Emergency Contraception Use Doubles in U.S. to Avert Pregnancy

About 6 million American women said they have used emergency contraception in a survey concluded in 2010, more than double since 2002, according to government statistics.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 1998 approved the high-dose birth control pills for use after unprotected intercourse to prevent pregnancy. The so-called morning-after pills are sold without a prescription to women ages 17 and older, and with a prescription for those younger, at pharmacies and health clinics.

More women are turning to emergency contraception, such as Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.’s Plan B One-Step, even as reproductive rights become embroiled in controversy after the 2010 passage of the Affordable Care Act. The health-care law requires employers to pay for preventive services such as birth control without copayments, an issue that has triggered dozens of lawsuits against the government by religious organizations.

Eleven percent of women surveyed from 2006 to 2010 said they had used emergency contraception at some point in their lives compared with 4.2 percent in 2002, according to the report today by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A second analysis showed 99 percent of sexually active women used birth control during their child-bearing years, with increases in reliance on the Depo-Provera injection and intrauterine devices that provide longer-lasting contraception.

Law’s Benefits

“Safe and effective contraception is an issue and expense that confronts millions of women in the U.S., underlining the clear benefits of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that all health insurance plans provide the full range of contraceptives to women without a copay,” said Luisa Cabal, vice president of programs at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights. “We must continue to push back against some employers’ efforts to discriminate against their female employees and refuse this critical benefit based on religious objections.”

The U.S. government issued rules on Feb. 1 that require insurers who administer health coverage for religious nonprofits to cover birth control for employees, without charging the religious group or the workers. The decision would make it possible for employees to have access to contraception, without requiring religious groups to pay for it.

The CDC survey found emergency contraception hasn’t become a routine method of birth control, with 59 percent of women saying they have used it only once. About one-quarter of women reported using morning-after pills twice, while 17 percent have used it three or more times, the report found.

Young Adults

Young adult women are the most likely to use the method to prevent unwanted pregnancies, the CDC said. Twenty-three percent of women 20- to 24 years old said they have used it. The reasons for using emergency contraception were evenly split among those who feared their current method of birth control had failed and those who had unprotected sex.

“These findings reconfirm the fact that all types of women, regardless of age, marital status, race or education, have used emergency contraception to prevent unintended pregnancy after unprotected sex or when another method of birth control has failed,” Cabal said.

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