Context: California is one of eight states that allow a woman to obtain emergency contraceptives from a pharmacy without a physician prescription. Because many women do not know about emergency contraception or direct pharmacy access, it is important to understand barriers to getting the method and women's reasons for choosing the pharmacy option.
Methods: In a 2004 survey at 25 predominantly independent pharmacies across California that offered pharmacy access, 426 women completed questionnaires after obtaining emergency contraceptives. They were asked about their reasons for seeking the method, the time of unprotected intercourse, barriers to access, how they learned about pharmacy access and their reasons for choosing it. Chi-square tests and analysis of variance were used to assess differences between subgroups.
Results: Eighty-six percent of women wanted emergency contraceptives for immediate use, and women obtained the method an average of 36 hours after unprotected intercourse. Those younger than 16, those who had had unprotected sex on the weekend and those who were embarrassed to ask for the method or who did not know about it all took a longer time to get the medication than did their respective comparison groups. Women who chose pharmacy access did so because they thought it was faster (54%) and more convenient (47%) than seeking a physician prescription. The majority reported that talking to a pharmacist was very helpful (84%) and that it was very important to be able to get the method directly from a pharmacy (81%).
Conclusions: Increasing women's knowledge about emergency contraception and its availability directly from pharmacies has the potential to improve the effectiveness of this contraceptive method by reducing the time interval between unprotected intercourse and initiation of treatment.