CDC: 1 in 9 Women Have Used Morning-After Pill

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Feb. 14 2013 12:09 PM

CDC: 1 in 9 Women Have Used Morning-After Pill

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The Plan B pill, also known as the 'morning after' pill, is displayed on a pharmacy shelf February 27, 2006 in Boston, Massachusetts.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The CDC's National Center for Health Statistics: good with numbers, a bit weird about Valentine's Day. According to a federal report out today, 11 percent of women in the United States between the ages of 15 and 44 have used emergency contraception.

That's about one-in-nine women, about half of whom took the pill because they feared their regular method of birth control had failed (the other half had unprotected sex). It's an increase from previous years, which is probably in part due to the pill's increase in availability. And while use is on the rise, conservative talk radio hosts who believe EC's availability encourages promiscuity should take note that most women who have used the pill have taken it just once (59 percent), while 17 percent have used it three or more times.

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The Obama administration's health care reform law provision requires most employers to provide insurance covering free contraception, including EC, to female employees. While some opponents claim that the pill causes an abortion, medical experts disagree.

Demographically, EC use was more common among white women, Hispanic women, those with a college education, the never married, and those aged 20 to 24. (The analysis notes that for some of the older women surveyed, the pill wasn't available during their early reproductive years).

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The data, covering the years 2006-2010, comes from the more comprehensive National Survey of Family Growth, which includes more general statistics on family planning and birth control. Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women aged 15-44 have used some form of birth control. But the effectiveness of some of the more commonly used methods might explain why some women seek out EC even while using a preventative birth control method: While condom use has risen over the years, so has the withdrawal method.

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According to data cited by the survey's analysts, the "typical use" failure rate over a one year period for the withdrawal method is 20 percent, and not much better, 17 percent, for the condom. Meanwhile the IUD, which has a less than 1 percent failure rate, has been used by about 7 percent of women, though use has grown since 2002.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.

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