February 14, 2013 — The number of U.S. women who have used emergency contraception has more than doubled since 2002, according to a study released on Thursday by CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the New York Times reports (Tavernise, New York Times, 2/14). Researchers interviewed more than 12,000 women ages 15 to 44 between 2006 and 2010, including 10,605 who reported having sexual experience (Jayson, USA Today, 2/14).
About 11% of sexually active women in the survey used EC between 2006 and 2010, up from 4% in 2002. Among women ages 20 to 24, about 25% reported using EC at some point (New York Times, 2/14).
Overall, 59% of women said they had taken EC one time during that time period, 24% reported using it twice, and 17% said they took it three times or more (Heavey, Reuters, 2/14). In total, about 50% of EC users took the pills because they were concerned that other contraceptive methods may have failed, while the rest said they used them because they had unprotected sex.
The findings included some indicators of the types of women who chose to use EC. For example, about 20% of women who had never been married reporting using EC, compared with 5% of married women (Stobbe, AP/Sacramento Bee, 2/13).
Education also played a role in whether women used EC. About 12% of women with college degrees had used it, compared with 7% of women with only high school degrees (New York Times, 2/14).
Comments and Implications
EC has been available by prescription in the U.S. since 1999. In 2006, FDA approved nonprescription EC sales for adults, and it later lowered the age limit to 17 (Reuters, 2/14). The pills cost between $35 and $60, depending on the brand (AP/Sacramento Bee, 2/13).
Amy Allina of the National Women's Health Network said the study's findings indicate that EC is not replacing traditional contraception but that "it's clearly not a one-time thing" for some women (Reuters, 2/14). Lawrence Finer, head of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute, said that a woman who uses EC multiple times "needs to be thinking about a more regular form" of birth control (AP/Sacramento Bee, 2/13).
Proponents of EC continue to push HHS to eliminate the age restrictions and make the pills available over-the-counter for all women (Reuters, 2/14). Some conservatives who oppose EC claim that it interferes with the implantation of a fertilized egg, which they regard as a person. However, medical experts say the medication works by delaying ovulation or thickening cervical mucus to inhibit sperm movement, not by blocking implantation (New York Times, 2/14).
Beth Jordan Mynett, medical director of the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals, said, "Emergency contraception does not cause an abortion," adding, "This is pregnancy prevention" (USA Today, 2/14).
Overall Contraception Use Up
Meanwhile, a separate federal study looked at overall contraceptive use, finding that while the number of women using oral contraceptive pills has remained steady, the use of condoms, injectables, patches and intrauterine devices has grown (Reuters, 2/14).
Almost 30% of women reported using five or more contraception methods in their lives. Claire Brindis, director of the University of California-San Francisco's Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health, said that finding indicates "the importance of having many contraceptive options available for women" (USA Today, 2/14).
The Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) could ease financial barriers to contraception because it requires insurers to cover it at no added cost to beneficiaries (Reuters, 2/14).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Marya Torrez, associate editor & senior reproductive health policy counsel, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership