Advance provision of emergency contraception was found to be ineffective at reducing unwanted pregnancy after review of several studies.
A collaborative effort of family planning researchers have concluded that providing emergency contraception in advance to large populations of women may not be as effective as believed.
The research, published in issue three of 2010’s Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, was based on a review of 11 different studies involving nearly 7,700 women from China, India, Sweden and the United States. Researchers specifically looked for correlations between advance emergency contraception provision and pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates. The team also looked at sexual habits and contraception use.
Family planning researcher Dr. Chelsea Polis, of Johns Hopkins University’s Bloomberg School of Public Health, explained the intent to The Voice of America, stating, “Advance provision of emergency contraception is the idea that providing women with a packet or several packets of pills in advance of need will allow them to access the medication more quickly, and that by accessing it more quickly, they’ll be able to use it within that recommended time frame.”
After analysis of the studies, the research team found similar pregnancy rates in women who had advance access to emergency contraception, compared to those women who didn’t. They also found that emergency contraception given in advance neither increased rates of unprotected sex and STIs, nor altered usage of other contraceptive methods.
The team did find that women who had advance access did use it an average of 13 hours sooner than women who didn’t, and those women were more likely to use emergency contraception at all.
Dr. Polis explained that the strategy didn’t work due to something called a “population level effect.”
“When you can’t say for sure whether all the women in the advance provision group actually used the medication, then you’re kind of looking at population level effect of a strategy, not the individual effect of a medication,” she told The Voice of America.
“Some women may not use emergency contraception when needed, even if they have it in advance,” she further explained in the research summary. “Like condoms, emergency contraception will not work if it is not used.”
The researchers suggested that family planning experts continue to focus on explaining pregnancy risks and ways to reduce those risks.
“Women should still be given information about and easy access to emergency contraception, because it is a safe and effective way to prevent unintended pregnancies for individual women who will use it when needed,” said Dr. Polis.