- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 10, 2002

Widespread use of "emergency contraception" a technique in which women take extra birth-control pills within 72 hours of unprotected sexual intercourse could cut in half the number of unintended pregnancies in this country, two members of Congress said last week.
"Unfortunately for millions of American women, emergency contraception is also a well-kept secret," with only 12 percent of women aware of the pills, said Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, who introduced the Emergency Contraception Education Act last week with three Democratic co-sponsors.
The bill directs $10 million a year for the next five years to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention to develop an emergency-contraception public-education campaign.
"The time has come for doctors to begin educating their patients on how to further prevent unwanted pregnancies," said Rep. Louise M. Slaughter, New York Democrat, who introduced a companion bill in the House with bipartisan support.
She and Mrs. Murray said wide use of emergency contraception could prevent half of the estimated 3 million unintended pregnancies each year.
However, other bills in Congress would block the distribution of emergency contraception to minors.
The bipartisan Schoolchildren's Health Protection Act, introduced in the House in February, would prohibit federal funds for elementary and secondary schools that "provide access to emergency postcoital contraception."
Some 180 schools are providing emergency-contraception pills through school-based health clinics, Rep. Melissa A. Hart, Pennsylvania Republican and lead sponsor of the bill, said in a recent "Dear Colleague" letter.
"Schools should not be in the business of providing medication to students without parental consent," she said, noting that several courts "have ruled that parental notification is disallowed when these schools provide this drug."
The Hart bill has 43 co-sponsors. A similar bill was introduced in the Senate last year by Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican.
All these bills precede a national emergency-contraception promotional campaign called "Back up your birth control," which will be started March 20 by a coalition of 100 medical organizations and women's advocacy groups.
"Too many women don't know that they can get a dose of EC and keep it in their medicine cabinets, just in case," said Kirsten Moore, president of the Reproductive Health Technologies Project, which is coordinating the campaign.
To illustrate their image of a strong, independent and prepared woman, the campaign is using a poster of World War II icon Rosie the Riveter with "EC" tattooed on her bicep.
Many pro-life groups oppose emergency contraception because it can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg, thus causing an abortion.
Many doctors have signed a statement questioning whether emergency contraception is a contraceptive since it is taken after the sex act.
Proponents say emergency contraception works by delaying ovulation, preventing fertilization or preventing implantation, depending on where the woman is in her monthly cycle.
Studies indicate that emergency contraception doesn't work 72 hours after sexual intercourse and does not end an established pregnancy.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently wrote to its 40,000 members, urging them to talk about emergency contraception with their patients and give them emergency-contraception prescriptions for future use.


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