Amidst controversy, the University Health Service will soon be determining its policy for distributing the morning-after pill.
Almost 90 years after Margaret Sanger was arrested for distributing birth control literature to New York’s indigent population, contraceptives and sex prevention methods have become commonplace in many areas of the country, especially on college campuses.
The controversy, which once debated the tenets of condom distribution, has grown in the last 10 years to now include the prescription of emergency contraception or pregnancy prevention methods used after unprotected sex.
According to a 1999 study done by Eastern Michigan University Prof. Susan McCarthy, out of 358 student health centers at various colleges and universities across the country, 52.2 percent offered some form of emergency contraception. McCarthy said she feels the number of unintended pregnancies will drop if more women take advantage of ECP’s.
“Of the estimated 3 million unintended pregnancies that occur annually in the United States, about half are among women who were not using any contraception method at all and half among women who were using contraception inconsistently or incorrectly,” McCarthy wrote in her study.
One of the more prominent types of emergency contraception has been the “morning-after” pill, which was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1997. University Health Services currently offers a Progesterone-based “morning-after” pill, otherwise known as Plan B. A woman can take the pill within 72 hours after possible unprotected sex, and ovulation will be inhibited.
Rare side effects can include menstrual changes, abdominal pain, nausea and possible fatigue. According to a study done by UHS, the drug was effective on days 10 through 18 of the menstrual cycle for 97 percent of participants, and 100 percent effective on all other days.
UHS Director Robert Winfield said he feels there is a national movement pushing to encourage the “morning-after” pill.
“Some gynecology and health care providers are encouraging women who are using condoms and diaphragms and less reliable types of contraceptives to have the ‘morning-after’ pill available at home or in their medicine cabinet,” Winfield said, adding that the drug has very low side effects.
UHS currently offers Plan B by prescription, but Winfield said doctors have enormous leeway as to how it can be distributed.
“We have the flexibility to prescribe it just when you need it, or in anticipation that you might need it,” he said.
Winfield said UHS’ Medical Staff Executive Committee is currently working on a formal policy regarding the distribution of the pill. He said when this policy is finalized, most likely in January, women should have an even easier time receiving a prescription for Plan B.
Winfield said in order for Plan B to be given over the counter, it would have to be given that status by the FDA.
But Winfield also said there are some negative factors in regard to Plan B. There is up to a 15 percent failure rate and the pill does not prevent sexually transmitted diseases.
But LSA junior Deborah Morris said contraceptives such as condoms are not perfect either in preventing pregnancies, considering the fact they can break or not be used properly.
“(Plan B) protects against uncontrolled, unplanned pregnancies,” she said. “That’s the kind of thing college students wouldn’t want to happen (to them).”
But some students said they would only like to see Plan B given out in an emergency situation. They said they feel dispersal of the pill women who anticipate having sex will allow more people to be careless in their sexual lives.
“I don’t think it should be something you can get in the drug store,” LSA senior Laura Goodman said. “People would take advantage of it and that would undermine having respectable sex.”
Some students are absolutely against distribution of the pill, saying it still is bad as having an abortion.
“I’m never going to think it’s OK to stop a life,” LSA senior Andrea Barnett said. “In my opinion, once the egg is fertilized, it is life.”
Yet, not all university health centers have as liberal a policy as UHS, John Alexander, acting director of Student Health Services at Northwestern University, said Lo/Ovral, another form of emergency contraception, is only offered to a woman if she is worried she had unprotected sex. It will not be given out for a woman in anticipation. He said the treatment includes eight pills, which must be taken within a 72-hour period, but SHS is open 24 hours a day.