Emergency contraceptive use up among younger American women
By Maricia Guzman, NewsNetNebraska
Sharee Rusk was driving home from her boyfriend’s house when she saw she had a text from him.
“I think you should get the Plan B pill.”
At the time, 17-year-old Rusk didn’t even know what Plan B was.
All Rusk felt was scared. Earlier that evening she had been intimate for the first time in her life. She had trusted her boyfriend to take the right precautions but the room was dark and she had no idea of what to expect.
“If I got pregnant by him it would’ve been a disaster,” she said.
In recent years, emergency contraceptive use has increased among young American women, a study found.
One out of every four women in their early 20s said they had used an emergency contraceptive or “morning-after” pill at least once, according to a National Center for Health Statistics study released earlier this month.
Overall, the study found that 11 percent of American women ages 15-44 had used an emergency contraceptive during 2006-2010, which is up from just four percent in 2002.
The Plan B pill is one of the most common forms of emergency contraceptives and is offered over-the-counter at any pharmacy, including the University Health Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Plan B is essentially a high dose levonorgestrel, which is a hormone commonly found in birth control pills. Depending on where a woman is in her menstrual cycle Plan B will stop her from ovulating (producing an egg from her ovary), prevent fertilization of the egg or prevent an egg from attaching to the womb.
How effective the pill is depends on how soon it is taken after unprotected sex, most health care providers recommend within 72 hours.
In 2009, Plan B became available over-the-counter to women ages 17 and older. Today, prices range from $30 to $60, making the pill more accessible to younger women.
After her boyfriend’s request and a little internet research, Rusk and her friend went to a local Tucson, Arizona pharmacy to purchase an emergency contraceptive.
For Rusk, getting the Plan B pill was easy and legal but she still felt horrible when she went in to purchase it.
“I knew I wasn’t ready to have a baby and I needed to take the pill,” Rusk said, “but I still felt shameful going in to get it.”
At the time when Rusk bought her first Plan B pill, the medication still came in two doses. She took the first right away and had to take the other after so many hours had passed. In Rusk’s case, she anxiously awaited to take it at 5 a.m.
Rusk didn’t get pregnant and she eventually came to UNL to pursue a degree in elementary education. But when she was 19, she found herself in another difficult situation.
After not using any protection with a partner, she decided to go to a CVS and purchase the Plan B pill again. This time the pill came in one dose, but she still felt bad for having to resort to emergency contraception.
“We weren’t in a relationship and I had heard things about him but I didn’t want to believe it then,” Rusk said. “I later realized what kind of guy he was and I knew I had been responsible by taking the pill.”
In both instances the financial responsibility of purchasing the pill fell on Rusk. At $30-$60 per dose, Plan B isn’t cheap.
“Both times the guys told me they would help me pay for it,” Rusk said. “Neither of them actually did.”
But Rusk is confident she made the best decision for herself and her future, both times.
There is still debate of whether or not Plan B should be offered to girls younger than 17.
Jodi Chewakin, an Academic Director at Union College and a women’s health professional, believes all girls should have access to the Plan B pill.
“I think it should be available to all girls who need it not just to a certain age group,” Chewakin said.
She also said that how effective the Plan B pill is isn’t based on age but rather BMI and weight.
“We’ve found that in women who are overweight or obese, the effectiveness of both emergency contraceptives and birth control is lower,” she said.
While emergency contraceptives, like Plan B, do not affect a woman’s fertility or long term health, Chewakin said girls who find that they are taking it often should look into other birth control methods.
“It’s an option that all girls should be educated on, and if it’s used, girls should still contact their health care providers to see if they should be on some kind of birth control,” she said.
It’s also an option that Rusk is thankful she had because it allowed her to have the life she has now.
Today, Rusk is a senior at UNL. She also has a fiancé and is 17 weeks pregnant.
“I couldn’t imagine having children with anyone else but him,” Rusk said. “He treats me well, he’s ready to be a dad, we have a house, we’re finishing up school and we’ll soon start our careers.”
Although Rusk knows in her case Plan B was the right decision, she wants others to know that taking it all the time isn’t a good thing.
“If you know you’re not ready, you shouldn’t have sex in the first place,” she said. “If you do have sex you need to use protection in the beginning; don’t walk in into the store and buy it (Plan B) like its candy.”
Rusk said she was involved in bad relationships over the years and couldn’t talk to her parents about being sexually active. Now, after making her own mistakes and coming out on the other side, she hopes sharing her story will help girls to learn about the options they have.
“The more open we are and the more knowledge there is out there for girls, the more they will be able to make better decisions,” she said.