Skip to main content

Morning-after pill a boon for women

By Deborah Nucatola, Special to CNN
April 10, 2013 -- Updated 1659 GMT (0059 HKT)
 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
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2242 GMT (0642 HKT)
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2335 GMT (0735 HKT)
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
August 27, 2014 -- Updated 1126 GMT (1926 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2053 GMT (0453 HKT)
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1919 GMT (0319 HKT)
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1558 GMT (2358 HKT)
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1950 GMT (0350 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2052 GMT (0452 HKT)
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 1629 GMT (0029 HKT)
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
August 25, 2014 -- Updated 2104 GMT (0504 HKT)
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2145 GMT (0545 HKT)
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
August 26, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1231 GMT (2031 HKT)
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
August 24, 2014 -- Updated 0105 GMT (0905 HKT)
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 2247 GMT (0647 HKT)
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1450 GMT (2250 HKT)
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1103 GMT (1903 HKT)
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
August 22, 2014 -- Updated 1223 GMT (2023 HKT)
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1742 GMT (0142 HKT)
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1538 GMT (2338 HKT)
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
August 21, 2014 -- Updated 1200 GMT (2000 HKT)
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
August 19, 2014 -- Updated 2203 GMT (0603 HKT)
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
August 20, 2014 -- Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT)
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT