March 22nd is the Back Up Your Birth Control Day of Action, a time to increase awareness of and access to emergency contraception. Emergency contraception, sometimes called the “morning-after pill,” gives women a second chance to prevent pregnancy, but women need knowledge of and timely access to this method to prevent unwanted pregnancies and abortions most effectively. Despite limited access to and awareness of emergency contraception, use of the product averted over 100,000 unintended pregnancies, including an estimated 51,000 abortions in the United States in 2000.
Emergency contraception consists of the same hormones found in ordinary birth control pills. When taken in a concentrated dosage within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse, these hormones can prevent a pregnancy from occurring. Emergency contraception is not "the abortion pill" (mifepristone or RU-486) and will not affect an established pregnancy.
Because emergency contraception is more effective the sooner it is taken, eliminating delays caused by the need to obtain and fill prescriptions (particularly over weekends and holidays) can help ensure that women have the method when they need it. Some states are helping to improve access to emergency contraception, most often by mandating that hospital emergency rooms provide it to sexually assaulted women, or by allowing some pharmacists to provide the pills to women without a prescription. Nevertheless, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to drag its heels on making a decision that would allow U.S. women to purchase emergency contraceptive pills over the counter.
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