- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 17, 2002

The number of abortions in the United States dropped by 51,000 in 2000 because women took "emergency contraception," or extra doses of birth-control pills after sex, a leading abortion-research group says in a report issued today.

These findings suggest that "if more women knew about and used emergency contraception, this could further reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion in the coming years," said Rachel K. Jones, a researcher with the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) and a co-author of the study on abortion and contraception.

Emergency contraception refers to taking extra doses of certain prescribed birth-control pills within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

The process, sometimes called the "morning-after pill," may delay ovulation, prevent fertilization or prevent implantation of a fertilized egg. It cannot affect an established pregnancy.

Many pro-life advocates see emergency contraception as an "early" abortion.

Emergency contraception "is a killer pill to human life," said Scott Weinberg of the Population Research Institute in Front Royal, Va.

The main reasons abortion rates are falling, he added, are that society is less accepting of the procedure and more teens and unmarried people are abstaining from sex.

However, many pro-choice groups are promoting emergency contraception as an inexpensive and effective way to avert pregnancies. At least one emergency-contraception product, called Plan B, is being prepared for over-the-counter use.

In today's study, the first of its kind, Ms. Jones and her colleagues at AGI gathered data on emergency contraception and other contraceptive methods from some 10,600 women who sought abortions in 2000.

Fewer than 2 percent of the women said they had used emergency contraception.

Emergency contraception is estimated to prevent three out of four pregnancies. Using that statistic, researchers extrapolated their data to estimate that emergency contraception had prevented 51,000 abortions nationally in 2000.

Emergency contraception was also a major reason for 110,000 fewer abortions in 2000 than in 1994, the AGI researchers said. They said 1.42 million abortions were performed in 1994 and 1.31 million in 2000. Emergency contraception, they said, was probably responsible for 43 percent of that decline.

This is exciting news, said James Trussell, an economics professor and emergency-contraception specialist with the Office of Population Research at Princeton University.

"People have stated, logically, that emergency contraception will reduce the need for abortion, but this is the first time it's ever been shown using real data," he said.

Once awareness and use of emergency contraception becomes widespread, he added, its impact on abortion rates should be even more powerful. "There's only room to grow here."

The AGI study also found that nearly 54 percent of women who obtained abortions in 2000 used some kind of contraception the month they became pregnant.

For most of these women, the contraceptive method failed because of human error: Of birth-control users, 76 percent didn't take their pills regularly; of condom users, 49 percent didn't use them correctly or consistently.

Of the 46 percent of women who didn't use any contraceptives in the month they became pregnant, the most common explanation was, "I didn't think I would get pregnant at the time." Other common reasons were that they had "problems with methods in the past" or they "didn't expect to have sex at the time."

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