August 15, 2006

Religion tied to prescribing of morning-after pill

By Anne Harding

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Family doctors working in
hospitals with religious affiliations prescribe emergency
contraception, also known as the "morning-after pill," less
readily than those with no religious ties, a new survey

However, doctors in clinics with no religious associations
were also not prescribing the medication appropriately, the
researchers found.

"Really the right answer is 'yes,' whenever the woman asks
for it," Dr. Linda Prine of Albert Einstein College of Medicine
in New York City, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health.
"It wasn't anywhere near that."

Prine added: "To us the real take-home message is, this
medication needs to be over the counter, because physicians are
not doing a good job of getting it out there."

Emergency contraception must be taken within five days of
unprotected sex, and for this reason many women's health
experts and physician groups including the American Academy of
Family Physicians argue that it should be available over the
counter, Prine and her colleagues write in the American Journal
of Public Health.

To investigate whether being affiliated with a religious
institution might affect how likely a doctor would be to make
emergency contraception available to patients, the team
surveyed faculty, residents, and nurse practitioners working in
six different residency programs, three of which were
affiliated with the Catholic Church.

Participants were asked how they would respond in nine
different scenarios involving prescribing emergency
contraception, including whether they would prescribe it to a
woman who comes in for a pregnancy test who is not pregnant and
is not using contraception, if they would prescribe emergency
contraception over the phone, and whether they refill emergency
contraception prescriptions.

In seven of the nine situations, the researchers found,
clinicians working in non-religious institutions were more
likely to prescribe emergency contraception than their peers in
clinics with Catholic ties.

For example, 10.4% in religious-affiliated practices said
they would prescribe the drugs "all or some of the time" during
a routine exam to women who were not using a continuous method
of birth control, compared to 41.7% of those in non-affiliated
practices. About one in four at religious-affiliated
institutions said that they encouraged women to fill emergency
contraception prescriptions they had been given in advance,
compared to nearly half of non-affiliated practitioners.

"This survey demonstrates that religious affiliation
clearly creates a deterrent to prescribing emergency
contraception C in a wide range of clinical scenarios," Prine
and her colleagues conclude.

"For women as consumers, they need to be wary of the
affiliation of the offices where they get their medical care,"
Prine told Reuters Health. "I've had patients come to me who
had unknowingly gone to what they thought was just a regular
medical practice and they were unable to get just routine birth