* Nearly 60 percent say they have taken pill only once
* Reason for use varies by race and education levels
* Use of injections, patches, intrauterine devices grows
By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON, Feb 14 More U.S. women are taking
the "morning-after" pill, but generally just once, according to
the government's first report on how the emergency contraception
drug has been used since regulators eased access to it in 2006.
About 11 percent of sexually active women, or 5.8 million,
used the pill between 2006 and 2010, compared to about 4 percent
in 2002, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in
its report released on Thursday.
Among those who used the pill during those four years, 59
percent said they took it just once, while 24 percent said they
used it twice, the report said. Seventeen percent said they used
it three times or more.
Emergency contraception has been available by prescription
in the United States since 1999. One version of the
morning-after pill, known as Plan B, has stirred the most
Plan B, much like regular birth control, stops pregnancy by
blocking the release of a woman's egg, or it may prevent
fertilization or implantation in the uterus. But it must be
taken within days after intercourse to work.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved sales of Plan
B to adult women without a prescription in 2006 after years of
contentious debate. It later loosened the restriction to include
Women's health groups lauded the move as a way to prevent
unwanted pregnancies. But conservatives warned it could lead to
promiscuity, especially among youth, and more sexual assaults.
Amy Allina of the National Women's Health Network said CDC's
findings show morning-after pills are not replacing conventional
birth control methods for most women, although "there are some
for whom it's clearly not a one-time thing."
Activists are still pressing for over-the-counter access and
no age restrictions.
The pill is sold by Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd
as Plan B. It also is available as a generic. In 2010
the FDA approved another emergency contraceptive called ella, a
prescription drug now owned by Actavis Inc.
CDC's findings showed the reasons for emergency
contraception use varied depending on race and education levels.
Hispanics and blacks were more likely than whites to report
using the drug after unprotected sex. More white women said they
used it because they were worried their other birth control
method had failed, CDC said.
Those with at least some college education were more likely
to use the pill than those with a high school education or less,
according to the report, which is based on data from the CDC's
National Survey of Family Growth.
"The women who are less likely to have access to healthcare
are more likely to say 'I didn't use another method, and I
turned to emergency contraception to protect myself,'" said
Some women may choose to use it occasionally if they cannot
afford other methods, she added.
In a separate report on Thursday, CDC looked at overall
contraceptive use and found that while the number of women using
regular birth control pills has remained flat over time, the use
of injections, patches and intrauterine devices has grown.
The number of women whose partners have used condoms also
rose, the findings showed.
That trend may reflect increased wariness among Americans to
have children amid the 2007-2009 economic recession, the effects
of which are still being felt by many, according to researchers
at the Guttmacher Institute, which also tracks birth control
"At the same time, it can make it harder for people to have
access to birth control because of costs," especially for
disadvantaged women who face higher rates of unintended
pregnancies, said Lawrence Finer, head of domestic research for
the reproductive research group.
That situation could change in the wake of the 2010
healthcare overhaul that required health insurers to begin
covering birth control last year, although the law faces legal
Religious groups, particularly Catholics, charge that the
provision violates their belief against artificial birth control
and are fighting to block it.