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Emergency Contraception

What is Emergency Contraception?

Emergency contraception, or postcoital contraception, consists of the same hormones found in ordinary birth control pills. When taken in a concentrated dose within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse, these hormones can prevent a pregnancy from occurring. All hormonal contraceptive methods, depending on when during the menstrual cycle a woman initiates the method, act by delaying or inhibiting ovulation, inhibiting fertilization or inhibiting implantation of a fertilized egg, which in medical terms is considered to mark the beginning of pregnancy. Emergency contraception (EC) is not "the abortion pill" (mifepristone or RU-486) and will not abort an established pregnancy--i.e., one in which the fertilized egg has already attached itself to the wall of the uterus, according to the World Health Organization definition of a pregnancy.

How Did Emergency Contraception Contribute to the Decline in Abortion?

Emergency contraception has been estimated to have an effectiveness rate of 75% when it is used within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse--i.e., for each pregnancy that occurs after use of emergency contraception, three are prevented. In 2000, 1.3% of women having abortions had unsuccessfully taken emergency contraception to prevent the current pregnancy, which corresponds to 17,000 of the 1.3 million abortions in that year. Hence, some 51,000 abortions (17,000 x 3) were averted by emergency contraception in 2000.

By contrast, 0.1% of women having abortions in 1994 had used emergency contraception in the month they became pregnant, accounting for 1,400 of the 1.4 million abortions in that year and approximately 4,000 (1,400 x 3) averted abortions.

There were 110,000 fewer abortions in 2000 than in 1994. An estimated 47,000 (51,000-4,000) of these abortions were prevented by increased use of emergency contraception, accounting for as much as 43% of the decrease in total abortions over that period. The change in the number of abortions prevented by the use of EC could be higher or lower than our estimate, depending on the types of emergency contraceptive pills used in 2000 and whether or not women used them correctly.

For the full article, please click here Contraceptive Use Among U.S. Women Having Abortions in 2000-2001

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