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Morning-after pill safe

You've taken the precautions. You are on the pill, used a condom, were fitted for a diaphragm or have an IUD. But something went wrong, and despite your best efforts, you're afraid you could be facing an unplanned pregnancy You have three options.

You've taken the precautions. You are on the pill, used a condom, were fitted for a diaphragm or have an IUD. But something went wrong, and despite your best efforts, you're afraid you could be facing an unplanned pregnancy

You have three options.

You can decide to have a baby - even if you don't want a child. You can choose to have an abortion. Or you can ask for "morning after" or emergency contraception pills (ECPs).

Unfortunately for many women, this 30-year-old medical answer to failed birth control is the centre of some serious misunderstandings these days. I'd like to clarify what these pills are, how they work, when they work, what they do and what they don't do.

ECPs have long been available through doctors, clinics and Planned Parenthood outlets. As of last Dec. 1, certified pharmacists across the province can also determine if the timing is right,

As long as the woman takes ECPs within 72 hours, there is an 87 per cent chance she will not get pregnant.

It's safe and it's effective. So what's the problem?

First, many people mistakenly think ECPs are abortion pills, They are not. Instead of ending a pregnancy, they prevent pregnancy from occurring in the first place. They are a short course, high-dose regimen of birth control pills. Just like traditional birth control pills, ECPs prevent ovulation, prevent fertilization and prevent implantation in the wall of the uterus.

ECPs must be taken within 72 hours to be effective. If the egg is fertilized and attaches to the wall of the uterus, the woman is pregnant and it's too late for these "Morning after" pills.

Some people worry women will stop visiting their own doctors and rely on pharmacists for birth control. Evidence from Washington state, where pharmacists have been prescribing ECPs for three years, shows that's not likely. In fact, referrals to doctors and family planning clinics increased because of easier access to the pills and the accompanying information.

Others believe ECPs will encourage unprotected sex by reducing fear of pregnancy. Again, the evidence from Washington state proves that wrong. More than half of the women requested ECPs because regular birth control failed. They were responsible and used contraception, but when it failed, they turned to a reliable alternative.

I believe pregnancy and reproduction are intensely personal decisions with repercussions that last a lifetime. When the first line of defence fails, emergency contraception pills are a safe and effective backup. They are already available to women who can visit a doctor in time. Putting them in the hands of pharmacists makes them more available to everyone.

Evelyn Gillespie is provincial minister of women's equality.