In an effort to decrease unintended pregnancy in the Monroe County community, a team at UR’s School of Medicine has collaborated with representatives from Hyland Hospital’s Reproductive Health Research Clinic on a new program aimed at making emergency contraception more readily available to women in our area. This women’s health project, launched on April 1, is a two-pronged initiative intended not only to increase access to emergency contraception, but also to increase awareness about what emergency contraception is, how to use it and how to get it.
Dr. Savita Ginde, a fellow at UR’s Health and Family Planning Program, is heading this initiative, working closely with Sara Frost, a student at UR’s School of Medicine and Dentistry. To make information about emergency contraception more accessible, Ginde and a team of physicians she organized have established an Internet site and telephone number through which women can find answers to their questions and place requests for prescriptions. As part of the media campaign that is promoting these services, a series of 30 second commercials have been airing on Channel 13 and several local radio stations in hopes of encouraging women to learn more.
“Emergency contraception is underused because people aren’t aware of how safe and effective it is,” Ginde said. “We hope to break this barrier by using technologically innovative systems to bring information to the public and to health service providers.”
When taken within 72 hours of sexual intercourse, emergency contraception is 75-89 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. It does not terminate any existing pregnancy, but instead acts before the pregnancy even occurs. Women can choose from one of two available products, Preven and Plan B, both of which come in the form of pills that contain estrogen or progesterone hormones. These treatments were approved by the FDA in 1998 and 1999 respectively, but although they are now available in pharmacies throughout the country, they still are not well known or understood by the public.
“Unfortunately, many women are unaware that emergency contraception is an approved option to prevent pregnancy,” Frost said. “Ideally, a woman should have a prescription on hand so she can use these pills as soon as she needs them.”
Best used as a back-up form birth control, emergency contraception is useful in situations where other forms of protection fail or in traumatic instances such as rape. For this reason, it is important that women be able to access pills as soon as possible. “If a couple has intercourse over the weekend and their condom breaks, they shouldn’t have to wait until Monday when they can see a doctor to get a prescription. The 72 hour limit could easily have been exceeded by then, and it would be too late for this kind of treatment,” Ginde said.
Now women can access the internet site or telephone line 24 hours a day to get a prescription much faster. Both services lead patients through a list of questions from which a team of doctors who review the incoming data can determine whether or not emergency contraception is appropriate. If so, the doctor calls the prescription into a pharmacy and notifies the patient that the order has been placed. The whole process can be completed with twelve hours. As part of the initiative, women can place these prescription requests free of charge for the next two months.
Planned Parenthood has similar Web sites set up in Chicago, Georgia and Indiana, but Rochester is the first city in the northeast to have established this sort of program. “The overall goal is to eventually pass legislation that will make emergency contraception over-the-counter in the United States, but until then we hope to make women aware of all their options and to make them easily accessible,” Ginde said.
“This initiative is about raising awareness that emergency contraception is available,” Director of Public Relations at Hyland Hospital John Turner said. “Bringing information to the women who may sometime need help is the heart and souls of the campaign.”
For more information on emergency contraception and this initiative or to place a prescription request, log onto www.ecASAP.org or call the Reproductive Health Research Clinic at (585) 341-6915.
Fitzgerald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.