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Anti-Abortion Zealots Hate Solution that Will Cut Abortions

by Karyn Strickler

Catholic Hospitals Refusing Contraception To Rape Victims
I challenge those who oppose abortion to work to make it less necessary. There is a way to avoid 1.7 million unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions annually nationwide by as much as half. This method already averted 51,000 abortions in 2000 and accounted for a 43 percent decline in abortions between 1994 and 2000 according to studies published in "Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health." The method is available today, but not without a prescription. It's safe and effective and is known as emergency contraception.

If anti-abortion advocates are serious about reducing the number of abortions, I call upon them to help create common ground in women's reproductive health. Currently access to emergency contraception is severely limited partly because women can only obtain them in most states with a doctor's prescription. And people are largely unaware of their availability. Passage of state and federal legislation allowing pharmacists to dispense emergency contraception to women without a doctor's prescription, and education about their availability would help increase access to emergency contraception, dramatically reducing the need for abortion. Many state legislatures across the nation are considering such legislation during their current sessions. Anti-abortion advocates should mobilize and help.

Emergency contraceptives are ordinary birth control pills taken in a higher than normal dose. They prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation, fertilization or implantation depending on when it's used in the menstrual cycle. Emergency contraceptives do not induce abortion. The Alan Guttmacher Institute says that emergency contraception has no effect once a pregnancy has been established by implantation of a fertilized egg in the womb, so it is not an abortifacient like RU-486 (mifepristone).

Emergency contraception has an effectiveness of 75- 89 percent if used within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse, after contraceptive methods fail or in the case of rape. Some, including Ronnie Lichtman author of the updated Alan Guttmacher book, entitled "Pregnancy, Birth and Family Planning," believe that emergency contraception can be effective up to 120 hours after intercourse.

Legislation allowing women access to emergency contraceptives without a prescription breaks down some of the barriers women face in obtaining contraceptives. The legislation is necessary partly because access to contraception in most states today is abysmal. Thirty- two states in America receive a grade of "F" for the extent to which they promote or impede women's access to contraception according to NARAL Pro-Choice America's state-by-state report card.

Thirty two thousand women become pregnant each year because of rape or incest. Tragically, only 6 states in the United States mandate that emergency room treatment for women who have been raped must include some services related to emergency contraception (CA, IL, NY, OH, SC, and WA). At a minimum, every state in America should require hospitals to provide information on emergency contraceptives. Better yet, hospitals should be required to provide them to women who have been sexually assaulted.

The public overwhelmingly supports the availability of emergency contraceptives and oppose "denial" or "conscience" clauses that permit pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions on moral grounds. In 2001, over 80 medical, public health and women's organizations filed a citizen's petition urging the Food and Drug Administration to switch emergency contraceptives to non-prescription status.

Twenty seven foreign countries as diverse as Sweden, Albania, Madagascar, Togo, South Africa and Tunisia make emergency contraceptives available without a prescription. By contrast only 3 states in America: Alaska, California and Washington allow women to get emergency contraception without a prescription. In France, officials decreed that minors could obtain emergency contraceptives from a pharmacy, after counseling, at no charge and without requiring authorization from a parent. Widespread availability of emergency contraceptives in France have caused no adverse effects and have spurred interest in all methods of contraception.

Women are entitled to easy access to emergency contraceptives, it's basic health care. Emergency contraceptive legislation expands reproductive health options. It is not necessary to require a prescription. Family Health International says, "[Emergency contraception] is nontoxic, there is no danger from overdose or potential addiction and the dose is the same for all women." The National Women's Health Network is one group that has taken a position in favor of making it available without a perscription. They and the National Black Women's Health Project call it a safe and effective way to prevent pregnancy.

Instead of the usual tact taken by anti-choice advocates of trying to generate confusion around the issue, they should get on board with emergency contraception legislation and educate people, thereby directly and quickly reducing the number of abortions.

There is immediate help for women facing unintended pregnancy. Doctors can talk to their patients about emergency contraceptives, helping to heighten awareness. They can offer prescriptions over the phone or in advance to sexually active women during their routine visits. Women can fill the prescription and store the pills for future use. Women can ask their doctors to support emergency contraceptive legislation to make it available without a prescription. Women can also call the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals toll free at 1-888-NOT-2-LATE to get immediate access to emergency contraception.

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Albion Monitor May 14, 2003 (

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