Investigators in Britain, where the emergency contraception pill has been available over the counter since 2001, found that women are using the pill at roughly the same rate now as in the past when a prescription was needed.
"Making emergency hormonal contraception available over the counter does not seem to have led to an increase in its use, to an increase in unprotected sex, or to a decrease in the use of more reliable methods of contraception," concluded lead researcher Dr. Cicely Marston and the other investigators of the study.
The British researchers analyzed data from an annual multipurpose survey of about 7,600 women aged 16 to 49 over a period of three years. The questions asked about their contraceptive use and frequency of unprotected sex. The number of women using emergency contraception was 8.4%, 7.9% and 7.2%, progressively over the years of the study, indicating minimal change.
The only significant change noted in the survey was where the emergency contraception was obtained, as fewer women got emergency contraception from their doctors, choosing instead to purchase it over the counter at a pharmacy.
"The sharp rise in the proportion of women buying emergency hormonal contraception over the counter indicates that many women prefer this way of obtaining it," the authors wrote, adding that easy access at the pharmacy has likely prevented pregnancies.
Emergency hormonal contraception can be used to reduce the risk of pregnancy within 72 hours after a woman has had unprotected intercourse. It should only be used for emergencies and is considered to be 95% effective at preventing a pregnancy if taken within 24 hours of unprotected sex.
It works either by preventing ovulation, stopping a fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus, or by blocking fertilization.
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