Skip to main content

Morning-after pill a boon for women

By Deborah Nucatola, Special to CNN
updated 12:59 PM EDT, Wed April 10, 2013
 A federal judge in New York City last week ruled that emergency contraception be made available to younger teens without a prescription.
A federal judge in New York City last week ruled that emergency contraception be made available to younger teens without a prescription.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Deborah Nucatola: Judge lifts age and sale restrictions on emergency contraception
  • It's boon for young women, she says; time a crucial factor in preventing unwanted pregnancy
  • She says "Plan B" postpones ovulation to prevent pregnancy; studies show it's safe for teens
  • Nucatola: It will provide a safe, effective way to prevent pregnancy, reduce need for abortion

Editor's note: Deborah Nucatola is a physician and the senior director of medical services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

(CNN) -- Last week, a federal judge issued a decision lifting the age and point-of-sale restrictions on emergency contraception, citing solid scientific and medical research showing that it is safe and effective in preventing unintended pregnancy.

This is great news for all women because these restrictions created confusion and barriers, and when unprotected sex has occurred, time is a crucial factor. Emergency contraception can prevent pregnancy for up to five days after intercourse, but the sooner it's used the more effective it is.

That's why women's health providers and activists lobbied to make emergency contraception available without a prescription — to reduce delays. And because emergency contraception is safe, making it over-the-counter was a big step in creating better access to birth control.

Deborah Nucatola
Deborah Nucatola

Clearing up confusion about what emergency contraception is and how it works has been more challenging.

It's a fact that emergency contraception is birth control. The reality is, pregnancy doesn't happen right after sex. It can take up to six days for the sperm and egg to meet after intercourse. That's why it's possible to prevent pregnancy even after the fact. Emergency contraception postpones ovulation, which prevents sperm from coming in contact with and fertilizing an egg. Pregnancy can't happen if there is no egg to join with sperm.

In contrast, the so-called "abortion pill," mifepristone, works by blocking the hormone progesterone, which is needed for a pregnancy to continue. So there's a big difference between emergency contraception and nonsurgical abortion.

There was much talk last week about the implications of lifting the age restrictions. Some of it was motivated by safety concerns, which is a good and natural question to ask about any medication.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



It's a fact that doctors have been prescribing emergency birth control since the 1960s, and there have been no reports of serious complications. More to the point, studies have repeatedly shown that emergency contraception is safe for use by women of all ages, including teens.

Another concern among some is that access to emergency contraception will increase the rates of unprotected sex, especially among teens. There is no evidence to support this.

It's a fact that rates of unprotected sex do not increase when there is more access to emergency contraception. Research also indicates that teens understand how to use emergency contraception and that it is not intended for ongoing, regular use.

The bottom line is that the use of reliable birth control is the best way to prevent an unintended pregnancy, but the fact is that unprotected sex does occur and sometimes birth control methods do fail. A condom could break, a woman could forget to take a pill, or nonconsensual sex could occur.

That's why when a woman fears she might become pregnant after her contraceptive has failed or she has had unprotected sex, she needs fast access to emergency contraception, not delays at the pharmacy counter. Lifting these restrictions will allow emergency contraception to be stocked on store shelves, making it more accessible to everyone. It will provide a safe, effective way to prevent pregnancy and reduce the need for abortion

That's why last week's ruling is so important — it's based on good science and good sense. And that's a fact.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Deborah Nucatola.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:19 PM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
As a woman whose parents had cancer, I have quite a few things to say about dying with dignity.
updated 9:04 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
David Gergen says he'll have a special eye on a few particular races in Tuesday's midterms that may tell us about our long-term future.
updated 10:52 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
What's behind the uptick in clown sightings? And why the fascination with them? It could be about the economy.
updated 9:01 AM EDT, Fri October 31, 2014
Midterm elections don't usually have the same excitement as presidential elections. That should change, writes Sally Kohn.
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mike Downey says the Giants and the Royals both lived through long title droughts. What teams are waiting for a win?
updated 2:32 PM EDT, Thu October 30, 2014
Mel Robbins says if a man wants to talk to a woman on the street, he should follow 3 basic rules.
updated 5:03 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say more terrorism plots are disrupted by families than by NSA surveillance.
updated 5:25 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Time magazine has clearly kicked up a hornet's nest with its downright insulting cover headlined "Rotten Apples," says Donna Brazile.
updated 4:55 PM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Leroy Chiao says the failure of the launch is painful but won't stop the trend toward commercializing space.
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Wed October 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley: Though Jeb Bush has something to offer, another Bush-Clinton race would be a step backward.
updated 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT