Since it became available over-the-counter, use of emergency contraceptives has nearly doubled in the United States, according to a new study in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Although now nearly 10 percent of women aged 15 to 44 have taken emergency contraception, experts believe this number is still too low.
The emergency contraceptive Plan B has been available in the U.S. since 1999, but prior to 2006 it was only available by prescription. The pills cut the risk of pregnancy after unprotected sex by stopping the ovaries from releasing an egg. Sooner is better with this route of pregnancy prevention—although there is a 72 hour window, Plan B is most effective (89%) when taken within 12 hours after sex. How Much Do You Really Know About The "Morning After" Pill?
Using data from the National Survey of Family Growth, researchers at the Guttmacher Institute profiled the average user of emergency contraception: she is between the ages of 18 to 29, has a college education and has never been married. She lost her virginity in her teens. In most cases (61 percent), she has only used the morning-after pill once.
But why do the demographics of Plan B users matter? For starters, understanding just who is using emergency contraceptives can better shape future study and prevention of unwanted pregnancies. Experts were hoping that the availability of Plan B would mean that unplanned pregnancies would decline, but the numbers thus far say that isn't happening.
Interestingly, financially well-off women with incomes five times above the poverty line were found to be the most likely to use emergency contraceptives—twice as likely to use it than those living in poverty. Considering that the majority (43 percent) of users discuss the morning-after pill at Planned Parenthood or another family-planning clinic, this finding is quite surprising—researchers were operating under the assumption that wealthy women went exclusively to private doctors. As it turns out, only 16 percent of those who use Plan B discuss it at a private practice, while 26 percent are counseled at a community health clinic.
These findings beg the question: does everyone know that emergency contraception is readily available? It has been available over-the-counter since 2006 for girls age 17 and older. Study authors say they had anticipated a larger increase in use, after the pill became so readily available to women in need. What they may be overlooking, however, are the implications of some of their findings: if more than half of women have used it once, is that scare enough to be more diligent about practicing safe sex? Or, are men and women simply taking better care to avoid having to resort to Plan B all together? Likewise, the price point falls somewhere around $50 per treatment, so it's not surprising that the cost may be prohibitive, especially to a young woman whose income hovers near or at the poverty line.
What do you think about the morning after pill?