Marston, from the Imperial College Faculty of Medicine in London, and her team surveyed women ages 16 to 49 years in 2000, 2001 and 2002 regarding their use of contraceptives in general. Answers to the surveys showed that the proportion of women reporting current use of contraception remained unchanged over time. Overall use of emergency contraception also remained the same.
For example, the proportion using emergency contraception once per year was 6.5 percent, 6.3 percent and 5.6 percent during each period. The proportion using emergency contraception more than once was 2.0 percent, 1.5 percent and 1.7 percent.
The only apparent change over time was in the places where women procured emergency contraception. The proportions obtaining the morning-after pill from a pharmacy increased from zero in 2000 to 19.7 percent in 2001 and 32.6 percent in 2002. During the same periods, fewer women obtained emergency contraception from a general practitioner or a family planning clinic.
"The sharp rise in the proportion of women buying emergency hormonal contraception over the counter indicates that many women prefer this way of obtaining it," Marston and her colleagues maintain. Easier access is likely to have prevented more pregnancies, they add.
"Given the apparent absences of negative consequences, and the fact that many women clearly prefer to buy emergency hormonal contraception over the counter," the team concludes, "our study supports the case for lifting the ban on over-the-counter sales of emergency hormonal contraception in the United States and other countries."
SOURCE: BMJ Online First, July 8, 2005.