* 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.
The CDC's findings come amid a renewed fight over birth
control access as religious groups push back against President
Barack Obama's 2010 health care law, which includes a provision
requiring health insurance coverage of contraception.
Many conservative groups, including Catholic institutions
that oppose use of artificial birth control - especially
morning-after pills, are challenging the rule, saying its
religious exemption is too narrow.
A separate CDC report, also released on Thursday, found that
99 percent of sexually active women of reproductive age have
used some form of contraception, with the use of condoms and
longer-term, non-pill methods on the rise.
Emergency contraception has been available by prescription
in the United States since 1999. One version, known as Plan B,
has stirred the most political controversy.
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 allowed sales to 17-year-olds.
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
with no age restrictions after U.S. Health Secretary Kathleen
Sebelius in 2011 took an unprecedented step of intervening in an
FDA decision and rejecting the latest petition to loosen sales.
"This data shows the importance of expanding access to
emergency contraception to all women of reproductive age," said
Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical services at Planned
Parenthood Federation of America.
Critics, who liken the drug to abortion, lamented the
The rise in emergency contraception use "is the sad result
of deceptive labeling," Anna Franzonello, an attorney for
Americans United for Life.
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.
CONTRACEPTION AND COSTS
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
Allina. Some women may choose to use it occasionally if they
cannot afford other methods, she added.
Overall, the number of women using regular birth control
pills has remained flat over time while the use of injections,
patches and intrauterine devices has grown, CDC reported in
separate findings. The number of women whose partners have used
condoms also rose, data 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 the
Guttmacher Institute, which also tracks contraception use.
"At the same time, it can make it harder for people to have
access to birth control because of costs," especially for
disadvantaged women at higher risk for unintended pregnancies,
said Lawrence Finer of the reproductive research group.
That could change in the wake of Obama's healthcare
overhaul, added Finer, who oversees the institute's domestic
The law aims to extend health insurance to more people,
including lower income Americans, and requires insurers to cover
prescription birth control without a co-payment.