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Health center offers 'morning after pill'

By Sarah Spivack
Arizona Daily Wildcat
September 16, 1998
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Although the UA Student Health Center offers a "morning after pill," UA gynecologists say most students aren't aware the emergency contraceptive is available on campus.

But with a recently approved contraceptive kit available, University of Arizona doctors hope to make the method of prevention more accessible.

Dr. Jessica Byron, a UA women's health department physician, said the center receives about five requests a week for emergency prevention of contraception.

Emergency contraception involves taking a series of ordinary birth control pills during the course of 12 hours. If a woman takes the pills within a three-day window after intercourse, the dose reduces the risk of pregnancy by 75 percent.

Byron said the contraceptive method "decreases the number of unwanted pregnancies dramatically," but added that many students have not heard of the pills.

"I hope students are aware this is available to them ... if people have an accident on Friday, Monday is not too late (to prevent conception)," Byron said.

Byron said she hopes the Health Center will offer the new "PREVEN Emergency Contraceptive Kit," recently approved by the FDA, which includes a set of pills, a pregnancy test and an informative pamphlet.

Until Gynetics Inc. developed the PREVEN Kits, the "morning after" pills were not widely accessible. Pill users or distributors had to break pills out of monthly packages of ordinary oral contraceptives and the dosages varied, depending on the brand used.

"They (emergency contraceptives) were a well-kept secret," said Patti Caldwell, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Southern Arizona.

Gynetics' new packaging of the product will make providers much more likely to offer such pills to patients, Caldwell said. Instead of having to make last-minute appointments at clinics, women will be able to obtain PREVEN kits to have on hand in the case of condom breakage or other accidents.

"This is something that can be kept in the medicine cabinet ... it's emergency contraception to-go," Caldwell said.

Given their limited success rate, emergency contraception pills are most useful as a last resort if preventative methods fail.

Half of all unwanted pregnancies could be avoided by using the emergency pills, including pregnancies that result in 800,000 induced abortions per year, according to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Alan Guttmacher Institution.

The increased availability of emergency contraception was greeted positively by some UA students.

"It could help prevent a lot of unwanted pregnancies and a lot of ruined lives," said undeclared freshman Matt Rodier.

Andrea Melillo, a creative writing junior, said the birth control method would appeal to a large audience.

"People who wouldn't have abortions for religious reasons would be more inclined to use it (emergency contraception)," she said.

Some students were not so sure, expressing concerns that people would use the pills as a primary source of birth control.

"It might give people reason to act irresponsibly ... but uncontrollable circumstances do arise even if you're careful," said marketing sophomore Susannah Levy.

The UA Health Center schedules counseling sessions for students taking the pills, informs patients of the risk of sexually transmitted diseases in the event of condom breakage and emphasizes the importance of follow-up visits.

Sarah Spivack can be reached via e-mail at Sarah.Spivack@wildcat.arizona.edu.