Emergency Contraception: An Important Component of Women's Rights

Read our EC briefing paper (PDF) also available in Spanish

EXAMPLES OF SITUATIONS WHEN WOMEN CONSIDER EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION

  • She has a sexual encounter and uses contraception, but the condom breaks or the contraception fails
  • She is raped in her home, on the street, or in an armed conflict
  • She does not want to become pregnant
  • She faces health risks if she were to become pregnant
  • She is being held in a refugee camp and cannot adequately plan for her future
- 210 million women worldwide are estimated to become pregnant each year, but 80 million of those pregnancies are unplanned
- Unintended pregnancies result in 19 million unsafe abortions annually worldwide
- Pregnancy-related causes kill 530,000 women annually


EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION ADVANCES WOMEN'S RIGHTS

Emergency Contraception is valuable because it:

  • prevents unwanted pregnancies
  • serves women's health needs
  • advances reproductive self-determination

EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION PREVENTS PREGNANCY

Emergency Contraception - or EC - is a method of preventing pregnancy within a few hours or a few days after unprotected sexual intercourse, according to the definition of the World Health Organization.

Pregnancy begins when the fertilized egg is implanted in the woman's uterine wall. This occurs at the end of the first week after conception. Emergency Contraception acts prior to implantation (or the onset of pregnancy).

METHODS OF EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION

Emergency Contraception pills provide an elevated dose of the hormones in ordinary oral contraceptive pills and contain either a combination of estrogen and progestin, or progestin only. EC pills are generally taken within 72-120 hours of unprotected intercourse. The sooner they are taken the more likely they are to prevent pregnancy. An IUD, when inserted within seven days after unprotected intercourse, may also be used as an EC method.

EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION WORKS AFTER UNPROTECTED SEX

Because emergency contraception is used at all stages of a woman's menstrual cycle, its mode of action varies. After intercourse, Emergency Contraception may prevent pregnancy by delaying or inhibiting ovulation, inhibiting fertilization, or inhibiting implantation of the fertilized egg.

EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION CANNOT BE EQUATED WITH ABORTION

Some extremist groups seek to prevent access to Emergency Contraception by equating Emergency Contraception with abortion, which they also oppose. These groups are out-of-step with the mainstream medical community and their views find no support in the laws and policies of countries around the world. Abortion is a means of terminating a pregnancy, which begins after implantation of the fertilized egg in the uterine wall. Emergency Contraception acts to prevent pregnancy. Efforts to block access to Emergency Contraception are unwarranted and must be seen as part of an attempt to ban all family planning.

EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION IS SUPPORTED BY THE WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION

Countries in all major geographical regions of the world have registered dedicated products. These include, among others: Argentina, Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, France, Germany, Jamaica, Kenya, New Zealand, Poland, and the United States.

WOMEN WORLDWIDE ARE ENTITLED TO ACCESS TO EMERGENCY CONTRACEPTION

Emergency Contraception should be available and accessible to women around the world. It is a part of women's reproductive health rights. Reproductive rights are human rights.

EXAMPLES OF COUNTRIES (BY REGION) WHERE EC IS AVAILABLE WITHOUT A PRESCRIPTION:

  • The Caribbean: Jamaica
  • Latin America: Argentina
  • Western Europe: Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Norway, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom
  • Eastern Europe: Albania, Lithuania
  • Africa: Benin, Cameroon, Côte d’Ivoire, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritius, Morocco, Namibia, Republic of Congo, Senegal, South Africa, Togo, Tunisia
  • Middle East: Israel
  • Asia: China, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Vietnam
  • Oceania: Australia, New Zealand

Selected Sources:
Anika Rahman, et.al., A Global Review of Laws on Induced Abortion, 1985-1997, 24 INTERNATIONAL FAMILY PLANNING PERSPECTIVES 56 (1998)
James Trussell et.al., Emergency Contraception: A Cost-Effective Approach to Preventing Unintended Pregnancy 1 WOMEN'S HEALTH IN PRIMARY CARE 55 (1988)
Williams Obstetrics (19th Ed. 1993)
World Health Organization, Emergency Contraception, A Guide for Service Delivery ) (1998)

For more information, see our Briefing Paper entitled Governments Worldwide Put Emergency Contraception into Women's Hands: A Global Review of Laws and Policies (PDF, 19 pages)