Health center offers “morning-after pill”

Daniel Purves, Staff Writer

The Student Health Center is now providing the “morning-after pill” (emergency contraceptive) to Francis Marion University students at one-third of the price normally charged by pharmacies.

“We are improving the access to emergency contraceptives,” Assistant Professor of Nursing Karen Thompson said. “The Plan B One-Step emergency contraception usually sells for between $40 and $50, but the student health service is providing it for $15.”

Women between the ages of 19 and 24 have the highest rate of unintended pregnancies. Thirty-eight percent of the 63,077 total births in South Carolina during 2008 occurred in women between the ages of 18 and 24 years.

Unmarried women, regardless of ethnicity, accounted for approximately 70 percent of these pregnancies.

According to a health survey conducted last month, FMU is on par with most other institutions for unplanned pregnancies.

“About 80 percent of students are already sexually active by the time they enter FMU,” Thompson said. “The rate of unintended pregnancies is three percent, though we think it might be higher.”

“I think it’s a pretty decent idea offering this service considering people aren’t going to take the abstinence route,” a sexually active FMU junior said. “This will further help prevent unwanted pregnancy, and sure, if I was in a tight spot, I would definitely use it.”

“From experience with friends, honestly I think a lot of them are pretty stupid about sexual health. It’s basic common sense to use condoms and/or birth control. Condoms not only help aid against pregnancy, but sexually transmitted diseases.”

The Plan B One-Step emergency contraception is what Thompson calls the “oops” method, for when a condom has been used but it has broken, or when a contraceptive has not been used at all.

“Ideally it needs to be taken within 72 hours of having sex, though the sooner the better,” Thompson said.

Plan B One-Step emergency contraception works by using progesterone, a hormone naturally found in women, to throw off the menstrual cycle.

Is it recommended to take it within three days because while an egg can usually survive for 24 hours inside a woman, the lifespan of sperm is 72 hours, though in some cases it has been as long as 124 hours. If a woman ovulates during this time, there is a chance of getting pregnant.

According to clinical trials carried out by TEVA, the pharmaceutical company that manufactures Plan B One-Step emergency contraception, “nearly seven of eight expected pregnancies were prevented” when the pill was taken within 72 hours of unprotected intercourse.

“Nothing is 100 percent, but I think that college students and young adults have had plenty of opportunities to learn about sexual health and know what they should be doing in certain situations,” the junior said. “If they choose to have unprotected sex, they have to suffer the consequences of that, if there are any.”

The Plan B One-Step emergency contraception does have side effects on some users, including heavier menstrual bleeding, nausea, lower abdominal pain and fatigue. It does not protect against HIV, the virus that causes AIDs, or other sexually transmitted infections.

“This is not the abortion pill:  it does not cause an abortion,” Thompson said. “If someone is pregnant already, it will not have an effect.”

It is estimated that almost half of unplanned pregnancies end by elective abortion. Women between the ages of 18 and 24 accounted for 44 percent of these abortions, though the abortion rate in South Carolina has been dropping, Thompson said. Abortion is legal and an option –  there are six clinics in the state – but it is not a situation that Thompson wants women to have to face.

“I want students to get out of here with only a diploma,” Thompson said.

Those wishing to receive medical consultation (which the Student Health Center provides free of charge) and the Plan B One-Step emergency contraception can call the Student Health Center at (843) 661-1844 or walk in to arrange an appointment.