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The Facts: Emergency Birth Control Pills

Many young women may not know that they can do something after sex to keep from getting pregnant. But there is something they can do if they’ve had unprotected sex. They can take emergency birth control pills, also called emergency contraception, morning after pills, or Plan B®.

EC is an important option for all women, but especially those ages 16 -24 who experience relatively high rates of unplanned pregnancy. Women can use emergency birth control pills to keep from getting pregnant when a regular birth control method fails or is used incorrectly. They can also use emergency birth control pills if they have been sexually assaulted or, for any other reason, have had unprotected sex. Emergency birth control pills should not take the place of regular birth control and condoms, and do not protect from sexually transmitted infections.

Emergency Birth Control Pills Can Prevent Abortion by Preventing Unplanned Pregnancy.
  • Experts believe that nearly 40 percent of all pregnancies in the United States—and up to 85 percent of teen pregnancies—each year are unplanned. Experts also believe that using emergency birth control pills in time could prevent up to 50 percent of unplanned pregnancies.
  • Emergency birth control pills are the most commonly used method of emergency contraception. Emergency birth control pills are ordinary birth control pills, but a stronger dose. When taken after unprotected sex, they can lower the chance of pregnancy by up to 89 percent. Emergency birth control pills work best when taken within the first 24 hours after sex. But they can still work when taken up to 5 days (120 hours) after sex.
  • Emergency birth control pills do not cause abortion. Emergency birth control pills work like regular birth control pills: they delay ovulation and may prevent the egg from being fertilized. It is possible, though unproven, that emergency birth control pills may also prevent an egg from implanting (that is, stop it from attaching to a woman’s uterus). This would still not end an existing pregnancy. The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, the American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, and almost all mainstream professional medical groups define pregnancy as beginning when an egg has finished implanting.
  • Emergency birth control pills will not harm an already existing pregnancy. Over 40 years experience with birth control pills has provided a large amount of evidence that they will not end a pregnancy and will not cause birth defects. Since emergency birth control pills are the same medicine as birth control pills, this evidence applies to them also.
  • Experts say that using emergency birth control pills in time could prevent up to 70 percent of all abortions among American women, including teens.

Teen and Young Adult Women in South Carolina Need Access to Emergency Birth Control Pills.

  • According to the most recent data available, South Carolina’s teen pregnancy rate in 2000 was higher than the national rate.
  • South Carolina’s black and Latina teens had lower pregnancy rates than their black and Latina peers in the United States as a whole. White teens in South Carolina had a higher pregnancy rate than did their white peers in the United States as a whole.
  • In 2003, South Carolina ranked 39th among the states for teen births. South Carolina’s teen birth rate was better than those in only 11 states and the District of Columbia and was twenty percent higher than the overall U.S. rate. Between 1991 and 2003, the teen birth rate in South Carolina dropped by 29 percent, versus a decline of 33 percent in the United States as a whole.
  • In 2002, South Carolina women ages 15 through 19 had 41 births per 1,000 whites, 67 per 1,000 blacks, and 133 per 1,000 Latinas. This is higher than the birth rate for the entire United States for white, black, and Latina women.
  • In 2003 there were an estimated 9500 pregnancies among teenagers in South Carolina.
  • Emergency birth control pills are very important for survivors of sexual assault or rape, who may become pregnant. Most women in the United States who are raped are between the ages of 15 and 24. In 2004, over 1,700 women in South Carolina reported having been raped. Experts believe that only about one in 10 victims actually reports rape, so as many as 17,000 South Carolina women may have been raped in 2004. In the United States, an estimated 25,000 pregnancies occur each year as a result of rapes and sexual assaults. Experts also estimate that 22,000 of these victims’ pregnancies could be prevented if the victims were given emergency birth control in a timely manner.
  • In South Carolina, the law requires that emergency rooms provide emergency birth control to sexual assault survivors if they ask for it.
  • In August 2006, the United States FDA approved the sale of Plan B® without a prescription for women 18 years of age and older. Pharmacies now carry Plan B®. Women under age 18 will continue to need a prescription to obtain emergency birth control.

Respected Medical Organizations Support the Use of Emergency Birth Control Pills, But South Carolina’s Young Women Face Barriers to Getting the Medication.

  • The Society for Adolescent Medicine, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, American Medical Association, American Medical Women’s Association, and World Health Organization, all say emergency birth control pills are effective and safe for young women ages 16-24.
  • Young women often worry that their privacy will be violated. In a recent U.S. study, 59 percent of teens said they would stop using contraception if they feared someone would tell their parents. Studies show that fears about privacy may keep many sexually active young people from using birth control or from getting other needed health care. For this reason, professional medical organizations support privacy for all young people in need of reproductive and sexual health care, including confidential prescriptions for emergency birth control pills.
  • In South Carolina, minors under age 16 need parental consent to get birth control unless the health care provider determines it is in the young person’s best interest to get birth control pills without parental consent. Minors 16 and older, as well as those who are married or emancipated, may legally get their own birth control, including emergency birth control pills. But they might still not ask their doctors about contraception or emergency birth control pills because they fear their privacy will be violated.
  • Cost is a major barrier to young women’s use of birth control, whether they live in South Carolina or elsewhere. One state’s health department noted women spent much more on health care costs than men. Experts say this is partly because birth control pills and emergency birth control pills are often not covered by private health insurance.
  • Experts believe that about 75,000 teenage women in South Carolina are in need of free or discounted birth control and medical care. Free family planning clinics in South Carolina may serve as many as 30,000 teenage women and prevent as many as 20,000 teen pregnancies across the state each year. Yet, new reports say that almost one-third of these family planning clinics have closed, making it much harder for poor and very young women to find affordable and confidential services.


To reduce unplanned and unwanted pregnancy, South Carolina’s teens and young adult women need private and affordable access to doctor visits and birth control medicines, including emergency birth control pills. Pregnancy and childbirth are serious health issues for any young woman. Making emergency birth control pills easier for South Carolina’s 16- to 24-year-old women to get can help to prevent pregnancies and abortions in this age group. No young woman should have to choose between childbirth and abortion. Medicines exist to prevent unplanned and unwanted pregnancy.

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