UPDATED: Women are too scared to use the morning-after pill. This is bad.


I’ve used the morning-after pill several times in my life when my contraception has failed. But not since the happy day it became available over the counter in 2004. It took 7 years of campaining by the National Health and Medical Research Council to make this happen with anti-choice advocates and some conservatives fighting hard against it. They said it would “promote promiscuity and encourage unsafe sex”. Yeah sure. Just like the fact that selling condoms in supermarkets makes me want to buy 100 boxes and go nuts every time I go to buy some Weet Bix and Shampoo.

But don’t take my word for it, research has repeatedly found this to be untrue.

I was editing Cosmo at the time and ran an editorial campaign to support the availability of emergency contraception over the counter. I passionately believed that the best way to reduce the abortion rate is to prevent unwanted pregnancies from happening in the first place – which makes it BAFFLING to me when anti-choice campaigners oppose things like easy access to contraception and sex education. Anyway, I digress.

Contraception fails. It does. Condoms break. Diaphragms fall out. People make bad spontaneous decisions. Sometimes there’s no time for a doctor’s appointment. Sometimes the woman in question can’t afford one. Other times the only GP she has access to is someone she doesn’t want to discuss her sex life with.

So making the morning after pill available over the counter was always the smartest, most sensible and safe thing to do. A good thing for women. But it turns out that there wasn’t enough of an education campaign to go with it because more than half of all women have a drastic misunderstanding of how it works and who can use it. Some might even say that misinformation has been put out there DELIBERATELY to discourage women from accessing emergency contraception…..

Fairfax newspapers report today:

WOMEN have been scared off using the “morning after” pill by misinformation about how it works and where they can get it, reproductive health experts say. The first national study of women’s use of emergency contraception since it was made available over the counter has found most do not know they can buy it without a prescription.

They also had many inaccurate beliefs. A third believed it caused an abortion and nearly two-thirds thought it could lead to birth defects if it did not prevent pregnancy.

Emergency contraception works by using hormones to convince the body to delay ovulation. It would not damage a foetus if it failed as contraception, said Melissa Hobbs, the study leader and researcher at La Trobe University’s Mother and Child Health Research Centre.

So, if the information isn’t readily available, we need to circulate it ourselves. Send this post to your friends, to your daughters, to your female relatives. Put it on your Facebook page and post it on Twitter.

Because it’s better to prevent an unwanted pregnancy than to have to deal with it after it’s happened.

UPDATE: After it’s become apparent that there are STILL lots of us confused about the difference between the morning after pill and RU486, I thought it was important to spell out exactly how the Morning After Pill works. According to Family Planning NSW:

What is the Emergency Contraceptive Pill?

The emergency contraceptive pill or ECP (sometimes wrongly called the ‘morning after pill’) is a special dose of hormones that are used in oral contraceptive pills. You can take it to reduce the chance of getting pregnant after having unprotected sex, i.e. if you did not use any contraception, or you used a condom that broke during sex.

How does it work?

The emergency pill can delay the release of an egg from a woman’s ovaries or it may stop a fertilised egg from implanting in the womb. If you use the emergency pill, you should keep on using other contraception, e.g. the Pill or condoms, until your next period, or you could still become pregnant.

How do you take it?

Emergency contraception is more effective the sooner you take it after unprotected sex. You need to take the emergency pill within 120 hours (five days).

Types of emergency pills

Emergency pill – a pack with just one pill
This is called Postinor-1. The pill contains progestogen which is one of the hormones found in oral contraceptive pills.

Emergency pills in a pack of two single pills
This is called NorLevo. Each pill contains progestogen. The manufacturer recommends that you take one of these pills as soon as possible after unprotected sex and one exactly 12 hours later. So if you take the first pill at 11am, you take the second one at 11pm.

Recent studies suggest that this kind of emergency pill works just as well if you take both pills at once. If you want to do this, ask a doctor or nurse about it. This method prevents seven out of eight expected pregnancies and side effects are not common. You might have some bleeding a few days after using this method.

Other emergency pills

An older kind of emergency contraception contains both the hormones that are in the combined contraceptive pill. You take four of these pills (Microgynon 30, Levlen Ed, Nordette or Monofeme) as soon as possible after unprotected sex, and four more 12 hours later. This kind of emergency contraception is not as effective and has more side effects (like nausea and vomiting) than the other method. It should probably only be used when there is nothing else available. It prevents three out of four expected pregnancies.

Where can you get the emergency pill?

You can get the emergency contraceptive pill from pharmacies without a doctor’s prescription. It costs about $20-$30. The pharmacist may ask you a few questions to be sure that it is safe for you to take this medication.

For more information

Click here to read the World Health Organisation’s factsheet on the safety of levonorgestrel-alone emergency contraceptive pills (LNG ECPs).

Contact the FPNSW Healthline on 1300 658 886 or email them .