Emergency Pill Free on 'Free EC Day'

More than 350 Planned Parenthood health centers across the country will offer free emergency contraception (EC) in their communities today.

Clinics will give away the so-called "morning after pill," or Plan B, to both men and women at no cost, while supplies last.

The pill will be available to women and men of all ages, in most locations.

The pill is only approved by the Food and Drug Administration as an over-the-counter medication to women age 18 and older.

Because Planned Parenthood clinics are health centers that are staffed by doctors, women younger than 17 will have free access to the medical examinations and prescriptions they need to legally obtain the pill.

The exams and prescriptions are daily offerings at the clinics.

The morning after pill is meant to be taken within five days of unprotected intercourse to prevent pregnancy from progressing.

It is not intended to be used as a single method of birth control, but as a backup method in case of emergency.

Planned Parenthood, a nonprofit agency that educates people about their sexual health, intends for the day -- "EC day" -- to "increase awareness of this important backup method of contraception," according to a news release.

Most doctors, who might usually prescribe the pill, are excited about EC day.

"Leave it to Planned Parenthood to give it away for free," said Dr. Lauren Streicher, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University School of Medicine in Chicago.

"What a great way to increase awareness," Streicher said. "Given that 50 percent of the unplanned pregnancies in this country are from failed contraception -- as opposed to no attempt at contraception -- anything that increases the awareness of and availability of emergency contraception is welcome. I hand out prescriptions to every woman that is not on hormonal contraception who I think might be at risk."

Shifting Image for Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood believes that every woman should have this emergency contraceptive on hand as a backup method in case of contraceptive failure.

"Emergency contraception is a safe, effective backup birth control option that every woman should have in her medicine cabinet and know how to use," said Dr. Vanessa Cullins, vice president for medical affairs at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a news release.

"Planned Parenthood is committed to educating women and couples about emergency contraception and all their birth control options," Cullins said.

Planned Parenthood is also committed to shifting its image, doctors suggest.

"Planned Parenthood's new focus is woman's health, completely. [The organization is] trying to get away from being seen as an abortion provider," said Jacques Moritz, an OB-GYN at St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital in New York.

"They want to be a low-cost provider in women's health," she said. "There are millions of women that can't afford to see a doc for health care. Also since EC needs to be used quickly and getting an appointment with a gynecologist can be tough. … I'm booked until April. … This move will help."

Studies suggest that, if used effectively, EC lowers the risk of pregnancy when started within five days of intercourse.

The sooner EC is administered, the better it works, so experts say that timely access to the pill is critical.

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