The use of emergency contraception is very low in the United States (only one out of three women even know about it) compared to other countries. So low in fact, that a bill has just been introduced in Congress to establish a public education program to inform women and their health care providers about the its use, safety and availability. Similar bills were introduced in 2002, 2005 and 2007, but they never made it out of legislative hearings.
Why the ignorance about emergency contraception? And the resistance of law-makers to dispel that ignorance? There are a couple of factors at work here. One is that the FDA has been slow to approve emergency contraception even when it has been available and legal in some countries for several years. The FDA was also resistant to allowing emergency contraception to be sold over the counter. I’m not sure why the FDA drags its feet when it comes to emergency contraception, but part of the reason is probably politics.
Why politics? Because law-makers in this country are extremely sensitive about the abortion issue and there is a widespread, but erroneous, belief that emergency contraception causes abortion. This belief stems from the controversy about RU-486, otherwise known as the abortion pill. Basically, what RU-486 does is cause a medical, as opposed to a surgical, abortion. It is quite expensive, not just for the pills themselves, but for the required doctor visits both before and after taking them. Because it induces abortion, the patient has to be checked afterward to make sure that the abortion is complete. If it isn’t, a medical abortion must still be performed.
Emergency contraception, on the other hand, does not induce abortion. Instead, it works to prevent a pregnancy from happening in the first place. Some anti-abortionists will tell you that this is still an abortion, just as they will say that the birth control bill and IUDs cause abortion because they may prevent a fertilized egg from being implanted in the uterus. But the medical profession does not consider a fertilized egg as the same as a pregnancy; pregnancy doesn’t start until implantation. Continue reading “Emergency Contraception: What It Is, How to Use It and How to Get It”