UNC students can get prescriptions for emergency contraceptive pills, known as ECPs, on demand from the Student Health Service pharmacy, said Dr. Mary Schlegel, director of Women's Health at SHS.
She said SHS aims to offer solutions for all situations and that there is nowhere else women can get the pills when other contraceptive measures fail.
Women also can call the Planned Parenthood of North Carolina hotline that allows women of all ages to get a prescription for ECPs without first consulting a doctor.
Janet Colm, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Orange and Durham Counties, said after callers pass a quick medical screening process over the phone, Planned Parenthood workers call in the prescription to a pharmacy for them. The main purpose of the screening process, Colm said, is to ensure the caller is not already pregnant, in which case the contraceptive pill would be of no use.
But Schlegel said women who mistakenly take ECPs when already pregnant are at no risk whatsoever.
Callers usually can pick up their prescriptions from the pharmacy within six hours of calling the hotline, Colm said. The cost of the prescription depends on the pharmacy. Colm said the hotline, called Dial EC, has operated for about a week and has received about 40 calls. "We've been pleased with the results so far," Colm said. "Most see this as a positive step. If we can prevent unplanned pregnancy, we can prevent abortion."
Colm said ECPs are not a method of abortion and emphasized the difference between ECPs and the abortion pill RU-486 that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration last September.
ECPs are a form of emergency contraception that works before the egg is fertilized, generally only during the first 72 hours after intercourse, Colm said.
Dial EC Project Manager Shaina Gross said the hotline project is motivated by the fact that women have such a short time between intercourse and fertilization to act against pregnancy.
"It's really hard for women to get a doctor's appointment and find a pharmacy that carries (the drug) within 72 hours," she said.
The hotline legally offers prescriptions to women of all ages, even minors, in North Carolina, and callers can get unlimited dosages of the drug, Colm said. She said Planned Parenthood has a policy of helping all people who come to them and doesn't use age as a reason to withhold prescriptions, though she said the callers should involve their parents in the decision.
Although Dial EC does not assist pregnant women in getting abortions, the March for Life Fund Corporation, a pro-life organization in Washington, D.C., is against the dispensing and usage of ECPs. "You can't be taking these powerful drugs without a doctor taking care of you," said Nellie Gray, president of the March for Life Fund Corporation. "Women's lives are being put in jeopardy by letting them handle these powerful chemicals."
But medical studies show ECPs, when used responsibly, are not harmful to women's health, said Dr. Nancy Chescheir of UNC Hospitals.
Chescheir said the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recently has supported making ECPs available over the counter. An ACOG press release stated that almost half of the 6.3 million pregnancies in the United States each year are unintended and that emergency contraception has the potential to cut that figure in half.
Chescheir said taking the pill is not a health issue when done on occasion because of episodic unprotected sex, failure of other contraceptives or sexual assault. "It is perfectly safe for women to take the drug in this manner."
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