Easy availability of emergency contraception does not have a notable effect on rates of pregnancy and abortion, according to an editorial in this week's BMJ.
The usefulness of emergency contraception is questioned by Professor Anna Glasier, director of family planning and well woman services of Lothian Primary Care NHS Trust, Edinburgh, who says it does help some women some of the time, who do not want to get pregnant.
Use of this form of contraception has increased in the UK in recent years and whereas 1% of women requesting an abortion in 1984 said they had used it to try and prevent the pregnancy, 6% of women had done so in 1996 and 12% in 2002.
Emergency contraception has been heralded as the solution to rising abortion rates, says Professor Glasier, but in the UK, abortion rates have increased from 11 per 1,000 women aged 15-44 in 1984 (136,388 abortions) to 17.8 per 1,000 women in 2004 (185,400 abortions) despite the increased use of emergency contraception.
Ten different studies carried out in different countries showed that giving women a supply of emergency contraception to keep at home increased its use by twofold or threefold, but had no measurable effect on rates of pregnancy or abortion.
Most women who did not use their supply, said they did not realise they had put themselves at risk of pregnancy.
Professor Glasier writes: "If you are looking for an intervention that will reduce abortion rates, emergency contraception may not be the solution and perhaps you should concentrate most on encouraging people to use contraception before or during sex, not after it."
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