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Emergency Contraception (EC)

Access to EC

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Awareness and usage of EC:

There are many barriers preventing widespread use of EC. An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) listed some barriers which are certainly true in the U.S. as well, for those women who are too young to purchase some types of EC without a prescription. Most barriers are related to lack of knowledge or denial of the risk of pregnancy. But a major one is:

"... lack of timely access to physicians or family planning clinics." 1

The CMAJ concludes that: "As the effectiveness of emergency contraception is time-dependent, convenient prescription and dispensing mechanisms are crucial to enabling its use." 1

Access to EC in the U.S. in the past:

In the U.S.: Two brands of emergency contraceptives were originally available in the U.S. Women under the age of 18 had to have a doctor's prescription. Unfortunately, they have to be taken within a short time of intercourse. There often was insufficient time for a young woman to get an appointment, obtain a prescription, get the pills and take them within the 72 hour limit.

Some states passed legislation allowing trained pharmacists to dispense EC without a doctor's prescription.

After a major battle, and an unusual temporary veto by the Commissioner of the FDA, the FDA switched EC to non prescription status for women 18 years and older. Kaiser Network's daily reports announced that:

"In 2006-AUG-24, the FDA approved Barr Laboratories' Plan B for nonprescription sale to women and men 18 years and older throughout the U.S.  Barr agreed to send anonymous shoppers into pharmacies to test their compliance with the age description. In addition, gas stations and convenience stores are prohibited from selling the EC." 2

In practice, the age limit probably did not present a significant barrier to innovative sexually active young women under 18-years-of-age. Most were be able to make an arrangement with an older woman or man who will be able to buy the pills for them.

Most newspapers' editorials and opinion pieces reacted positively to the development on 2006-AUG-25. However some opinion pieces by conservative Christian groups disapproved.

FDA allows access to EC for 17-year-olds:

The Center for Reproductive Rights launched a lawsuit against the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), stating that EC should be made available without prescription to "young women who might benefit most from this form of contraception."

A New York district court judge ruled on 2009-MAR-23 that the FDA's decision during the Bush administration to restrict young women under the age of 18 from having free access to EC was "arbitrary and capricious." The FDA announced on APR-22 that it would not appeal the ruling. The FDA implement the court ruling after the manufacture of Plan B submited a request to the FDA.

Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America' (CWA) said the decision was "driven by politics, not what is good for patients or minors. ... Parents should be furious at the FDA's complete disregard for parental rights and the safety of minors."

She appears to equate a single dose of EC with daily consumption of birth control pills over an interval of many years. She said that: "The FDA requires a prescription for the lower dose of the same drug for good reason. It can cause blood clots, heart attacks, and strokes in healthy women." 3

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Access to EC in Canada:

"Plan B" a popular EC, was approved for purchase without a prescription in Canada on 2005-APR-20. 4 They require only a consultation with a pharmacist. The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, the Canadian Medical Association, Planned Parenthood Federation of Canada, the Canadian Pharmacists Association, the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the Federation of Medical Women of Canada, the Canadian Women's Health Network, and the Canadian Nurses Association all approved of the move. The medication is produced by Barr Pharmaceuticals' subsidiary Duramed Pharmaceuticals.

According to Medical News Today on 2005-APR-22:

"EC already was available without a doctor's prescription in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Quebec and Saskatchewan, and provincial rules say that pharmacists can refuse to dispense EC for moral or religious reasons. ... The move makes Canada the 34th country worldwide to make emergency contraception available without a doctor's prescription, according to a Barr Pharmaceuticals representative." 4

Canadian Physicians for Life expressed opposition, as did numerous Canadian pro-life and conservative religious groups.

A public opinion survey by Leger & Leger during 2004-MAY found that 81% of adults in Quebec and 70% of adults in all of Canada agreed that EC should be available without a prescription. More details.

Associated essay on this website:

bulletAccess to EC and EC information in Roman Catholic hospitals in the U.S.

References:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Judith A. Soon, et al., "Effects of making emergency contraception available without a physician's prescription: a population-based study," Canadian Medical Association Journal, 2005-MAR-29, Page 172-180. It is online at: http://www.cmaj.ca/
  2. "Kaiser Daily Women's Health Policy Report Summarizes Editorials on Approval of Nonprescription Plan B Sales to Women Over Age 18," KaiserNetwork, 2006-AUG-28, at: http://www.kaisernetwork.org/
  3. Kathleen Gilbert, "FDA Caves, Makes Plan B Available to 17-Year-Olds without Prescription," Life Site News, 2009-APR-23. at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/
  4. "Health Canada Approves Emergency Contraceptive Plan B as OTC Drug," Medical News Today, 2005-APR-22, at: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/

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Copyright © 1999 to 2014 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published on 1999-JAN-13
Latest update: 2014-FEB-21
Author: B.A. Robinson

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