If you've ever used the morning-after pill, it turns out, you're most definitely not alone. A new report out today shows that in recent years (2006 through 2010) the number of American women who've used emergency contraception has doubled in comparison to a study from 2002. Eleven years ago, just four percent of sexually active women had used it; between 2006 and 2010, that percentage jumped to 11. That's 5.8 million women total, or one in nine overall, who've used emergency contraception at least once.
But first, we want to clarify: The morning-after pill — brand names include Plan B and Next Choice — is not to be confused with the medical abortion pill. Emergency contraception helps prevent pregnancy if taken up to five days after intercourse while the abortion pills offers a medical abortion in the form of a pill, which can be taken up to nine weeks after a woman's last period.
Now, why the leap in numbers? There's obviously a nuanced variety of contributors, but most importantly, we think it's about ease of access. In 2006, emergency contraception went from being prescription-only to an over-the-counter drug for people 18 and over. And obviously, it's much easier to pop into a drugstore than to schedule an appointment with your doctor — so we're thinking more women are taking early, preventative action, rather than say, winging a prayer, and hoping the condom didn't actually break. It's also important to note that in the recent study, the majority of women (59%) who used the pill, whether due to unprotected sex or fear of contraceptive failure, had used it only once. (Something to chew on for people who argued that women might prefer emergency contraception to forms of in-the-moment birth control.)
Interestingly, as the study points out, it's not just that the morning-after pill that's being used more; it's who's using it that's notable. Women aged 20 to 24 were most likely to have used emergency contraception, with almost one in four having turned to it to prevent pregnancy. Another interesting bit of data: Single ladies were more likely to have used emergency contraception than women who were currently or formerly married. Make sense, as young women are less likely to have ever been married.
As is the case with just about anything regarding women's reproductive rights, today's report is likely to create plenty of politicized commentary. Expect a lot of "What does it all mean?" hand-wringing and, unfortunately, a bit of the sexual shaming that usually pops up around this subject. But, when it comes to stopping unwanted pregnancies before they start, we think it's good for women to have options. After all, everyone needs a backup plan — and sometimes, Plan B is just that. (The National Center For Health Statistics)