The Truth About Emergency Birth Control

By Michele Stranger-Hunter of Portland, Oregon. Michele is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon.

Emergency Contraception (EC), sold over-the-counter in the United States as Plan B, is emergency birth control and it is the best-kept secret in Oregon. NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon (NPCO) wants to make sure the secret gets out! Emergency birth control is a second chance at prevention! Did you know women have up to 120 hours to prevent pregnancy after sex? There has been a deliberate and concerted effort by the right to blur the lines between Plan B—emergency birth control—and RU-486, an abortifacient. But emergency birth control does not cause an abortion, it prevents conception. Have you or someone you know ever missed two birth control pills and then doubled up on your next dose? You have just taken emergency contraception, or emergency birth control. Emergency birth control functions to prevent pregnancy by interfering with ovulation, fertilization or implantation and will not harm an existing pregnancy.

Now that emergency birth control is available over the counter, women can access it from family planning clinics and retail pharmacies. Unfortunately, there are many issues that prevent women from obtaining this essential medication. NPCO is striving to increase access by getting past these barriers. First of all, many Oregon women have not heard of emergency birth control or do not understand what it is or how it works. Research shows that only around 77% of Oregon women are even aware that emergency birth control exists. Of those women that know about emergency birth control, many do not understand how it works.

Even pharmacists are confused and many are concerned about stocking and dispensing this medication. Pharmacists in many areas are unintentionally providing false and misleading information about emergency birth control, while others are refusing to stock or dispense the medication. Many healthcare professionals are not explaining and recommending emergency birth control to their patients.

NPCO is solving this problem in collaboration with Oregon pharmacists and pharmacy groups, creating policies that allow emergency birth control requests to be met quickly and respectfully. This approach is collaborative instead of adversarial, offering outreach, education and training to pharmacists.

In February 2007, NPCO and the Oregon Board of Pharmacy (OBP) successfully secured one of the premier policies in the country, ensuring pharmacy access to emergency birth control. NPCO also orchestrated an emergency birth control training module that has been presented around the state to over 350 pharmacists.

NPCO is assessing exactly where the underserved communities are so that we can respond in ways that will most effectively impact emergency birth control access, with a particular focus on Oregon’s rural areas. Given the state’s widely varying regional geography and population, NPCO will address region-specific barriers to access through tailored solutions in conjunction with individual communities and activists on the ground.

NPCO urges women (and men too) to start the conversation about emergency birth control, making it a part of everyday conversations. Oregonians need to talk with their friends and families about what emergency birth control is, how it works, and how to ensure that it is available to all Oregon women. Emergency birth control truly represents a second chance at prevention.

If you want to know more about emergency birth control in your area, or be a part of our ongoing work regarding emergency birth control, contact NPCO today at [email protected].

  • ellie (unverified)

    I'm glad you're educating people about this option. I'd like to add one thing -- if you (or someone you know) needs/wants/opts to use emergency contraception, do it sooner rather than later. Yes, it can work for up to 120 hours after unprotected sex but the sooner you take it afterwards, the better your odds for preventing an unwanted pregnancy. If the guy has "fast swimmers" you could be in trouble if you wait!

  • Rose Wilde (unverified)

    I had an excellent experience at the student health center at Oregon State University regarding this topic. (Not what you think!)

    When I saw the health center nurse practitioner, Kari Johnson, for my annual exam, she suggested that I take home and fill an emergency contraception prescription "just in case". Because I am married (and, ahem, sexually active) and not planning a pregnancy soon, she thought it would be helpful to have EC on hand, in case of mistakes or contraceptive failure (it can happen).

    Ellie is right about the timing -- waiting 120 hours is NOT recommended -- the sooner the better, because EC prevents implantation, but shouldn't harm an established pregnancy should you miss the window of opportunity.

    According to the National Survey of Family Growth about 50% of ALL pregnancies (not just teenagers) are unintended.
    The best statement I've heard about giving women more control over their fertility came from my public health professor, Sheryl Thorburn, Ph.D., from OSU, who explained that women's ability to control when and how they bear children is a fundamental component of women's economic self-sufficiency. When we bear only the children we are ready for, we manage to earn more, save more, and have more for retirement later. It is really hard to understand what the big deal is!

  • Colin (unverified)

    don't mean to be dense, but what does this mean? "In February 2007, NPCO and the Oregon Board of Pharmacy (OBP) successfully secured one of the premier policies in the country, ensuring pharmacy access to emergency birth control." What doe it mean to secure a policy? Is this insurance?

  • JenS (unverified)

    Thanks for bringing this topic up. I live out on the Oregon coast and am surprised how many women do not know about this option. Being the mother of a teenager I have educated my child on this option, letting her know this is available if something should happen. I would also like to mention that for low income women Plan B is available at the local Health Departments for no charge.

  • (Show?)

    Where do things stand in Oregon regarding pharmacists' obligation (or otherwise) to sell EC? It is "over-the-counter", but if it still is behind-the-counter though not prescription, as I suppose it is, there seems to be at least some possibility of pharmacist interference.

  • Linda (unverified)

    Plan B birth control will be 95% effective if taken immediately after contraceptive failure or unprotected sex. It will be effective as

    • 95% effective if taken within 24 hours
    • 85% effective if taken between 24 to 48 hours
    • 58% effective between 49 to 72 hours


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