Rates of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) were the same at the end of the six-month study regardless of whether women had increased access to EC.
In the study, published in the January 5 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, 2,117 women age 15-24 in two San Francisco Bay Area cities were randomly assigned to one of three groups, each providing a different degree of accessibility to EC. The women either were instructed to get emergency contraception directly from pharmacists (without a prescription), were provided with three doses of emergency contraception in advance, or were assigned to get the drug by going through a clinic (the study's "control" group).
Six states, including California, allow emergency contraception to be dispensed at pharmacies without a prescription in cases where pharmacists have been specially trained and have a collaborative agreement with physicians that allows them to dispense EC. Clinic or healthcare provider access is the standard of care in the United States.
The participants, who received the emergency contraception at no cost, received some basic education about the use and limitations of EC, which does not protect against STIs.
Although the study was limited to women who stated their intention to avoid pregnancy for the duration of the trial, eight percent of women in each group became pregnant. About 40 percent of women in each group self-reported having unprotected sex at least once over the study period. Women's number of sexual partners and frequency of condom use were similar across all three groups.