WASHINGTON, June 30 /PRNewswire/ -- Representatives of several national women's health research and advocacy organizations testified before the Food and Drug Administration today in support of making emergency contraceptive pills available over-the-counter. Emergency contraceptive pills are a higher dose of birth control pills that, if taken within 72 hours of intercourse reduce the chance of pregnancy by 75 percent or more. (Emergency contraception is not an abortifacient and is not to be confused with mifepristone or RU-486). Recent data from the World Health Organization shows that the efficacy of ECPs is significantly greater the sooner the pills are taken. Tara Shochet of the American Society for Emergency Contraception warns, "Every hour lost tracking down a doctor and waiting for a prescription boosts a woman's risk of unwanted pregnancy." This "'need for speed' is the most compelling reason why ECPs should be sold over-the-counter," according to Dr. Elizabeth Raymond of Family Health International. Nearly 50 percent of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended and over half of those pregnancies end in abortion. An estimated one half of these abortions could be prevented annually through wider use of emergency contraceptive pills. "Increasing access to emergency contraceptive pills (ECPs) is the single most promising avenue for reducing unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion," says Elizabeth Cavendish of the National Abortion Rights Action League. Women's health advocates were unanimous in their testimony that ECPs meet the FDA's standards for over-the-counter distribution. ECPs are proven to be safe and effective. Furthermore, a doctor or health care provider is not necessary to diagnose or recommend treatment of ECPs. "Requiring a prescription for emergency contraceptive pills is medically unnecessary," says Dr. Raymond. Amy Allina, of the National Women's Health Network agrees: "With proper labeling, women can safely take ECPs without the supervision of a provider." Several presenters pointed to the results of a recent survey of providers listed on the Emergency Contraception Hotline (888-NOT-2-LATE) as evidence that keeping ECPs on prescription status acts as a barrier to access for many women. "Even when women called clinicians during regular business hours, only three out of every four attempts to obtain ECPs resulted in appointments or telephone prescriptions within 72 hours," Cavendish reports. Even finding a provider can sometimes be difficult. For example, only four providers are listed on the Hotline for the entire state of South Dakota. Kirsten Moore of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project points out that OTC status would help to ensure that no woman is denied access to emergency contraception because of so-called "conscience clauses." Conscience clauses are policies that enable a health care provider to opt out of offering a service to a patient on the grounds of his or her moral opposition. Observes Moore, "making ECPs available OTC is the best way to guarantee that a woman who is doing all she can to prevent an unwanted pregnancy is not denied service by a doctor or pharmacist who believes what she is doing is objectionable." While it is widely believed that moving ECPs over-the-counter will dramatically increase access, some advocates are concerned that an OTC product will be too expensive for women on a low or fixed income. They are therefore encouraging the FDA to take the unusual step of allowing the same or very similar products to be available both by prescription -- and therefore reimbursable under Medicaid -- and OTC. "No woman should be denied the means to prevent an unwanted pregnancy," states Moore. CONTACT: Kirsten Moore of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, 202-530-2900.
SOURCE Reproductive Health Technologies Project