BOSTON- Some call it the "morning after" pill. Others call it the aborting pill. And still others don't even know what to call it. But at the end of the day, everyone is just talking about emergency contraceptives.
"You pop one and hope you don't get pregnant," says Molly O'Halloran, 21, a senior from Stoneham, when asked what she knows about emergency contraceptives.
She's right, but she's also wrong.
Emergency contraceptives, or EC, are large doses of progestin, a hormone used in different types of birth control. According to Sarah Fuller, a hotline coordinator for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, EC can be taken up to five days after intercourse, but its effectiveness is much higher, up to 89 percent, when taken within 72 hours.
There is a lot of confusion surrounding EC, from what it really is to how someone can get hold of it. For starters, Fuller said, people must know what EC is not the abortion pill. In fact, she pointed out, the two are quite different. EC prevents pregnancy, with the abortion pill is used to terminate an existing pregnancy.
There are also several types of EC, ranging from the popular Plan B-One Step to the lesser known ParaGard IUD, says Dr. Robert Berry, a gynecologist from Medfield, in a phone interview. He explains that while all have the same result, they are very different in approach.
The most common ED available--called Plan B-One Step, or its generic version Next Choice--comes in the form of a pill that is taken within days of intercourse. This form of EC is widely publicized and is often the first to be identified as the only choice for women. Other choices such as the Yuzpe Regimen, which was made almost obsolete with the development of Plan B, and ParaGard IUD, a copper insert, are rarely publicized, notes Dr. Berry.
Unfortunately, says Dr. Berry, not everyone is completely informed as to what is available. How people receive their information is the biggest problem, Dr. Berry says. "It surprises me how infrequently I get questions [about EC]. I have to ask if they are aware it exists and how they can purchase it." Too many depend on the media and Internet searches for their information.
Students interviewed at Boston University all agree that they get most of their information from commercials on TV, especially those for Plan B. The media and societal beliefs also play into the stigmas surrounding EC usage, some say.
"I think the people who would take something like that would be immediately considered irresponsible. I think the idea of someone becoming pregnant automatically conjures up this image of them being promiscuous, which is completely unfounded, of course," says Rab Berry, 20, a sophomore from Medfield who is also Dr. Berry's son. "But that's a stereotype I am probably guilty of, without really thinking about it. You know you think, 'You're pregnant, you're a slut'."
Stephanie Tucker, 19, a sophomore from Newton, agrees that there are stereotypes and stigmas that she is confronted with. Tucker says her biggest issue is that she views the use of EC as careless. "I mean you can just wear a condom, it's not that hard. I understand is it's an accident, but how many accidents can all these people have? It doesn't even make sense."
Emily Partridge, 22, a senior from Atlanta, thinks this belief of carelessness is one that's promoted by many anti-choice groups. Partridge, who works for the Women's Resource Center on campus, says it's important for people to be educated on the issue before passing judgment. "Accidents happens," she adds. "I think it's really important that women have access to that because it would help reduce the rate of unplanned pregnancies."
Partridge says that education and advocacy on what EC is should also become with information on the laws regarding the purchase of it.
In Massachusetts, law allows individuals over age 17 to purchase EC over the counter in pharmacies so long as they provide proper identification. For those under 17, a prescription from their primary care physician is needed.
Dr. Berry, however, says that there are regulations for the pharmacies that provide EC for their customers. He says that in order for a pharmacy to be able to provide EC, they must have the backing of a physician who will provide his/her name as a backup.
Among students, there's a disagreement over whether there should be laws regulation the when and how individuals can purchase EC. O'Halloran, who is a political science and history major, says she agrees with the regulation surround EC. "For the most part, the laws are pretty attainable," she says. Without them she adds, there might be possibilities of misuse.
Rab, however, sees things differently. "I honestly don't see what there is to oppose. If you need Plan B because you're not prepared to have a pregnancy, then I don't see why anyone should comment on that," he says.
Tucker, who was raised in a traditionally Catholic and pro-life household, agrees with O'Halloran, and says, "If it weren't for these constraints, I feel like people would be even more careless then they are now."
But Partridge disagrees that people would be careless, or even that they abuse it now. "I don't think they do, because it's expensive. I mean you can get birth control for four dollars a month, EC costs anywhere from thirty dollars to fifty dollars, depending on where you get it. I don't think people would use it as birth control, because it doesn't make sense financially."
Dr. Berry doesn't dismiss the possibility of abuse. He says the risks are high for women who continuously use EC as a form of birth control.
The biggest problem he sees is that women who use it as birth control are in denial and are not proactively using proper contraceptives. He also says women can experience bleeding and may disrupt their menstrual cycles. There's also a small risk of ectopic pregnancies, those that occur in the fallopian tubes, which may lead to death.
Without information being given to students, and the public in general, the confusions and debates surrounding EC may continue.
Partridge says, "I think there needs to be more advocacy, more information out there about what it is, what it does, and I think that's what's going to really help."