Often, I think, men do not realize the extremity of feelings women have about the ever-present possibility of pregnancy. I know that men worry too, and I also know women who don’t worry enough, but generally I have been shocked by the abject terror I have witnessed in some women who fear getting pregnant. Even women who use multiple methods of birth control sometimes become paralyzed by the statistically insignificant chance of an error.
Women know that sometimes even relatively effective methods of birth control can fail, and the only way to completely relieve this fear would be abstinence. As the vast majority of college students do not practice abstinence, the result is a great deal of unnecessary stress and fear when, for example, the condom breaks, or a pill or two wasn’t taken on schedule. Also possible are date rape situations, or situations where intoxication or drugs cause birth control to be forgotten or forcibly unused. Most likely this will not result in pregnancy, but due to fear of being pregnant, I have seen girls fall into depression, refuse to eat or consider hurting themselves ? I’m sure others who I have not seen actually follow through on this thought. Appallingly, I have heard this hopeful question multiple times ? “do you think I could cause a miscarriage?” There is no need for all this self-torture that women inflict on themselves. The “morning-after pill,” also known as emergency contraception, EC, is a safe and effective way of assuring that despite condom breakage, date rape or any extenuating circumstance, pregnancy will not occur. EC is available currently through UR’s UHS under the brand name “Plan B,” but requires a doctor’s visit to obtain. Luckily, UHS is open 7 days a week. Other women may not be as lucky in terms of this easy access.
There are 3.2 million unintended pregnancies annually in the United States, approximately half of which end in abortion. Those mothers who do carry their children to term are at greater risk for depression, physical abuse and failure to achieve financial, educational or career goals. Children born in these scenarios are more likely to die in the first year, or to be abused or neglected. Emergency contraception, if made freely available, could certainly reduce these high numbers of abortions and unintended pregnancies. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, ACOG, and other groups have agreed on the definition of pregnancy as beginning with implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, which EC prevents- and it is therefore not considered in medical circles to be an “abortifacient,” but rather a form of contraception like birth control pills.
In fact, EC is basically a higher dosage of the hormones in birth control pills taken a short period of time. These are the same hormones, estrogen and progestin, that control a woman’s menstrual cycle, and are not dangerous. The ACOG has stated that no evidence-based studies have yet shown any risk to taking these pills. In fact, because they are only taken once, they do not carry the same risks as birth control pills themselves, which are taken over a long period of time and are associated with slightly increased risk of some conditions, particularly in smokers or women over 35. In fact, EC meets all the guidelines for over-the-counter status as outlined by the FDA, and is safer than some drugs which already have over-the-counter approval. This status change for emergency contraception is supported by many major medical associations, including the American Medical Association ? AMA, ACOG, and the American Medical Women’s Association ? AMWA.
The importance of making EC available over the counter is mainly due to the fact that its effectiveness is time-dependent. The pills must be taken within 72 hours of intercourse, which, if done, will cause a 75 percent decrease in possibility of pregnancy.
In one study, half of all women who sought emergency contraception did so after 6 p.m. or on a weekend, at which time most doctor’s offices are closed. On a college campus, I would guess the numbers would be even higher due to increased use of alcohol or drugs at these times which often causes unprotected sex. A change to over-the-counter status would also put pressure on Wal-Mart, one of the nation’s largest pharmacy/retail chains, to carry emergency contraception. At this time, Wal-Mart refuses to carry the drug at all, instead referring women to other pharmacies. In many areas, however, Wal-Mart’s cutthroat monopolistic strategy has eliminated the other nearby pharmacists completely, and their decision not to provide EC is referred to by AMWA as “denial of emergency care… [hitting] some of the most vulnerable of our population.”
AMWA also calls prescription status “medically unwarranted,” due to the safety and ease of use of the pills. Many other countries already offer EC over-the-counter, including France, the United Kingdom and other European nations. Three states, Alaska, California and Washington, currently have EC on “behind-the-counter” status, which means that a prescription is not necessary but the pills must be purchased from a special pharmacist. Clearly, EC is on its way to being available over the counter, and the sooner it becomes available, the more unintended pregnancies and abortions can be prevented. Emergency contraception is not meant to be used as a normal form of contraception, and indeed it may cause slight nausea which would discourage it from being used as such. Instead, it is meant for those who worry, those women who are often quite conscientious and suffer from stress and depression when they fear that they may have erred. As a pro-choice, but certainly not “pro-abortion” ? indeed I doubt any such person exists ? student, I hope that those of us on both sides of the table who wish to prevent unintended pregnancies can join together on this issue. For more information see http://www.feministcampus.org/prescribechoice.
Schroth is a senior and can be reached at email@example.com.