Always have a Plan B

Feb 182004
Authors: Lindsay Robinson

A missed birth control pill. A broken condom. Forgetting to

think about protection.

All of these scenarios could result in an unintended pregnancy,

but a morning-after pill taken soon enough after intercourse could

help prevent such a situation.

“Emergency contraception is a hormonal method of birth control

that can be used after intercourse to prevent pregnancy,” said

Crystal Clinkenbeard, the director of public affairs at Planned

Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. “If you had a condom break or

another contraceptive failure, or if you’re a survivor of rape or

incest, it’s the best way to prevent an unintended pregnancy.”

Plan B, the morning-after pill prescribed at the Hartshorn

Health Service, is Food and Drug Administration-approved and has

few side effects.

“Plan B provides a backup for women when other contraceptive

methods have unexpectedly failed, have not been used appropriately

or at all, or in cases of sexual assault,” said Carol Cox, a

spokesperson for Barr Laboratories, the company that manufactures

Plan B.

Cox said there have been no serious complications with Plan B.

She added that common side effects include nausea, abdominal pain,

fatigue, headache and menstrual changes.

According to Planned Parenthood, Plan B is shown to reduce the

risk of pregnancy from a single act of intercourse by 89 percent if

taken within 72 hours of the event. The pills can be taken up to

120 hours after intercourse but may be less effective the longer

the waiting period. Basically, the sooner Plan B is taken the


Currently the drug is only available by prescription, but

legislation is pending at the Food and Drug Administration to make

Plan B obtainable over-the-counter. A ruling on the matter is

expected by May 21.

“It’s important to educate people about the proper use of

emergency contraception, but it’s really the best method to prevent

unintended pregnancy and it needs to be more widely available,”

said Clinkenbeard, who added that Planned Parenthood fully supports

the measure to make Plan B available over-the-counter.

At some facilities, including at Planned Parenthood, a patient

can receive an advance prescription so she has it readily available

in an emergency situation.

“Emergency contraception can only be effective if women are

informed about it and have prompt access to it. Because of that, we

absolutely believe that women should have emergency contraception

on hand if they are sexually active,” Clinkenbeard said.

Opponents of emergency contraception warn that the pill

encourages irresponsible sexual activity and may result more

sexually transmitted diseases, especially if it becomes more widely

used and is made available over-the-counter.

However, Tanja Dunn, a family nurse practitioner at the

Hartshorn, said that after 10 years of experience in the Women’s

Clinic, she doesn’t believe emergency contraception makes people

more sexually careless. She said most of the people requesting a

morning-after pill have had some other method of contraception


Other opponents, such as Focus on the Family, equivocate using

emergency contraception to getting an abortion.

According to, Focus on the Family’s Web site, the

morning-after pill will prevent a fertilized egg from implanting.

The site states that this is, in effect, an abortion because the

fertilized egg contains all 46 chromosomes of a human being.

However, both Dunn and Clinkenbeard refute this assumption,

saying the morning-after pill is scientifically not the same as an

abortion because of the fact that implantation has not


“(Emergency Contraception) is contraception,” Clinkenbeard said.

“It’s not a method of abortion and it works in the same way that

birth control pills work. In fact, emergency contraception won’t

dislodge an existing pregnancy. If a woman is already pregnant and

takes emergency contraception, it won’t induce a miscarriage.”

She added that emergency contraception substantially reduces

unintended pregnancies, which in turn lowers the need for abortion.

She said Planned Parenthood believes that if emergency

contraception were more widely used, half of all abortions in the

United States would be prevented.

“It’s an advantage having this method available because there

are times when any method can fail,” Dunn said. “It’s quite safe,

easily administered, well-tolerated, inexpensive and it really does

help prevent unintended pregnancies.”

A morning-after pill can be obtained by prescription in Fort

Collins at Planned Parenthood for $47 and at Hartshorn Health

Service for $12.

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