A New Medicine Cabinet Staple?

The incoming head of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists wants American women to be able to have advance prescriptions of "morning-after" pills to prevent pregnancy from unprotected sex.

Dr. Thomas F. Purdon is asking the nation's 40,000 ob-gyns to routinely offer women of childbearing age advance prescriptions for emergency contraceptives during annual checkups. He made his call at Monday's annual ACOG meeting.

About three million pregnancies in the U.S. every year are unintended and more than a million of them result in abortion.

Making emergency contraceptives – essentially high-dose birth control pills - readily available could potentially prevent a number of unintended pregnancies. The pills are designed to prevent conception by blocking the release of eggs from a woman's ovaries. If ovulation has already occurred when a woman has unprotected sex, they may also prevent the fertilized from implanting in the uterus. The pills don't work if implantation has already occurred. They are different from the controversial RU-486 pills, which cause miscarriages.

"The impact is just incredible and I don't think that we've paid enough attention to it," Purdon said.

"We know if it's in the house, women will use it more," said Los Angeles ob-gyn Dr. Anita Nelson. She already offers advance prescriptions to her patients.

The morning-after pills are available in Europe and in the state of Washington. Since 1998 they have been attainable in the U.S. through a doctor's prescription – necessitating a visit to the doctor's office. Some Planned Parenthood clinics also offer women advance prescriptions. But many pharmacies don't stock them and women usually have to call around before finding one that does.

The academy says only 1 percent of women have ever used the morning-after pills.

Many advocates of the morning-after pills are calling for them to be sold over-the-counter. So far the FDA has not approved such sales.

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