Easy access to a “morning after" pill for contraception does not influence the degree to which women have unprotected sex, according to a study published Tuesday.
“While many policymakers and even some health care providers are worried that young women will abuse emergency contraception if they have easy access, our study shows they actually don’t use it as much as we would hope,” said Tina Raine, a physician and professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who headed the research.
“Sadly, these data show us we are still not influencing young women to take fewer risks in their sexual behavior,” she added. “Given that only a fraction of the women (in the study) having unprotected sex used emergency contraception, it seems we need to spend our energy trying to make it easier for these women to get contraception, not harder.”
Emergency contraception is available without a prescription at some drug stores in six states —Alaska, California, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, and Washington. Last year, U.S. regulators refused to allow Barr Pharmaceuticals Inc. to sell its emergency contraceptive, Plan B, without a prescription.
The study, published in this week’s Journal of the American Medical Association, covered 2,117 women age 15-24 in the San Francisco area. Some of the women were told to obtain emergency contraception if needed directly from pharmacists without a prescription, others were supplied with Barr’s Plan B in advance and others were told to get pills from a clinic as needed.
The women involved all said they wanted to avoid pregnancy. At the end of the study, about four in 10 women in all three groups reported having unprotected sex and 8 percent in all three groups had become pregnant.
Women given the morning after pill in advance were almost twice as likely to use it as those who were told to obtain the drug from a clinic, the report said.
Experts have estimated that half of the 3.5 million unintended pregnancies that occur each year in the United States could be averted if emergency contraception were readily available, the study said.
“Given that there is clear evidence that neither pharmacy access nor advance provision compromises contraceptive or sexual behavior, it seems unreasonable to restrict access ... through clinics,” the report concluded.