Almost 1 in 9 young women who are sexually active have used the morning-after pill after sex, more than double the rate that used it 11 years ago, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released today.
The study, which evaluated women between 15 and 44, found that 5.8 million women-11 percent-used the morning-after pill between 2006 and 2010, compared to 4 percent in 2002. For women between 20 and 24, the rate was even higher: 1 in 4 women who had ever had sex used the drug at some point.
The increased popularity of the drug stems in part from easier access and media coverage of efforts to lift the age limit for the over-the-counter sales. Women over 17 do not need a prescription to buy the morning-after pill but must request it from a pharmacy.
Under President Barack Obama's healthcare reform, employers will be required to cover birth control, including morning-after pills, which likely will increase their use in the future.
Supporters of morning-after pills, which are sold under the names Plan B, Ella and Preven, claim they are merely contraceptive drugs that delay or prevent ovulation, so the egg is never fertilized. But a second mechanism of the pill prevents a fertilized egg from implanting, which makes it an abortifacient drug.
The effectiveness of the morning-after pill has also been called into question. Researchers who demanded making it non-prescription found in 2007 that the pill does not reduce either abortion or pregnancy rates. "No study has shown that increased access to this method reduces unintended pregnancy or abortion rates on a population level," the authors wrote. They also said the drug's effectiveness may be "substantially" overstated.
Americans United for Life (AUL) Attorney Anna Franzonello said in a statement the increase in use shows many women don't know what the drugs really do: "AUL's concern that life-ending drugs are being deceptively labeled as 'contraception' has only increased since the period that the CDC's national Center for Health Services (NCHS) study examined."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.