New study connects emergency contraception access with STDs

By Michelle Bauman

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A new study finds that raised levels of access to “emergency contraception” are correlated with heightened rates of sexually-transmitted diseases but may not decrease teen pregnancy rates.

The study’s abstract suggests that increased access to such drugs “could lead to an increase in risk taking, especially among teens or young adults, and hence lead to increased rates of sexually transmitted diseases.”

Published Dec. 5, 2012 in Economic Inquiry, the study was authored by Dr. Christine Piette Durrance, assistant professor of public policy at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Using county-level data from Washington state, it measured changes in pharmacy access to “emergency contraception.”

It determined that an increase in such access “led to a statistically significant increase in STD rates.” However, it did not find “an impact of pharmacy access on abortion or birth rates.”

Dr. Michael J. New at the University of Michigan – Dearborn said that he is not surprised by the findings because they are consistent with other research on the subject.

Studies indicate that “easier access to contraception results in more sexual activity,” he told EWTN News on Dec. 13.

He pointed to a report by the Guttmacher Institute showing that “after access to the birth control pill became widespread in the 1960s and 1970s, people became sexually active at a younger age.”

Easier access to the “morning after pill” is likely to result in “an increase in the amount of sexual activity,” he explained, which can lead to higher rates of sexually-transmitted diseases.

However, because “emergency contraception” prevents a new life or ends it shortly after it begins, it may cancel out the pregnancies that would be caused by the increased sexual activity, resulting in roughly unchanged numbers of births and surgical abortions.

The new study was released amid controversy over the promotion of “emergency contraception” among young people in the U.S.

Last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement recommending “routine counseling and advance emergency-contraception prescription” for teenage girls.

Critics of the recommendation warned that it would encourage young people to engage in unhealthy and risky sexual behavior, thinking that their actions would be free of consequences.

They also cautioned that although drugs such as Plan B and ella are known as “emergency contraception,” they can actually function as early abortion drugs, ending the life of a newly-created human embryo.

Furthermore, they argued, there has not been sufficient testing of ella’s effects on young girls for it to be recommended so broadly.

Dr. Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the San Diego-based Ruth Institute, said that the study’s basic findings are similar to “other studies from multiple countries that (show) increased access to emergency contraception does not lead to a decrease in abortion, and sometimes leads to an increase in STDs.”

“These results are consistent with the hypothesis that increased access to emergency contraception is correlated with an increase in risky sexual behavior,” she explained.

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