The one thing that activists on every side of the abortion debate agree on is that we should reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies. There are 3 million unintended pregnancies each year in the United States; around 1.4 million of them end in abortion.

Yet the best tool for reducing unwanted pregnancies has only been used by 2 percent of all adult women in the United States and only 11 percent of us know enough about it to be able to use it. No, we aren’t talking about abstinence–we mean something that works!

The tool is EC, which stands for Emergency Contraception (and is also known as the Morning After Pill).

For thirty years, doctors have dispensed EC “off label” in the form of a handful of daily birth control pills. Meanwhile, many women have taken matters into their own hands by popping a handful themselves after one of those nights–you know, when the condom broke or the diaphragm slipped or for whatever reason you had unprotected sex.

Preven (on the market since 1998) and Plan B (approved in 1999), the dedicated forms of EC, operate essentially as a higher-dose version of the Pill, compressed into two tablets. The first dose is taken within 72 hours after unprotected sex, the second pill is taken 12 hours later. EC is at least 75 percent effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy after sex by interrupting ovulation, fertilization, and implantation of the egg.

If you are sexually active, or even if you’re not right now, you should have a dose of EC on hand. It’s less anxiety-producing than waiting around to see if you miss your period; much easier, cheaper and more pleasant than having to arrange for a surgical abortion if you end up pregnant and don’t want to be.

These websites will help you find an EC provider in your area:

Don’t wait until you’re in a crisis. Your doctor may not be able to see you in time, and other doctors may not want to deal with walk-ins. Many clinics and doctor’s offices are closed on weekends and holidays–the most likely times for unprotected sex. If you live in a rural area, the logistical difficulties–finding the doctor, finding the pharmacy that stocks EC–are compounded. Plan ahead!

Forward this information to anyone you think may not know about backing up her birth control and print out the info in this e-mail if you want to organize as part of the EC campaign (or do your own thing and let us know about it). Let’s make sure we have access to our own hard-won sexual and reproductive freedom!

Seven Things You Need to Know About Emergency Contraception

§ EC is easy. A woman takes a dose of EC within 72 hours of unprotected sex, followed by a second dose 12 hours later.

§ EC is legal.

§ EC is safe. It is FDA-approved and supported by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Women’s Association

§ EC is not an abortion. The two pills you take are not RU-486, the abortion pill, which can be taken up to nine weeks into a pregnancy. EC does not work if you are already pregnant and will not harm a developing fetus. Anti-choicers who call EC “the abortion pill” or “chemical abortion” also believe birth control pills, IUDs and contraceptive injections are abortions.

§ EC works. It is at least 75 percent effective in preventing an unwanted pregnancy after sex, but before either fertilization or implantation. According to the FDA, EC pills “are not effective if the woman is pregnant; they act primarily by delaying or inhibiting ovulation, and/or by altering tubal transport of sperm and/or ova (thereby inhibiting fertilization), and/or altering the endometrium (thereby inhibiting implantation).”

§ EC has a long shelf life. You can keep your EC on hand for two years, according to the FDA.

§ EC is for women who use birth control. You should back up your birth control by keeping a dose of EC in your medicine cabinet or purse.

What You Can Do to Help

Forward this e-mail to everyone you know. Post it on lists, especially those with lots of women and girls. Print out this information, photocopy it to make instant leaflets and pass them around your community. Call your healthcare provider, clinic or university health service and ask if they provide EC. Spread the word in your community if they do. Lobby them (via petitions, meetings with the administrators, op-eds) to offer EC if they don’t.

Make sure that your local ER has EC on hand for rape victims and dispenses it as a matter of policy to women who have been assaulted. Many hospitals, including most Catholic hospitals, do not dispense EC even to rape victims.

Get in touch with local organizations–Planned Parenthood, NOW, NARAL, campus groups–and work with them to pressure hospitals to amend their policies.

If you can’t find a group, start your own. Local activism can achieve wonders.

If you are a writer, submit an op-ed to your local paper. Writer or not, send letters to the editor about EC. You can key your letters to particular stories–or request that stories be written.

Make sure that your local pharmacy will fill prescriptions for EC. Some states have “conscience-clauses” that exempt pharmacists from dispensing drugs that have to do with women’s reproductive freedom.

Birth Control Pills That Can Be Used in the United States as EC
Trivora (4 pink tablets)
Alesse (5 pink tablets)
Levlite (5 pink tablets)
Nordette (4 light orange tablets)
Lo/Ovral (4 white tablets)
Levlen (4 light orange tablets)
Levora (4 white tablets)
Low-Ogestrel (4 white tablets)
Tri-Levlen (4 yellow tablets)
Triphasil (4 yellow tablets)