Journal of Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology, was conducted between 1997 and 2001.

“People seem to be really worried that if young women knew that they had this that they would drop their usual methods and go out and have rampant sex,” said Melanie A. Gold, the study’s lead author.

At the end of the six months, 26 teenagers who were given the pills reported using them 38 times. In the group that was not given the pills but had to go out and get them, 20 teenagers reported using them 24 times.

FDA delayed decision
Morning-after pills are high-dose birth control pills that can be taken soon after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. They work by blocking the implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus.

In February, the Food and Drug Administration delayed a decision on whether to allow the pills to be sold over the counter because it wanted more information on the use of the pills by 16- and 17-year-olds.

Opponents have argued that making the pills too accessible could lead to more cases of unsafe sex and an increase in sexually transmitted disease. Proponents say the pills reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies.

In this latest study, researchers followed 301 women who were recruited from a clinic at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh. Participants agreed to speak with researchers once a month about their sex lives and use of contraception.

The study found that those who were given the pills used them much sooner than the teens that did not have them.

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