In February 2010, the U.S. Department of Defense announced its decision to add emergency contraception (known by the brand name Plan B or as the “morning-after pill”) to the list of medications available at all medical treatment facilities, clinics, and pharmacies, virtually ensuring that the method would soon be available to servicewomen around the world. Adding emergency contraception to the existing range of sexual and reproductive health care—which already includes contraceptive counseling, pelvic exams, HIV testing, and condoms and other contraceptive methods—gives the more than 200,000 active servicewomen and their families an additional tool to help prevent unintended pregnancies.
A 2008 Guttmacher study found that different events throughout a woman’s life have an impact on her ability to use contraceptives consistently. When women’s lives are in constant flux, as is the case with many women during military training or deployment, it can be difficult for them to obtain and use contraceptives regularly. Emergency contraception can play a key role in helping to ensure that a contraceptive lapse or failure does not lead to an unintended pregnancy.
The Back Up Your Birth Control Day campaign aims to expand access to this method by increasing education and awareness about what emergency contraception is and how it works. Emergency contraception contains the same hormones that are found in ordinary birth control pills and will not in any way disrupt an established pregnancy. It should not be confused with mifepristone, sometimes called RU-486, a drug used to terminate a pregnancy that is only available and administered at clinics or doctor’s offices. While emergency contraception can help prevent unintended pregnancy when taken up to 120 hours (five days) after unprotected sex, it is more effective the sooner it is taken.
The recent decision by the Department of Defense provides an important safety net for women in the military who want to avoid unintended pregnancy by ensuring they have the same access as their civilian counterparts.
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