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New Year Brings Californians Easy Access To Emergency Contraception

California has passed legislation to make family planning easier! Pharmacies throughout the state will now be able to dispense emergency contraception (EC) without a prescription. Emergency contraception is a backup method that prevents a pregnancy from occurring in much the same way that birth control pills do, except that the pills are taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. EC does not work if a woman is already pregnant, and it is not intended to be a regular form of birth control. Pharmacists will consult briefly and privately with each woman who obtains emergency contraception.

This legislation (SB 1169; Alpert, D; San Diego) was sponsored by the Public Health Institute. The law goes into effect on January 1, 2002, and public health advocates consider it a major milestone in making reproductive health services easier to obtain.
"Women will now be able to go directly to their pharmacists for emergency contraception, which is a significant improvement over having to make an appointment with a doctor or clinic first," observes Jane Boggess, Ph.D., Executive Director of the Pharmacy Access Partnership. "Time is of essence with emergency contraception. In order to prevent a pregnancy after unprotected sex, a woman must use EC within 72 hours."

The new law requires that pharmacists provide each recipient of EC drugs a standardized fact sheet. "The availability of emergency contraception is a serious public health issue," states Boggess. "Approximately three million unintended pregnancies occur in the United States each year, and many are the result of contraceptive failure. Medical experts estimate that half of all unintended pregnancies end in abortion." Boggess notes that simple access to EC helps prevent the physical and societal impact of unintended pregnancies.

The emergency contraception legislation was endorsed by a wide range of health and medical organizations, including the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists, the California Pharmacists Association and the California Medical Association.
California's Emergency Contraception Pharmacy Program is modeled after a highly successful program in the state of Washington, where more than 30,000 women have obtained emergency contraception from their pharmacists. The Washington state program has been widely applauded by public health officials for its success over the last several years.

The Public Health Institute's Pharmacy Access Partnership is now working to recruit and train pharmacists throughout the state so that this service will be readily available throughout California. Currently more than 80 pharmacies and health clinics are providing EC under this program, and more will come on board every month. A list of participating pharmacies is available by contacting the Pharmacy Access Partnership at  http://www.ec-help.org/.

Click here for more information on contraception.

Created: 1/4/2002  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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